CULTIVATING CREATIVITY: Filmmaker Brittany Ollerenshaw on harvesting dreams

Photo by Ashley Slessor

By Peter Paylor/Quinte Arts Council

When a group of artists from the Brighton Arts Council were busy creating new works for a Vincent Van Gogh-inspired show for Belleville’s Parrott Gallery in the spring of 2014, Brittany Ollerenshaw decided to capture their progress on video. “The things they were saying about Van Gogh and about creativity…there were a lot of common themes,” she says. “I realized there was a bigger story to be told.” That story became the documentary film Unravelling Vincent, which first screened at the 2014 Belleville Downtown DocFest and later at the Parrott Gallery as part of the show.

A film buff from a young age, Ollerenshaw studied Film Theory at York University in Toronto straight out of high school. “I fell out of love with film, writing essay after essay,” she says of the experience. She credits Unravelling Vincent for igniting her new love for making documentary films. “It was a happy accident,” she says. “It was an accidental documentary.”

Her next project turned out to be entirely intentional. After being involved in the gruelling six-month process of putting together a community theatre musical production – she was in the Belleville Theatre Guild’s 2012 production of Anne of Green Gables – Ollerenshaw approached the Guild about making a behind-the-scenes film about their 2015 production of The Drowsy Chaperone. Ollerenshaw and her camera were there from the first production meeting to opening night, but a new career and a new baby put that project on the shelf for more than a year before Making of a Musical finally screened at DocFest in 2018. “Part of it for me,” she says, “was being part of the experience again.”

Like Unravelling Vincent, it’s a film about creativity and passion. “Every single person involved in the musical said the same thing,” she says. “They can’t live without it. They can’t live without theatre. They can’t live without creativity.” It’s a theme that connects Ollerenshaw with her work. “Perseverance, new beginnings, passion for your work — I really enjoy focusing on those creative, passionate people. It helps, when a project takes so long to complete, to really want to be invested in your subject matter.”

Ollerenshaw’s latest project is a film about Melanie Harrington and the amazing success of her Dahlia May Flower Farm in Trenton, Ont. Harvesting Dreams, which recently screened as part of the 10th Annual Belleville Downtown DocFest, follows Harrington from one spring to the next, from her first day planting tulips to what she’s learned a year later. Ollerenshaw makes great use of Harrington’s insightful and beautifully written Facebook and Instagram posts that have been a huge part in the flower farm’s success at attracting and keeping its incredibly supportive base of loyal customers. Again, it’s a film about passion and creativity. “I wanted it to leave a little sense of inspiration in people that you can change your stars, essentially,” she says. “Melanie went from working in a flower shop to having this idea that turned into the little empire that she has going now. If you put everything you have into your dream, you harvest your dream. You can make these things happen. I find it delightful.”

This story was originally printed in the Spring 2021 issue of Umbrella magazine, out now.