A Never-ending Story: Julia Ivanova’s Limit is the Sky

by Renee Sutton

At the mercy of the world economy and great forces of nature, Julia Ivanova’s latest NFB documentary was a story that just wouldn’t stop unfolding. While no filmmaker can be entirely sure where they will end up when they begin the process of making a documentary, Ivanova’s Limit is the Sky (2016) was pulled from the editing stage back into production, three times.

This non-traditional environmental film follows how the rise and demise of Fort McMurray has affected some of the younger residents. “It’s a portrait of Fort McMurray, and of Canadian millennials searching for money, identity and success in the heart of the Alberta oil sands,” Ivanova said. She said her focus was not on the shifting political landscape, but instead on the stories of the people that it affected. What Ivanova didn’t anticipate was that it would take four years to complete the film, as new events and tragedies important to the story occurred in the process of editing.

“Three times I thought we had finished the film, and three times we had to continue filming,” Ivanova said. She first began editing in 2013, but was compelled to move back into production and continue filming after oil prices crashed in 2014. With this new material the production had again come to a close, when three weeks later in May of 2016, the devastating wildfires hit Fort McMurray and the film went back into production again. Ivanova said this film was unlike most others she had made because “the plot was dictated by the events and the world economy.”

Ivanova’s passion for documentary and storytelling is glaring. Luckily for the rest of the world, she is also passionate about teaching and sharing her collective skills and experiences. She is a well-loved instructor at In Focus Film School in Gastown, Vancouver, where she shares her wealth of knowledge with documentary and narrative students. “I really push the idea that film is a visual storytelling… no matter whether they will be making documentaries or they will be making narrative films,” she said. Ivanova added that her film crew is often very small, meaning that she participates in many of the production roles and can offer her students advice on any subject, from conception to editing and everything in between.

According to Ivanova, by providing a deeper understanding of issues, making documentaries can contribute to how audiences make choices in their own lives. “[Documentaries are] helping them to form an opinion and helping them to understand other people, like a segment of society that they don’t have access to,” Ivanova said. She said it’s the stories of people that she really loves to explore and share. “I think that this is very fascinating, that you can go to places or meet people that you would never have a chance to encounter, within an hour and a half,” she said.

Limit is the Sky is an official selection at DOXA 2017, you can check it out in Vancouver during the festival from May 4th-14th.