For a few years in the early 1980’s, I supplemented my (lack of) income as a filmmaker by distributing films produced in the Atlantic region. That’s when I discovered how tough it is to distribute independent Canadian films. At one extreme, distributors have to plead for promotional material. At the other extreme, they have to quell the filmmaker’s unrealistic expectations about their production’s reach and revenue.
By the time I met Sylvia Jonescu Lisitza in the mid-1980’s, I had a profound respect for distributors, and I had found a less demanding way to make a living. Sylvia committed over three decades to distribution of independent film, animated films, short films and documentaries. She expanded Moving Images Distribution from a simple rental and sale operation to a connected community (locally and globally) doing advocacy on behalf of independent media artists.
What made Sylvia a distributor in a league of her own? I think primarily it is that she didn’t give up on her constituents, us, the filmmakers. Despite the endless demands of promoting our productions, she was open to our new ideas. She’d write letters of support for our applications. She knew the market so well she could suggest ways to expand on our ideas and make our future films more relevant to larger audiences. If we lost confidence in ourselves or our productions, Sylvia never did – she championed us even when we felt undeserving. From local tributes in Vancouver, to screenings at Sundance, Sylvia accompanied us and offered support. On our behalf she attended endless meetings with other distributors and arts organizations, always representing our interests.
For twenty years I was on the board of Moving Images, and it was an insight to discover how Sylvia managed to stay current and on top of developments. She had a variety of contacts across Canada and outside the country; with these people, she would have long chats about the state of the industry. As a result of these conversations, she had a grasp of where independent film and filmmakers fit into the national and international landscape. Sylvia took our work to market, not just across our country but into the U.S. and Europe as well.
We owe Sylvia so much gratitude for her years of support that expressing simple thanks feels inadequate. It is reassuring to remember that her devotion was to us and our continued work. The most thankful gesture we can offer is to keep making our films.
By Alex Sangha
Sylvia nurtures emerging local talent. She not only accepted my first short documentary, My Name Was January, but provided a wonderful letter of support for me to secure grant funding for my debut feature documentary, Emergence: Out of the Shadows. Emergence is also now part of the Moving Images catalog. Emergence has gone on to be accepted at Out on Film in Atlanta which is an Academy Award qualifying festival, as well as entered the Canadian Screen Awards for 2022. As a BIPOC and LGBTQ+ filmmaker, I really felt valued, and embraced by Sylvia. For over three decades, she developed Moving Images Distribution into a leading non-profit educational distributor in Canada where you can find an array of social justice and social impact films. I feel very fortunate to have my documentaries a part of the Moving Images family of filmmakers.