Brandy Yanchyk

Top 40 Under 40 2015

Photography Curtis Comeau

Age: 37

Job Title: Founder and Executive Producer, Brandy Y Productions Inc.

Why She’s Top 40: Through her work as an award-winning documentary filmmaker, she sheds light on the issues, stories and people that make up our environment, and shares them on the world stage.

If you could change one thing about Edmonton, what would it be? “I would keep all the old buildings and factories that have style and history, and not tear them down and build new ones. In Calgary and other major cities like London, England, they keep old factories and turn them into art galleries, and these historic buildings really give the city a lot of character.”

Brandy Yanchyk never thinks twice about saying “no.” But, in 2013, when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada asked her to be a “statement gatherer,” the award-winning documentary filmmaker said “yes.” She was asked to record the largely private statements of Indian residential school survivors.

“Some people don’t know what happened with residential schools,” says Yanchyk, “and yet, to hear repeatedly the same set of horrific acts – those are stories we need to hear.”

Yanchyk tells stories we need to hear. Her first film – a documentary on Palestinian refugees from Iraq resettling in Iceland – was originally a story she’d pitched to BBC World TV, where she was working as a journalist. “I was just supposed to shoot a four-minute story, but once I was there, I was like, ‘No, this is a doc.'”

Yanchyk shot the 20-minute documentary alone over the course of four days, and the resulting film, Desert to Ice, released in 2009, set her on the course to where she is today. “I lost like 10 pounds and was totally exhausted,” says Yanchyk, “but once I had the taste of documentary, that was it. I couldn’t go back.”

But, to chase a career as a documentarian, she would go back to Canada – to the unfamiliar surroundings of Edmonton; she’s a former Torontonian. Here, Yanchyk has written, filmed and produced 10 more documentaries that have screened on BBC World TV, CBC’s Documentary Channel, Rogers OMNI TV, PBS, YES TV and Shaw TV, as well as at festivals around the world. Three more are in the works.

But even with a global reach, many of her stories stick close to home. Yanchyk’s stories – such as Brooks: The City of 100 Hellos, Becoming Albertan, Grey Glory or Employment Matters – are told through the lens of immigrants to Edmonton and Alberta, the province’s extraordinary seniors or people with disabilities looking for good jobs, respectively. The one thing they have in common? A resounding “no.” Over the last six years, Yanchyk has said no to plenty of pitches in favour of stories she feels need to be told. 

“I don’t make any films that I am not interested in,” she says, “because I don’t do anything that I am not invested in 100 per cent.”

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