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Award-winning stories by NFB filmmakers coming to Toronto in November. Reelworld Film Festival presents Thao Lam and Kjell Boersma’s Boat People and Marie Clements’ Lay Down Your Heart.


October 4, 2023 – Toronto – National Film Board of Canada (NFB)

The 2023 Reelworld Film Festival in Toronto (November 1 to 7) will showcase powerful and intimate stories from National Film Board of Canada (NFB) creators, with premieres of Thao Lam and Kjell Boersma’s animated short documentary Boat People and the feature documentary Lay Down Your Heart, directed by Marie Clements and written by Clements and Niall McNeil.

Working with the NFB’s Ontario Studio in Toronto as well as the Animation & Interactive Studio in Montreal, Toronto creators Thao Lam and Kjell Boersma have crafted a striking metaphor to trace one family’s flight across the turbulent waters of history in Boat People, which just received the Grand Jury Prize for Best Animated Short Film at the Calgary International Film Festival.

Winner of the Audience Award in the Portraits program at the Vancouver International Film Festival, Marie Clements’ Lay Down Your Heart offers an intimate look into the life of Niall McNeil, an artist and performer with Down syndrome, and his remarkable chosen family.

Lam, Boersma, Clements and McNeil will all be in attendance at the festival.

Celebrating its 23rd year, Reelworld is Canada’s longest running film festival and institute committed to advancing opportunities for Black, Indigenous, Asian, South Asian, and People of Colour in the Canadian screen industries.

More about the films

Boat People by Thao Lam and Kjell Boersma (10 min)
Toronto premiere
Producers: Justine Pimlott for the NFB’s Ontario Studio and Jelena Popović for the NFB’s English Program Animation & Interactive Studio
Press kit: mediaspace.nfb.ca/epk/boat-people-2

  • As a little girl in Vietnam, Thao’s mother would rescue ants from bowls of sugar water. The tiny creatures would later return the favour, leading her desperate family through darkness—and pointing the way to safety.
  • With Boat People, illustrator and author Thao Lam undertakes a creative rescue mission of her own, joining forces with animator Kjell Boersma to recount the experiences of her family who were among over 1.6 million refugees who fled the chaotic aftermath of the Vietnam War, venturing across the South China Sea in precarious open boats.
  • Boat People employs a hybrid of traditional 2D animation, stop-motion multiplane, and 3D rendering to capture the unique aesthetic of Lam’s handmade paper textures and patterns. The film speaks across time and culture to anyone who’s ever fought to protect their family or community.
  • Thao Lam is a critically acclaimed Vietnamese-Canadian children’s book author and illustrator who arrived in Canada with her parents at the age of three as a refugee from Vietnam. Her books include the multi-award-winning Wallpaper (2018) and Paper Boat (2020).
  • Kjell Boersma is a writer, director and animator whose projects combine traditional and digital animation techniques in novel ways. He directed the short film Monster Slayer (2015) and was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and TIFF Kids to write and direct DAM! The Story of Kit the Beaver (2017).

Lay Down Your Heartdirected by Marie Clements; written by Marie Clements and Niall McNeil (70 min)
Ontario premiere
Produced by Shirley Vercruysse for the BC & Yukon Studio in Vancouver
Press kit: mediaspace.nfb.ca/epk/laydownyourheart

  • An accomplished artist, a lifelong performer and a person with Down syndrome, Niall McNeil has built a unique family tree of blood and chosen relations made up of his closest friends and collaborators. In Lay Down Your Heart, Niall introduces his “family members,” his multiple “children” (some twice his age!), his renowned “ex-wife” and director of the film Marie Clements, and more. Bonded together by shared creative passion and their relationships with Niall, his family includes some of Canada’s most outstanding theatrical and artistic talent.
  • By exploring his unconventional family histories—sometimes factual, sometimes infused with fantasy, but always deeply felt—Niall’s limitless imagination drives him toward the heart of human connection.
  • Niall McNeil is a multidisciplinary creator and in 2022 became the first Canadian artist with Down syndrome to receive a Canada Council for the Arts Composite Grant. This is his second project with Clements, after appearing in her independent 2012 short Pilgrims.
  • Marie Clements is a Métis Dene filmmaker who wrote and directed the award-winning 2017 musical documentary The Road Forward, produced by the NFB. Also premiering this fall is her dramatic feature Bones of Crows, an epic account of the life of Cree matriarch Aline Spears.

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French version here | Version française ici.

Media Relations

  • About the NFB

    Founded in 1939, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is a one-of-a-kind producer, co-producer and distributor of distinctive, engaging, relevant and innovative documentary and animated films. As a talent incubator, it is one of the world’s leading creative centres. The NFB has enabled Canadians to tell and hear each other’s stories for over eight decades, and its films are a reliable and accessible educational resource. The NFB is also recognized around the world for its expertise in preservation and conservation, and for its rich and vibrant collection of works, which form a pillar of Canada’s cultural heritage. To date, the NFB has produced more than 14,000 works, 6,500 of which can be streamed free of charge at nfb.ca. The NFB and its productions and co-productions have earned over 7,000 awards, including 11 Oscars and an Honorary Academy Award for overall excellence in cinema.