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Sara Cornthwaite creating content for the world to see

"I took a leap of faith going for something that my heart said yes to, and it's been nonstop ever since, and I think that you’re in a good place when work doesn’t feel like work.”

“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.

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In a career that has taken her around the world, Sara Cornthwaite says the most rewarding experience has been something she worked on this past weekend in her home community of Nipissing First Nation, where she coordinated the live stream for their virtual Pow Wow.  

“I was working hand in hand with the community, but I was responsible for all the cameras, the tech, the switcher,“ says Cornthwaite.  “Just being able to bring together a COVID-safe broadcast. And in a year of COVID where everyone's hurting, it is interesting that our communities can forget how to stay connected. What we discovered this past weekend was that just by creating a feed that people can tune in to, that is medicine and its healing. Having people comment on Facebook and reach out and laugh along with us through the day was good; it was powerful, and it felt important.”

Cornthwaite is a full-time content creator who specializes in video and photography and knew she wanted to work with that form of media since her days as a dance major at Widdifield Secondary School.

“There was an opportunity to use video in a school project where we had to do a story about a grassroots charity in North Bay and why they deserve to win a grant. My group decided to do a video project and we ended up winning and I just remember getting that feeling of translating messages and stories and empathy through this medium. With the school’s permission I started filming all kinds of things from our spirit rallies and our election videos when I was running for council and it just brought a lot of excitement to me,” says Cornthwaite.

A couple of weeks after graduating she applied for a video production program at Algonquin College in Ottawa and was accepted and she says that was the turning point for her in deciding what direction her life was going to go in.

“It’s as if I was so afraid of allowing myself to follow that creative venture that it was really torturing me and when I finally gave myself permission to do it, everything just fell in place. I took a leap of faith going for something that my heart said yes to, and it's been nonstop ever since, and I think that you’re in a good place when work doesn’t feel like work.”

But she had to adapt immediately after leaving school as she discovered what a lot of graduates quickly realize is that the techniques and the skills, she acquired in school were now very dated.

“I left school and tv systems were all run completely differently. We were still using tape-based cameras and right after I left school, DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras took over and that modern camera became commonplace. So, in the years that I transitioned were kind of those pivotal years between TV only being possible in a studio, to TV being possible at home with much cheaper and more efficient equipment.”

Cornthwaite says the technology now lends itself for more people to be able to find their creativity and market themselves in a way that wasn’t possible just 10 years ago.

“Especially with a COVID-19 Pandemic, video has translated to anything and everything under the realm of media. So, most of my content now is for social media whereas 10 years ago, everything was done for TV. The social media industry has fundamentally shaped the way we consume media, therefore the content itself changes. From documentaries to 3D Virtual Realities, to live streaming, to broadcasts to a mom-and-pop shop that wants to take pictures of the cupcakes they want to sell,” says Cornthwaite.

“It's really become consumer-friendly and for folks like me who create, it's really opened up avenues and if we’re willing to be creative alongside the content we are creating, you can be really limitless. In a social media world like we have today, you can access any of the companies that years ago you would not have been able to access, but now, just by being creative and sharing your own content on social media, those companies can see you, you can advertise in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

Cornthwaite has made a name for herself in the industry and has worked on hundreds of projects ranging from documentaries featuring Natalie Portman to interviews at the Toronto International Film Festival to photoshoots of the wilderness in Africa.

“As I shape my own journey, I tend to look back on these experiences differently. Something I’m proud of, and something that taught me more than I expected was the opportunity to travel. In my early years, I just did a lot of travelling and that introduced me to people from around the world and I would work on stories with them, and that for me personally was huge. I’m just really proud of being able to do that and having gotten myself to a place where people would email me and say ‘hey Sara I hear you do this type of work; we’re wondering if you would like to come to this place and work with us.’ And I remember just thinking wow, they want me to go? OK, let's research this, and let's go with it,” she says.

“My first five years I was working for a company and then after that, I decided to freelance and go independent. When I made that choice, I got the opportunity to sub-in in a lot of different teams. So, I would get to work with CBC and then get to help support something for TIFF, and then I’d get to turn around and help create something for Much Music. It just became really cool to access all these brands that I never thought would be attainable.”

Cornthwaite adds all that travel really helped give her a new perspective on the world.

“There are incredibly unique, rich, and beautiful places that exist and the neighboring country or area is equally unique, beautiful and brilliant but completely different. I remember my first time going overseas to Kenya, which was my first big international trip, and I just thought it was brilliant and beautiful and had such a deep-rooted history and I just can’t imagine anything else being as different from home as this. And then I got the chance to go to India and it was just as beautiful and unique and historic, and it’s nothing like home, and it's nothing like my like last experience,” says Cornthwaite.  

“The more I travelled the more I got that feeling. Not only do you get the context of the story and an understanding of where you are, and I think that whole saying of 'once you travel you get that travel bug' and it's so true. You just begin to open and see the world in a way you never have because you get to leave that bubble and see the world from different perspectives.”

With all that experience built up over the last 10 years, Cornthwaite says it really was a privilege and something that is the highlight of her career when she was involved in the Pow Wow this past weekend.

“I left North Bay and travelled the world and learned about the world of media and technology and my proudest moment was bringing it back home and sharing it with my community of Nipissing First Nation and doing that was just monumental. It's kind of trumped everything that I could have done abroad. I’m grateful for everything I’ve gotten to do around the world and here in Toronto, but it doesn’t change the feeling of bringing it home and sharing all of those learnings and teachings.”

If you have a story suggestion for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at m.sookram@outlook.com