Ottawa Changemakers: Ottawa’s Lenz Films amplifies underrepresented voices

Entrepreneur Weggon Allen
From left: Fitch Jean, Weggon Allen and former mayor Jim Watson.
Editor's Note

Ottawa Changemakers is presented by Invest Ottawa and RBC Royal Bank.

A unique company in Ottawa is carving out space for stories that are often overlooked in Canada’s film industry. 

In the heart of Ottawa, Fitch Jean and Weggon Allen, the dynamic duo behind Lenz Films, are pioneering change by recognizing the underrepresentation of diverse narratives in mainstream media and helping BIPOC content creators voice their unique stories.

This venture is not only a film production company; it’s a sanctuary where BIPOC stories are nurtured, celebrated and brought to life. Offering state-of-the-art equipment, the studio bridges the technical divide by providing invaluable resources and expertise. This holistic approach ensures that creators can focus on what matters most: their narrative.

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“We’re familiar faces, we understand their needs and their struggles and some of the challenges they might face. I think that a more traditional production company may not understand that because they might not have gone through those hurdles,” says Jean, adding that he and Allen act as mentors as stories are produced. 

Jean is a Haitian-Canadian filmmaker and Allen hails from British Guyana in South America. Together, they ensure that the experiences of Black and Indigenous people and other people of colour take centrestage.

“Our business is more of a one-stop production shop that includes a studio rental space, production equipment and the creative talent to help bring these stories to life,” Jean says.

One of the company’s recent productions was a feature film called “It Comes in Waves,” about a Rwandan family that immigrated to Canada after the Rwandan genocide. 

“It’s about the two kids in the family and their experience in Canada, the trauma that they’ve gone through and how they’re trying to overcome that, but still trying to live a normal life. Most of our stories are related to the experiences of people,” Jean explains.

The journey of Lenz Films is steeped in personal experience. Jean’s own narrative as a filmmaker who came to Canada from Haiti when he was five years old, combined with Allen’s background as an immigrant from South America, resonates throughout their work. 

“I try to infuse a little bit of myself whenever I tell stories,” Jean explains. “So I direct, I produce and I write. Even though I may not share the exact experiences of the people in the film, the essence of it is something that’s pretty universal.”

Allen, reminiscing about his first collaboration, said, “When Fitch asked me in 2018 to invest in his first short film, I did so. And being on the set, I realized that this is what I wanted to do.”

Despite the studio’s success, the path hasn’t been without challenges. The two took over Lenz in 2020, just before the global pandemic.

“We got the keys to our new location in August of 2020 … it was a lot,” Allen explains. “We didn’t have much money, so we had to do a lot of the renovations by ourselves. So the renovation took like a month to do. And I remember there was a bunch of stuff that I’d never done in my life, like putting (up) drywall that I had to do. It was just that itself was so much work. And then just trying to market the studio and try to get clients in during a pandemic.”

The two did all the required renovations themselves to get the space ready. But then there were COVID restrictions, such as how many people could be working in the studio at once.

A more recent challenge has been the disruption in the film industry in the U.S. and the ripple effects in Canada. Allen and Jean say that, while filming is still slow in Ottawa, the industry is growing.

Among its initiatives, the company has a non-profit organization aimed at creating opportunities for BIPOC individuals in the film industry.

“Last year we did this program that was called the Black Youth Filmmaking Fellowship Program, where over the summer we mentored some youth and taught them about the basis of writing, directing and editing. At the end of the program, each of them produced a short film,” Jean explains.

“They said that was amazing for them, that helped them bring up the creativity and see which aspect of film they really wanted to work in. Some of these youth, as they develop, we can also collaborate with them on our more professional setting projects and in that way not only grow ourselves, but also grow the industry as a whole and the community as a whole”

Ottawa Changemakers highlights entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences who are making a difference in the city.

Invest Ottawa is Ottawa’s lead economic development agency for knowledge-based industries. Guided by a vision to be a globally recognized, innovative, inclusive and future-ready city, Invest Ottawa delivers programs and services that catalyze the growth and success of entrepreneurs and firms.

RBC Royal Bank is a global financial institution with a purpose-driven, principles-led approach to delivering leading performance and creating value for clients and communities.

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