TFS Online Video Production Student Vying For $50K Telus Storyhive Grant For Documentary About Inspiring Widows

Just two months into her Online Video Production studies at Toronto Film School, Melissa Jacobs already has an inspiring project in the works – and it’s currently in the running for a $50,000 grant.



Jacobs’ pitch for Widows Who Inspire – a deeply personal documentary project chronicling the “powerful stories” of four Vernon, BC widows ­– has been shortlisted as one of 379 projects in contention for Telus Storyhive funding.


Of those finalists, Jacobs said just 30 will ultimately be awarded the $50,000 grants ­– with 15 of the winners selected by a Telus jury and the other 15 determined via a four-day online vote that ends on May 31.


“We’re really hoping people will vote for us,” said the widowed mother of two. “It’s really easy to vote ­– it’s just a click, and it would mean that we could produce this documentary that means so much to us.”


“We’re all widows and we all pulled ourselves out from the trenches and are doing something inspiring with it,” Jacobs said of the stories – her own included ­– that she plans to tell in Widows Who Inspire.


“I think it will be a tale that everyone will be able to relate to, not just widows. I think they’ll be able to see that it’s not about what happens to you, it’s what you do afterward and how you pick yourself up and move forward that’s the most empowering thing you can do.”


For Jacobs, who teaches drama, music and dance at Kidston Elementary School in Coldstream, BC, that journey began four years ago after the mental health-related loss of the love of her life.



“Travis and I met when we were really young. We were just babies, really, so we were that typical young love,” she said of her late husband, who died in May 2015. “He was such an amazing guy, but he ended up falling to his mental health disease.”


Suddenly left alone to care for the couple’s two young children, Ava and Kai, who were just seven and five at the time, Jacobs said she was overwhelmed by the kindness showered upon her grieving family in their time of loss.


Every act of kindness shown, she said, made her go from feeling “suffocated with grief” to feeling empowered with “unequivocal feelings of love and strength.”



“It wasn’t just the GoFundMe money raised to cover the funeral expenses, it was the kindness – it was every person that made me smile, it was the food that got dropped off at the door and excited my kids, it was everything,” she said.


“A few years later I started to realize it really was those acts of kindness that got us through that tough time.”


Armed with that knowledge, Jacobs set out to pay all that goodwill forward with the establishment of Inspire Kindness Productions – a company born of the belief that other families could use the same boost her family was handed.



Since launching in January 2018, Inspire Kindness has come to the aid of nine families from the Okanagan area of British Columbia ­– including offering financial assistance to a widowed mother of six whose husband had no life insurance when he died, and a family whose young son is forced to make the five-hour trek from Vernon to Vancouver every month for treatment at BC Children’s Hospital.


Hoping that by sharing her story of turning “darkness into light” she might inspire a wider audience to do the same, Jacobs said she originally set out to write a book with three other widows from Vernon, BC.


But when that project fizzled due to the single working mothers’ busy schedules, Jacobs set her sights on a new, somewhat loftier goal: a documentary showcasing the four women’s every day acts of kindness and bravery.


The only problem was, Jacobs didn’t quite know where to start.


“I thought, ‘I better do this right,’ and that’s when I reached out to Toronto Film School,” she said of enrolling in the school’s two-year Online Video Production Diploma, which she began in April.


“I’m learning so much…it was a big learning curve, but I’ve actually been doing really well in my courses, because I get to apply everything. I think by digging right in, I’m learning that much more quickly.”


It was also through a Toronto Film School professor, Vladimir Paskaljevic, that Jacobs said she found out about the Telus Storyhive grant she’s currently in the running for.


“He tagged me in a post about the Storyhive and urged me to apply for it, and I thought ‘I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m going to do it,’” she laughed, noting that the prospect of winning the grant has fast-tracked her original timeline for producing Widows Who Inspire.


“I was planning create the documentary two years from now, after finishing the course, but then Vlad tagged me and I thought, ‘Okay, here we go…’”


Jacobs has since assembled an experienced team of friends and colleagues to join her on the Widows Who Inspire production team – including a “mentor” in filmmaker Ian Chernencoff, who she’s previously commissioned to make anti-bullying videos for her school, local “superstar musician’ Andrew Allen, who will do music for the film, and Renee Davis, who will act as its production designer.


Jacobs’ ultimate hope is that by winning a Telus Storyhive grant to produce the documentary, she’ll be able to inspire that many more people to “scatter kindness” everywhere.


“It’s become my passion, really, to want to inspire others – that’s why I named my company Inspire Kindness Productions,” she said.


“I feel like with this video, it can give another voice to that goal. And the more people who find out about Inspire Kindness, the more people we can help.”


Click here to vote for Widows Who Inspire.