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Forsyth flies the AFCOOP 

After 10 years working at the heart of the indie film scene with the Atlantic Filmmakers' Cooperative, Walter Forsyth is moving on.

Two-year-old Sage Forsyth has the same dark grey eyes and curly red hair as her dad. In Walter Forsyth's office in the CBC building on Sackville, she sits on his lap, watching Sesame Street on his laptop. The executive director of the Atlantic Filmmakers' Cooperative says he doesn't often let her watch movies or TV; Elmo is a rare treat.

"We try not to expose her to too much," he says. "I just don't like the idea of fast cuts. I show her some surf videos every now and then because I'm an avid surfer, and she loves watching surfing."

Since he gave notice a year ago that he would be leaving his job at AFCOOP, Forsyth has been less worried about what Sage watches and more worried about how he's going to provide for her in the future. Co-op member for 15 years and executive director for 10, Forsyth says it's time for him to move on.

"I have to leave my job because I don't get paid enough to do it," Forsyth says bluntly. "I think everybody here is underpaid, way underpaid, and (have) delivered and tried really hard to deliver some awesome programs."

It's a challenge every non-profit faces: AFCOOP, member-run and proudly non-commercial, needs to put as much money as possible into its mission of encouraging independent filmmaking, while still paying administrative staff. "It's not super sexy," he says, but it's the truth.

"It's kind of like Greenpeace," he jokes, with a decent attempt at a stereotypical hippie voice. "Oh, all the money they get just goes to running the place and they don't have any money left to do the good stuff!"

But Forsyth wasn't always so concerned about the paycheque. He got involved with AFCOOP to help bring in funding with his business wisdom and grant-writing skills, and has since become one of the most connected people in the local film community.

Fifteen years ago, the then-unknown filmmaker hit it off with AFCOOP when he rented some equipment from the co-op to make a music video for "Tropical" by Plum Tree (a band on his Cinnamon Toast Records label). He directed and filmed a dirt-cheap sequence in which band members pull on black balaclavas to go sledding, but end up robbing a corner store for a bag of chips. It was his first video to garner airtime on MuchMusic and a screening at the Atlantic Film Festival.

Forsyth continued renting equipment from the co-op for experimental music videos. Back then, AFCOOP lived on Barrington where Chives now resides. Forsyth remembers the old office vividly; the desk drawers were brimming with empty beer bottles and the ancient fridge contained frost-covered film stock and a cup of yogurt. So he rolled up his sleeves and volunteered to clean and paint the place.

Five years of membership later, the position of executive director became available. Forsyth took the job, excited for the opportunity to network. He planned to stay on for a maximum of two years. "If I look back at when I was super keen at this job, I'm not any more. It's time for me to move on."

As he speaks, Sage sits on the floor, covertly emptying his cupboard of its contents: every single staple, business card and roll of tape. Then she builds a messy metropolis on the carpet. The rest of the cupboards and shelves will have to be emptied too, before her dad leaves on July 1, although his replacement hasn't been hired yet.

So far, Forsyth doesn't have a plan. He hopes to become an independent filmmaker while maintaining his downtown gelato shop, Dio Mio. With three films in the development stages, he says he just needs one to go into production and he won't be sweating so badly.

"Right now I have no idea how I'm going to earn a living after I leave here. As a filmmaker it's not easy. I guess I'm just more scared than sad. I think it'll all work out, but who knows. It's freelance."

The short films and couple of features he's produced and directed might fill one DVD, so Forsyth wants to build his body of work. He's working on a child plastic surgery documentary; a quirky dark comedy about two guys who have to steal each other's kidneys; and another feature, The Disappeared.

"When I leave here and go and make films I want to tell relevant stories that will impact people and make them think about their lives."

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