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The Secret Lives of Public Servants proves there’s more to Ottawa than meets the eye

By Asim B. on June 5, 2017

Hailing from Toronto and calling Ottawa home since 2003, Amen Jafri has taken the road less traveled to a career in the broadcasting industry. She originally graduated with a degree in Communications and Political Science at Carleton University before joining the public service sector in an HR and communications capacity for the better part of a decade. She then decided to leave her job and pursue her passions full time in 2016.

Amen has a particularly affinity for documentaries and one of her first was The City That Fun Forgot? This documentary explores Ottawa’s label as a boring place and opened to a sold out premier at Hub Ottawa in 2014. She has since had documentaries shortlisted for TVO’s Short Doc Contest in both 2015 and 2016.

Her latest endeavour is a webseries called The Secret Lives of Public Servants. It explores the creative side of public sector employees outside the work hours of 9 to 5. Given the fact that this sector is the biggest employer in the country, there are plenty of stories to choose from and she hopes to hit the ground running this fall when she premieres her first episode. Her launch event is happening on September 30 at 7pm at the Metropolitain Brasserie (700 Sussex Drive).

Apt613 was able to sit down with Amen ahead of her event and find out what was the inspiration behind such a documentary series:

Apt613: Hi Amen, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Amen Jafri is taking on the task of telling the stories of the secret lives of public servants (photo provided by Amen Jafri).

Amen Jafri is taking on the task of telling the secret lives of pubic servants (photo provided by Amen Jafri).

Amen: I am originally from Toronto. I moved to Ottawa in 2003 to attend Carleton University. After graduating, I worked in the public sector for about 10 years. During this time, I started doing some work in the film industry as it was a passion of mine. It was nice as my job allowed me to take time off, every once in a while, to work on my interests. Then in 2016, I decided to leave my job and pursue a career in the film industry and got a job working for the Aboriginal People’s Television Network. So it’s been a year since I left the public service and before leaving… I would encounter people with these extraordinary hobbies which ended up being the idea behind the show.

Apt613: What was the inspiration behind the show?

Amen: While I worked for Health Canada, I had been talking about this idea (for the documentary), with my colleagues. Actually, some people in the cast of the show are people I used to work with. I would encounter people with hobbies that were extensive and this hobby was as much part of their lives… as their day jobs.

I think I relate to this as well because I was one of these people too, because I also had my secret life as a filmmaker. My husband has two colleagues that are part of the cast for the web series and I keep hearing from other individuals about people they know that work for the public sector and have these amazing hobbies outside of their work.

I think I’m attracted to these kinds of stories, these off script stories that tell a different side of things.

Apt613: What do you hope people will get out this show?

Amen: Well, I think some jobs can be very technical or very specific to the public sector and not found anywhere else, so to the broader public, they might not fully understand what a person does, why their job exists, or the importance of that job. So you may have this one dimensional perspective of what a public sector employee is, that is perpetuated in popular culture. Some of which has’t changed since the 1950, such as paper pushing or sitting inside a cubicle. I’m not saying this type of job doesn’t exist, but what I’m saying is that there is a much wider range. This type of series is an attempt to humanize these people.

The actual focus on the show is on their secret life, but there will be a segment of the show of what they do in their job. I hope this will be a refreshing take on the public service… especially considering it’s such a large employer in Ottawa.

Apt613: What are some of the major steps you had to take from the initial idea to post production?

Amen: I am good at coming up with ideas and a vision of what I want to do, but not as strong in the technical aspect of it so I look for people who excel in those areas to help me realize my ideas. The team involved in this series are well known and established Ottawa and I like working in a collaborative environment so I can see what others bring forward.

Initially I had been thinking of a TV show… but you have to have a certain level of experience or follow a certain format and I thought a web series would be better because you don’t have as many restrictions in place. The biggest hurdle after that is finding sufficient funding to put that idea in place. With so few grants available, I thought I would go with crowdfunding.

So I hired Inbox Communications initially to provide good advice and guidance on tactics to take, and what works the best for launching a crowdfunding campaign. From there, I took my lead and began crowdfunding.

“I keep hearing from other individuals about people they know that work for the public sector and have these amazing hobbies outside of their work.”

Apt613: What do you hope to do with the show going forward?

Amen: When we have our launch in September, I hope to have several (episodes) done, as well as a few episodes completed so people can have a list of material to choose from. I also hope to keep providing regular updates to encourage people.

My end goal is to do multiple seasons and spread the show out across the country and showcase public sector employees in other parts of Canada. Or even go out into other countries and see what secret lives are like for those public sector employees.

You know, it’s not just public sector employees that have secret lives. There are plenty of other people in all kinds of jobs that have secret lives and it’s an important part of work-life-integration. There are studies that show people who have hobbies tend to be more successful and the workplace that encourage this will help their employees become more successful in life.


For more on Amen Jafri or to find additional information on the upcoming web series, visit her website at: http://amenjafri.com/ To help with the crowdfunding campaign, visit their Indiegogo page