Born and raised in Toronto, Amen Jafri moved to Ottawa in 2003 to pursue a degree in Communications and Political Science at Carleton University. After graduating, she worked in the public service for nearly 10 years in an HR and communications capacity, before leaving in 2016 to join the television broadcasting industry.

Film and television have always been a calling, particularly the documentary form. Amen’s first documentary, “The City That Fun Forgot?” explored the city of Ottawa’s reputation for being boring and had a sold-out premiere at Hub Ottawa in 2014. Her two most recent documentaries made the 2015 and 2016 shortlists for the TVO Short Doc Contest.

– Adapted from Amen Jafri’s website

In the past year, she has been working on a new documentary series titled, The Secret Lives of Public Servants, which reveals the unusual and sometimes extraordinary hobbies of public service employees outside the 9-to-5.

The series is a compilation of three short episodes that explore the work of a radical artist, a comic book creator and a cosplayer, each of whom provide a unique insight into the creative process and the limited perception of their day jobs.  The first episode from the series was recently screened and nominated for two awards at Brooklyn Web Fest.  

“There are a lot of creative people who work 9 to 5 in public service—I know because I was one of them,” says Jafri. “The public service can be a bit dry and no matter how much they may love their jobs, many folks need a creative outlet. They find that in their after-hours hobbies or secret lives.”  Key themes that emerge from the series, include: political engagement, conformity in the workplace and the importance of “secret lives”.  “The goal of this series is to humanize public servants in a positive way.  Depression is a longstanding issue, some of which can be attributed to negative stereotypes and lack of public recognition.”

In fact there are some statistics to support Jafri’s claims. Globally, the public service makes up a large percentage of general employment, from 6% in Japan to 30% in Norway (OECD (2017), Government at a Glance). Despite this, the negative stereotypes prevail.  In recent years, there has been increased appetite in popular culture for exploring the concept of bureaucracy, finding the humour in it and humanizing the people who work within it. Well-known international examples of this genre include the photo essay series Bureaucratics (Netherlands), the television series Utopia (Australia), The Hollow Men (Australia), The Thick of It (UK) and Parks and Recreation (US).

amen jafri

The Secret Lives of Public Servants is currently being submitted for consideration to international film and web festivals and a second season is currently in development. 

To follow the journey of Amen’s new series, visit her website. To find out more about the art of filmmaking, listen to Amen’s interview on the Wingd Podcast.

Photo Credits: Zara Ansar