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Red Deer filmmaker shines spotlight on local musical talent with new podcast

Niek Theelen wanted to give some deserving artists wider exposure
Members of Red Deer punk rockers Trashed Ambulance goof around with Niek Theelen (in blue shirt). The local filmmaker featured the group in an episode of his Telus-funded ‘Off the Record’ podcast for Optik TV. (Contributed photo).

Listening to music helped Niek Theelen persevere through the pandemic, so he’s paying back the favour by spotlighting some local musicians in a podcast developed for Telus Optik TV.

The Red Deer resident received $10,000 from Telus Storyhive to create a six-part series, Off the Record With Niek Theelen.

His aim was to bring deserving local talent to a wider audience — and also to provide listeners with interesting context around how some of this original music is created.

“The goal was to find out some stuff that you wouldn’t know if you put on one of their CDs,” said Theelen.

He sat down earlier this year with Red Deer singer/songwriters Curtis Labelle, Jesse Roads, Mike Szabo, Kayla Williams (who now lives in Calgary), as well as local punk band Trashed Ambulance and world music group Willka Tribe (now based in Edmonton).

The long conversations that unfolded in such local venues as The Velvet Olive Lounge were later edited into half-hour to 40-minute episodic podcasts.

Theelen recalled many musicians spoke to him about their own challenges during the time of COVID, when live performances were banned. Roads told him about the negative impacts on his mental health and how composing during this period helped him re-balance.

Other memorable moments include Williams’s confessed love of 80s pop music and Labelle’s recollections about performing original singing telegrams during the pandemic.

Musical storytellers, such as Szabo, revealed how some of his ballads originated.

In each episode, an artist performs a couple of tunes and then talks about the musical journey and inspirations. Off the Record with Niek Theelen can be seen on the Telus Optik Channel for subscribers and also on the YouTube Storyhive channel.

Mukesh Khugsal and Jason Steele are two other Red Deer-based filmmakers who also received $10,000 each through the first Storyhive voices program through Telus to develop their own series.

Khugsal created a documentary called Tea— The Chai Wallahs. It’s about a Red Deer woman who makes authentic Indian spicy chai through a process that ultimately has a community benefit. It can be seen starting Nov. 20 on Telus Optik TV.

Steele created the 10-episode Frame Forward, highlighting some leading-edge technologies that are changing the future of filmmaking. Steele was inspired by the new use of drones in filmmaking, better disability access, greater distribution options through the Internet and other changes. The series is coming out Nov. 29 on Telus Optik.

Both of these film projects can now be seen as part of 82 local series filmed across B.C. and Alberta by new and emerging content creators.

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Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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