Nanaimo’s Kerilie McDowall Wins Women of Influence Creative Innovator Award

© 2021 HA Photography

Musician-turned-TV-filmmaker Kerilie McDowall was humbled and honored to win the Women of Influence (WIN) Creative Innovator Award for her documentary short In the Zone: Rick Kilburn—a profile of the Vancouver Island/Vancouver, BC jazz bassist/producer/composer—at WIN’s February 2024 awards gala in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

Along with 100 fellow nominees in 11 categories, McDowall was in attendance to receive her award, which was sponsored by Canada’s Inland Truck & Equipment.

The objectives of the evening were extremely special to McDowall: Proceeds went to the Footprints Infertility & Pregnancy Loss Support Initiative. Run by the organizer of the sold-out awards evening, Blaise Hunter, Footprints champions reproductive health awareness and advocacy. The organization provides care packages and support to women who have miscarried and are in grief—a much-needed service for every community.

Award recipients honored at the February event included representatives of the entire Nanaimo community, including members of its business, social services, arts, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and trades sectors.

In the Zone: Rick Kilburn documents the life and career of the multi-JUNO/East/West Coast Award-winning jazz bassist and producer, who has performed with artists ranging from Chilliwack and Mose Allison to Dave Brubeck and Chet Baker. As a bassist-composer, Kilburn spent over a decade in New York learning the craft of production while playing with some of the icons of U.S. jazz.

McDowall is a cross-media champion for jazz and the arts whose TV shorts and self-produced and -hosted radio programs—as well as her own accomplishments as a guitarist—have earned her 15 awards from around the globe, six of them from the USA.

She mentored as a volunteer in television from 2015 to 2022, directing for five to six years and hosting and producing for seven with the brilliant Shaw Spotlight team of Cameron McLean, Todd Jones, Jocelyn Matwe, Stas Bobkov, and volunteer Doug Tombe. With their assistance, McDowall released her first documentary short on March 17, 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic.

That first outing as a documentary filmmaker netted McDowall an award for Best Director from the Seoul Short Film Festival in South Korea and the Best Web and New Media award at the IndieX Film Fest in Hollywood.

In the Zone: Rick Kilburn also won the 2021 Best Short Documentary award at the Hong Kong International Short Film Festival, the Outstanding Achievement Award for Best Web and New Media at Hollywood’s Indie Short Fest in June 2021, and an Honorable Mention Award for Best Web and New Media at the Independent Shorts Awards in LA in March 2020.

At the 2021 Milan FFI Film Fest International, Kerilie and technical supervisor Jones (her directing mentor) picked up an award for Best Editing of a Short Documentary. The film went on to be named Best Short Documentary at the Japan International Film Festival in October 2022. Later McDowall received two more awards of prestige at the Vegas Movie Awards, Best Inspirational Film and Best Short Documentary, as well as another award from Japan and a Best Short Documentary award from London, UK.  McDowall and the team and crew were delighted to receive the Best Canadian Short Documentary from the Toronto Independent Film Festival of CIFT.

Upon the release of the film, Kilburn peaked at 11.3+ million hits on IMDB Pro’s STARmeter; McDowall herself hit 8.7 million hits while the doc was screening in Japan and Hong Kong. Monthly hits for the film peaked at 12.7 million in September 2023 and February 2024.

An accomplished musician in her own right, McDowall holds a degree from York University in guitar/composition. She began performing professionally as a guitarist at age 16/17, and by 23 was leading a jazz quintet in Vancouver, BC. That gig lasted from 1989 to 2000.

“Well, there may be 8 million guitarists in the world, but Kerilie McDowall is certainly one of the best,” remarked Paul Grant, host of Vancouver’s CBC Hot Air, after a 1999 recording session of McDowall’s quintet by producer Neil Ritchie. “Guitar Player magazine calls her playing ‘smooth and elegant’—to which I would add  ‘intelligent and original.’”

As the owner of Canadian Online Guitar Lessons (& Creative Services), McDowall now enjoys teaching and mentoring student guitarists and other musicians. She works with rising stars and JUNO Award and Order of Canada-winning recording artists and aspiring young players. Beginner and advanced guitarists—and even the newly curious—are welcome to join and participate in her new Facebook group, How to Play Guitar for Beginners & Guitarists.

“I have been thrilled to just hear that a gifted jazz artist I have worked closely with in the past has just been nominated for a JUNO award,” McDowall reports. “That artist worked very hard, is brilliant, and earned that status. I am so happy that national judges are highlighting Canada’s best to the globe. We have a lot of exciting talent in this country, and it is an honor with my business Canadian Online Guitar Lessons (& Creative Services) to work with such fine artists. As a Polaris Music Prize judge, I have discovered that our Canadian musicians are some of the best artists in the world.”

McDowall is committed to helping students in multiple areas maximize their potential for success, which is why Canadian Online Guitar Lessons welcomes inquiries from not just players and other musicians, but also aspiring filmmakers, writers,  businesses, and non-profits.

In 2024, McDowall ranked 39th in the Alignable contest for #1 Biz Person in North America and #1 in Nanaimo. In March she ranked #20th  in the top 20 women ranked in North America with 94 votes she had received while networking in February. Alignable is a business networking site with 8 million North American members.

A former music publicist, McDowall is also a freelance and national music writer who was a monthly contributor to DownBeat from 2016 to 2020 and still judges in their DownBeat Critics Poll. More of her music writing can be found at All About Jazz, Canadian Musician, Inspired 55+, and other publications.

To hear further news and insights from McDowall,  subscribe to her blog, In the Zen, at In the Zen (, where she writes about Canadian jazz and other creative music, and shares stories, and tips as a director, host, and producer in TV and radio. The blog also features interviews with high-profile personalities, as well as McDowall’s tips on lifestyle, health, organic gardening, filmmaking, and guitar playing.

You can also catch McDowall on her new YouTube channel, How to Play Guitar for Beginners & Guitarists. From March 8th-21st, 2024, she is a speaker at the Women’s Spirit Festival .

Film festival invites continue to flow in for 2024, yet McDowall herself has been off the circuit since 2022—ironically due to the unexpected and overwhelming response to her first effort. Seeking solitude from a continuous stream of global emails and social media messages, she retreated to the peace of her Canadian mountain home to focus once again on all things music, including her bucket-list agenda item of releasing her past recorded work as a jazz guitarist-bandleader.

At one point during Christmas 2022, after posting about her favorite sitarist, the late Ravi Shankar, McDowall received hundreds of foreign-language messages in just 12 hours. Despite it being Christmas Eve, she tried to reply by using Google to translate her words into various African languages and Hindi. The task was so overwhelming that it strengthened her resolve to step back and take a break from the computer for a while.

“I can’t believe how wonderful 2024 has been,” McDowall says. “It has brought me much joy to be acknowledged by the Women of Influence Awards and the Nanaimo community, and by business colleagues from the USA on Alignable. I am very honored and grateful to the Nanaimo community, Blaise Hunter, and the Alignable team and community. I am very excited to be working on a special treat with some wonderful upcoming interviews for readers to bring to you at All About Jazz and In the Zen. And there will be more surprises to come.”

Learn more about McDowall and her services and workshops at her current website Services | In the Zen (