Focus on Education

Canada Film School Survey: Reports from Ontario and Manitoba

Our annual look at Canada’s film schools concentrates on model students and how they’ve reacted to their programmes.

Courtesy Queen’s University

STUDENT: Devin Hartley
SCHOOL: Carleton University is located in Ottawa and offers a solid programme that covers film theory, history, global cinema and specific genres. Students will take an introductory class in their first year and required core courses in the following years in addition to choosing a wide range of courses within the programme.
STUDENT RATING: Hartley gives Carleton’s film programme an A and credits the programme or instilling a passion on which she wants to focus her academic career.

Devin Hartley didn’t react the way she was supposed to in her first film class at Carleton.

“I think the professor thought that lots of people would take the class because it would be easy, as it was an intro first-year film class. So the very first lecture he showed the most obscure, avant-garde French film ever, to scare off people who didn’t want to be there,” she says, laughing.

Instead of being scared off, Hartley was hooked, and has been ever since.

Now in her fourth year as an honours film student, she is looking forward to doing her master’s in cinema.

She credits the exceptional experience she has had in Carleton’s film programme in her undergrad as her inspiration for wanting to continue her studies.

“In my first year, I was thinking I would go the English-major route and switch into journalism. As an elective, I took a film course in my first year and it changed everything,” she says.

Hartley has always enjoyed watching films, but taking a film class opened her eyes to several types of cinema that she didn’t even know existed. She says she understood right away that film studies would make her think differently about watching movies.

“Within that first week of film class, I realized I would never be able to watch movies sort of numbly like I did before. I recognized that they were something to be analyzed, that they were an art form,” she says.

Hartley’s interest grew as that first film course progressed: “Learning there were so many different types of films out there was really mind-blowing, and when I took my first theoretical film course, I knew then that this was what I wanted to study because it was so fascinating.”

According to Hartley, Carleton’s faculty is an integral aspect that has made her experience so positive.

“I can’t name one faculty member that isn’t great. Everyone is so approachable, I remember going to several professors’ office hours and staying for an hour or two, just chatting,” she says.

She adds that she’s noticed that every professor is an expert in his or her field in film. “If you’re particularly interested in one area of film, it’s great because there is someone who really knows the lay of the land of that area,” she says.

Hartley says the only downside to the programme is that certain periods of film are overly emphasized, and if you’re not interested in that particular period, such as silent films or the French New Wave, you may be frustrated at how frequently you’ll have to hear about them.

The classes are full of friendly people from a variety of academic backgrounds, which she found refreshing.

She says there is a film society that meets every Friday that puts on great events and has interesting speakers, but because the school doesn’t fund the club, members often have to pay their own way.

STUDENT: Matthew Rossoni
SCHOOL: The University of Western Ontario is located in London, Ont., and the film programme has been around for a little more than three decades. After taking an introductory film course, students choose from a wide array of academic courses that focus on aesthetics, national and global cinemas, theory and particular periods of film history.
STUDENT RATING: Rossoni’s overall grade for Western’s film programme is an A.

Matthew Rossoni, now in his fourth year of film studies at Western, met a really nice guy during his first week of classes. “His name was Chris, we chatted away about everything, and I thought he was just this nice guy. Then somebody told me he was Christopher Gittings, the chair of my programme!” Rossoni says that’s a testament to how approachable and unintimidating the faculty is in his programme.

“The great faculty has made all the difference,” he says, noting that he has had professors that have gone out of their way to help him with course work that had nothing to do with the classes they were teaching.

Rossoni is the chair of Western’s Film Society, a group that puts on screenings and often gets guest speakers in to chat. He says the professors are always more than happy to help him with extra-curricular film events.

Just four years ago, Rossoni admits he was an 18-year-old who went to Silver City in his native London to see what he thought was the best of cinema. He came to Western’s film programme because he knew he liked watching movies but didn’t expect much.

“The first class, I was just blown away. We watched something by Jean-Luc Godard. I didn’t even know movies like that existed,” he said.

Rossoni says the programme has been expanding his perspective in cinema ever since.

“Watching films that were not mainstream changed me. I really gravitated to avant-garde stuff and the programme does a great job of exposing you to a lot of variety,” he says.

His love of avant-garde work led him and two other of his classmates to participate in and screen work at Media City, an experimental film festival in Windsor.

Rossoni says there is a great community around the closely-knit group of film students at Western.

“We’re always e-mailing each other about screenings and interesting things going on. We often will head out to Toronto, or wherever there is something of interest happening, as a little group,” he says.

Rossoni will be completing a thesis within the next year that will be focused on representations of masculinity in avant-garde films and he hopes to go on to do an MFA.

STUDENT: Andrew Moir
SCHOOL: The Ryerson University campus is located in downtown Toronto and offers students a unique blend of practical filmmaking and academic courses. In the first year of the programme, students take “core” film classes that range from history of film to practical courses about working in the film business.
STUDENT RATING: Moir gives Ryerson’s film programme an A-.

Andrew Moir plans to come out of Ryerson’s film programme with a degree at the end of the year and an accomplishment that he feels is just as important as that piece of paper.

“This programme taught me how to distinguish myself as a filmmaker,” he says.

Moir credits the programme’s competitive nature as an aspect that made him strive to make his work the best it could be.

“Everybody in the programme is nice, but they’re also very competitive,” he says. “I think that’s a good thing. I didn’t look at it like it was negative, catty behaviour. I tried to see it as something that should make me want to improve my work.”

Moir appreciates the programme being in the school of Image Arts, and says it has a profound effect on how things are taught.

“There’s an emphasis on the fine arts in general, and it’s mandatory to take an art history course, for example. It makes you understand how film fits as a medium into the larger picture of art,” he says.

The faculty has broadened that perspective, according to Moir, because all his professors have always been practising artists.

“I loved that aspect because you really felt they understood where you were coming from as someone who was creating something,” he comments.

Moir says that although he loves Ryerson being located downtown, he dislikes the lack of community he feels in an environment that “doesn’t really feel like a campus.”

Moir relies on his classmates to create a sense of community in their programme because he doesn’t feel the school does a good enough job.

Moir also says large class sizes can make teaching technical skills difficult.

“There’s only so many heads you can fit around a computer and so many instructors available to help you learn technical things,” he points out.

Despite all that, Moir says the programme has provided great hands-on experience and he hopes to work in the film industry after he graduates.

He is directing a documentary for his thesis project on a family living with a fatal neurological illness.

STUDENT: Luke Kuplowsky
SCHOOL: The University of Toronto cinema studies programme has existed for over 30 years and has an academic focus rather than a practical filmmaking emphasis. Students take introductory courses on film theory and history and then focus on more specific genres.

When Luke Kuplowsky was a kid, he used to scour the video stores in Toronto’s Chinatown, on the lookout for any foreign films that might interest him.

Anybody who knew him wasn’t surprised when, four years ago, he decided to study cinema at the University of Toronto.

“There was a real appreciation for film in my house, when I was growing up. My parents were showing me a variety of film from a young age and I was making movies with my brothers as a kid, too,” he says.

Kuplowsky was on the lookout again, after he graduated from high school—this time, for a film programme that would offer him what he wanted.

“It was really important to me that the programme I chose had a strong academic, theoretical and historical background. I wanted context for understanding movies, not the practical parts about learning how to make them,” he says.

Kuplowsky said he got precisely what he wanted at the University of Toronto.

“I understand film in such a different way now. I’ve been able to explore so much film theory behind the movies I love. It’s given me an ability to really analyze movies. I understand now what makes me appreciate the films that I love.”

Kuplowsky says professors at the prestigious University of Toronto can seem intimidating, but they are exceptionally approachable.

“They go out of their way to lend you their own films that they think you’d like. Also, they lend you tons of books!”

He says the small class sizes in the programme allow for a lot of student-professor interaction, which he appreciates.

Kuplowsky says the community around the programme makes it a fantastic place to be.

He is the president of the Cinema Studies Union, a group that publishes an academic journal, puts on seminars and explores different ways of watching movies.

Kuplowsky says the program has inspired him to look into doing a master’s in Cinema Studies at U of T.

He hopes to explore Chinese cinema in his graduate studies, and says he still finds gems in Chinatown.

STUDENT: Milos Mitrovic
SCHOOL: The University of Winnipeg film programme offers students a chance to make a film at the end of their degree and hone their filmmaking skills while learning about history and screenwriting at the downtown campus.

Milos Mitrovic says the University of Winnipeg’s film editing lab has been his adult daycare for the last four years.

“I’ve learned as much in there as I have in class,” the fourth-year film student says. Mitrovic is originally from Serbia, and when he was in Grade 11 he attended a film festival while visiting Sarajevo and realized he wanted to make films.

“The program at U of W was great because it was really practical. That’s what drew me to it, the fact that so much of it is hands-on work that teaches you how to make movies,” he says.

He says that since the first day, he has often cooped himself up in the editing lab with other students to collaborate and learn what he could about how to put together movies.

That practical side to the programme has aided him in making movies that he sent to the Gimli Film Festival as well as Sundance.

One of the highlights of the programme, according to Mitrovic, is being able to participate in a three-day film festival at the University of Winnipeg, where he says the film community in Winnipeg comes together to watch and share their love of cinema.

Mitrovic says he appreciates the way the courses are set up.

“You learn about history in your first year and halfway through, you start your own work. It gives you just enough to know about to have reference points but doesn’t overwhelm you,” he says.

He says the programme has an emphasis on storytelling in film, and he learned the majority of what he knows about character development and good writing from a comedy course he took in his film programme.

The rest he learned in the editing lab. He says the friendly and collaborative atmosphere among the students helps filmmakers thrive.

“Everybody here, including the students, really helps each other out. I learn a lot from having other people suggest things to me,” he says.

Mitrovic finds the faculty is equally helpful.

He says the only downside of the programme is a lack of preparation provided for when graduation hits.

“I feel like I’m going to have to move to Vancouver or Toronto to work in the film industry or do grad school because I haven’t made enough connections in the city to actually work here.”

Victoria Ptashnick is a graduate of Carleton University’s Journalism program and is currently finishing her master’s degree in Documentary Media at Ryerson University. She is a reporter at the Toronto Star.

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