Focus on Education

Canada Film School Survey: Reports from Quebec and Atlantic Canada

STUDENT: Jill Fogarty
SCHOOL: New Brunswick Community College, in Miramichi, teaches that where art meets deadlines in the competitive world of animation and graphics, skill and technology are almost equally important. There’s excitement about this rapidly evolving area of the industry, yet it also teaches basics and cutting-edge techniques in equal measure.
STUDENT RATING: Fogarty gives the school a whopping A+ rating.

Jill Fogarty is a second-year student who chose Miramichi to follow her childhood dream of becoming an animator.

“My cousin had gone to NBCC Miramichi for animation when I was younger,” Fogarty explains, “and she became very successful with the skills she acquired. It only made sense to follow the steps that led someone I knew to success.”

So it comes as no surprise that it’s the animation and graphics aspects and experts that she finds the best part of Miramichi.

“We get a lot of hands-on experience from amazing industry professionals,” Fogarty says, adding that the opportunity “to go to the Ottawa International Animation Festival in our second year to meet some contacts in the industry” is a big plus. “This programme not only teaches animation but also acting, storyboarding and layout. We also get experience with programmes such as Flash and After Effects that will help us in our careers.”

Miramichi will likely be happy to discover that this student had no criticisms of its programme whatsoever: “I can’t think of anything not enticing about this programme, to be honest.” Then she returns to singing its praises.

“The faculty never ceases to amaze me,” Fogarty says. “They are genuinely interested in our success both as a class and as individuals. There have been times when I emailed an instructor on a weekend and had a reply an hour later. They also get in some guest speakers and phone conferences that help us establish connections for our futures.”

Fogarty believes she is closer to being better equipped for the working world today than she was after university.

“This college experience has taught me more to do with my skill level and employability in two years than I learned in four years of university,” she says, noting she’s also found time to balance out schoolwork with some exercise.

“One cool part about this campus is that they have a gym you can go to any time it’s not in use,” she says. “I started a small running club with my friends on a whim and it feels great to add some exercise to our busy animating and drawing schedules.”

Fogarty says she feels well equipped for graduation and confident she’ll find employment now that she has the right tools.

“When I graduate I plan to move to Halifax or Ottawa and get a job animating in Flash. I’m also interested in working as a storyboard artist, so I will be working on finding something in that field as well,” she explains, adding a keener’s touch: “I may look for an internship to get myself started.”

STUDENT: Arshad Khan
SCHOOL: Concordia University’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema (Faculty of Fine Arts), in Montreal, offers a BFA in film production, a programme which integrates technical training with the study of aesthetic, historical and theoretical traditions informing contemporary filmmaking.
STUDENT RATING: C (taking an average of Khan’s first opinion of A and later F rating).

Arshad Khan is a Concordia University undergraduate student in film production who chose it for its pure cinematic roots and “because it was one of the few schools that still taught analog film production. I had seen some graduate work and I liked it.”

Khan says that the best and worst things about Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema are one and the same: staff. He heralded “some of the part-time faculty like David Douglas, Matthew Hays or Micheline Lanctot,” with whom he had “the honour, the privilege and the pleasure of studying.

“The worst thing about the school is that it is now replacing all these competent people with highly incompetent graduate students [master’s and PhD] who are not ready to teach at this level yet,” Khan continues. “In a ridiculous attempt to save money, they are replacing the highly experienced part-time faculty with inexperienced staff.”

Khan goes so far as to say the change in teachers has led to giving the school a failing score. “When I started it was a solid 8 out of 10. Now, with all the new profs teaching important and impressionable courses like Filmmaking 1, I would give this school a 4. [Editor’s note: we averaged this to a C grade.] This school seems to really be losing its grasp on reality. The equipment is inaccessible and old. There is a bleak future as it seems the school is neglecting this important department and just wants to keep the arts as an afterthought.”

On the upside, Khan gives Concordia’s extra-curricular activities a thumbs-up. “I love the different film festivals at this school, my favourite being the weekly Cinema Politica screenings of exceptional political documentaries. I also enjoy yoga at the gym for a very reasonable price.”

Khan’s current film is about a young boy named Zen who was born with severe mental defects caused by neglectful hospital staff during his birth in Thunder Bay, Ont. And he will continue his look at provincial life after graduation: “I expect to venture on my first feature film project…that tackles suburban Ontario.”

STUDENTS: Fazila Amiri and Karolina Szablewska
SCHOOL: NSCAD University in Halifax, a.k.a Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, focuses on hands-on learning and teaches dramatic, documentary and experimental film practices. Students rotate among many roles including writing, acting, directing, producing, cinematography, production design, editing and sound design.
STUDENT RATING: Szablewska says it is difficult to grade the school because she has “no experience with other film programmes”, while Amiri gives it a rating of A.

Kabul-born Fazila Amiri, is finishing her undergraduate degree, majoring in cinema in Halifax, and the Nova Scotia experience is fuelling this young cineaste’s dream ofchanging the world. “I came here because I thought, ‘This is a school you go to [to] enjoy your existence…[and] to save the ill-designed world.’ I think a lot of students feel this way,” she says.

Already well on her way to becoming a filmmaker with an international voice, Amiri’s first short film, Paaizeb, was screened at the 41st Montreal World Film Festival, and Gerreh, her thesis film, just screened at the Atlantic Film Festival. She’s living the dream.

“I have always wanted to be a cinema artist since the school years back in my homeland, Kabul. When I left Kabul to other third-world countries and finally to peaceful Canada, I decided to take life seriously in order to raise my voice as an artist. So I applied for NSCAD University and the good thing about it is while I’m studying cinema here, I’m still in an art institution and that has allowed me to express my dreams and my experiences through the medium of film as an art form.”

Amiri has also been involved in many other student film projects in fiction, documentary and avant-garde styles. “I took courses such as Experimental and Approaches to Non- Fiction and Expanded Cinema,” she says. Amiri’s unique perspective also sheds light on her view of the NSCAD faculty.

“Film is a complex craft and as an art form it needs a higher degree of tension,” she says. “In that sense, NSCAD faculty is all artists. They work with the students to help us achieve what we want, instead of treating it like a job. It is a special community for students, faculty and technicians.”

Yet Amiri adds sadly that “the school is going through an under-funding crisis.”

Nonetheless, the young student dreams of telling stories about what she’s seen in Canada and other countries through her new art form. “Being raised between Canada and third world countries, my films looks at the consequences for human rights and Canada’s role in there,” she explains, using the example of Paaizeb, which tells the story of child brides in Kandahar.

“My thesis film, Gerreh, tells the story of an immigrant bride who experiments with democracy in her new multicultural Canadian land,” she continues. And next, the lens returns homeward.

“I’m currently developing my first feature film to be shot in Kabul,” Amiri confirms, but in the meantime, she’s going to “keep being a student of life,” develop her “creativity” and stay “excited about making fiction films.”

Polish-born Karolina Szablewska is a third-year student majoring in film. Her first film, Smoulder, might well apply to her NSCAD University experience.

A Harrison McCain Scholarship winner, she arrived at NSCAD as a painter who’d been working seriously since she was a kid living in Poland. But while the Studio Practice Paint/Print class in Foundation year didn’t exactly stoke her interest, two other classes— Studio Practice: Intermedia and Foundation Video—did.

So did the “bustling little city” of Halifax upon her first visit around 2007.

“I applied only to this school, and felt very drawn to the artistic and carefree nature of it,” Szablewska continued. “I was initially a multimedia visual artist, and my intention was to explore as many different mediums [as possible] and perhaps find a new artistic path,” partly because “being a professional painter didn’t really float my boat.”

Having creative freedom while working with other young artists in new technology was just the ticket.

“We have [some] new technology and equipment,” she begins. “I have a great class that I will probably want to work with outside of school. I have creative freedom, and we get strong, honest critiques that are truly helpful. We have funding and screenings for our work.”

According to Szablewska, the university also has some of the usual quirks: “Some professors are a bit wacky and some classes really fall flat,” but like too many other schools in this report, the main drawback is, again, shrinking funding.

“We have very limited funding and the film department is probably the least financially honoured in our university,” she says. “Some of our equipment could really use repairing or replacing, but then, it also teaches us to work with what we have—which in the independent film world will be not much.” Welcome to Canada.

Also like other universities in eastern Canada, excellent professors get credit for making up where funding falls short.

“Our professors are amazing and friendly,” she says. “Some go out of their way to work with you on your project, stay overtime, and become your friends outside of class. I’ve had lunch, coffee, and even [been at] parties with some of my profs.”

Szablewska typically looks on the upside. “We have an up-to-date editing suite and a RED camera this year! Most importantly, we spend a lot of time working on screenwriting—we don’t just shoot for the sake of practicing technical skills. When comparing our work to what comes out of local college programmes or other universities in Canada, I find ours is a lot stronger”.

Suzan Ayscough is a writer, reporter and communications/media specialist. She is currently the director of communications & marketing (interim) for the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. She is a correspondent for Screen International and The Globe and Mail and her byline has appeared around the world in Daily Variety, among others. She produced the TV pilot Heartland for CBC, and has been VP communications for Alliance and Telefilm Canada. Follow Suzan on Twitter.

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