Features

Class Acts: Quebec & Atlantic Canada

What’s going on with films and schools in Quebec and Canada’s eastern provinces? Allan Tong examines the scene.

Students in the University of New Brunswick film programme shooting on-location. Courtesy University of New Brunswick.

When you think of film schools east of Ontario, the names Concordia and NSCAD spring to mind. Both schools boast reputable programmes, but residing in their shadows are some surprises. Frederiction hosts an animation programme at the New Brunswick Community College, and Stephenville, Nfld., is home to Canada’s eastern-most film programme at the College of the North Atlantic.

Since this survey includes film programmes only at universities and colleges, noteworthy “stand-alone” establishments such as the Trebas Institute in Montreal and Toronto are not included. The Centre for Arts and Technology’s Digital Filmmaking programme in Fredericton falls in the same category.

New Brunswick Community College, Miramichi, N.B.

For more than 14 years, the New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) has been offering a two-year diploma in Animation and Graphics. A high school diploma and a decent portfolio are what you require to get in. About 60 applicants vie for 20 spots each year. Tuition is $2,600 a year plus another $2,000 in supplies and textbooks. Students study in a mock studio environment in individual workstations, and have at their disposal dedicated PC and Mac computer labs as well as professional-grade rooms to conduct sound recording, video editing and life drawing.

The two years begin with teaching students all aspects of animation production, from preproduction to post, until they complete a demo for their professional portfolio. Outside class, students can use an archive of the NFB Film Library and enter the school’s Jalloo Festival of Animation and Gaming each June, which showcases student work to prospective employers. The faculty numbers 13, including three dedicated to animation, hailing from studios such as Disney and Nelvana. Some grads have secured work with Sony Picture Imageworks, EA Games and Ubisoft, among others.

University of New Brunswick (UNB), Fredericton, N.B.

UNB’s College of Extended Learning offers a Certificate in Film Production, but that can be misleading. The film course is open to anyone, not only mature students, and adds up to 30 credit-hours, which can be completed in one intense full-time year, but usually is done in two on a part-time basis. Of those 30 credit hours, 24 are devoted to film production starting with video as well as an introductory film theory and international film history class. Core classes cover writing, directing, acting and producing, while the remaining electives range anywhere from early German cinema to film noir. Some courses can take place in the late afternoon or evening, and some are scheduled only during intersession.

The film programme was established 15 years ago when a UNB instructor approached the New Brunswick Filmmakers’ Co-op for assistance. Today, students have access to the Co-op’s 16mm and super-16mm cameras, lights, dolly and grip equipment to augment the UNB’s supply of Lowel lighting, DV hardware and 18 iMacs that use Final Cut Pro. Admittedly, it’s not a deep pool, but it’s enough to allow students to learn the basics of video production. The Co-op also hosts a 48-hour filmmaking contest that attracts lots of students. Annual tuition is $6,000. UNB admits that it’s never a problem having too many students to fill its 20 spots each year as long as they fulfill the entrance requirements for the arts programme.

In fact, UNB students pursuing a degree in other studies can minor in film by taking courses such as Women in Film. A key distinction between the film certificate and the film minor is that the latter leans heavily on theory and the former on practical film production. Full-time film students can expect to share classes with psychology majors, part-time students, and even those from neighbouring St. Thomas University. It’s not unusual for adults working in other careers or those already working in media to enroll in film production to sharpen their film and video skills.

Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), Halifax, N.S.

Since 1999, the NSCC has offered a two-year intensive diploma in Screen Arts covering film and video. The heart of the programme is a large production studio that houses equipment for producing films in 16mm film, mini DV, DVCAM and HD, and in post, Final Cut Pro and Pro Tools, and Steenbecks. The studio is connected to a dedicated carpentry shop for set building. There are no electives since all courses are compulsory.

Outside the classroom, students enjoy discount passes at the Atlantic Film Festival. Also, NSCC claims an “informal” relationship with local unions and guilds, but don’t have official partnerships with them. Similarly, students (in all NSCC programmes including film) can enter a federal co-op programme between years, but students have to find a position in a federally funded agency related to their studies. NSCC won’t divulge how many applications it receives for its 25 spots each year, but tuition is $2,700.

Recent graduate Jason Eisener just completed his first feature, Hobo With a Shotgun, starring Rutger Hauer. Faculty includes Chris Campbell, past president of the New Brunswick Filmmakers’ Co-op, and vice-president and board member of the Independent Film and Video Alliance of Canada. The two full-time teachers include video artist Janet Hawkwood.

Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD), Halifax, N.S.

The Maritimes has limited choices in film studies but the most well-known is the internationally recognized Bachelor of Fine Arts major in film at NSCAD.

The programme started seven years ago, and combines hands-on film production courses techniques with liberal arts classes. To enter the BFA in film, students must first complete two years of study in specific courses, then earn at least 42 credits in film in their final two years. Basically, year one consists of a foundation programme. In year two, students must complete general studio, art history and liberal arts studies, on top of introductory film and video making before declaring their major in film for years three and four.

Practical work dominates the film programme. Students learn to shoot on the RE D camera and on a 16mm Arris before moving on to HD with 35mm Zeiss Primes lenses. NSCAD has a 3,500-square-foot soundstage, equipped with acoustic baffling. Junior students edit on Steenbecks and seniors on Final Cut Pro. In the final semester, students make a film as either a producer, director, actor, animator or screenwriter. Those films are mixed in stereo and a 5.1 mix and show at the end of the year at a local cinema in 5.1. To graduate, you need 33 film credits plus nine in art history.

Outside class, students can access a large film library that houses experimental and documentary films from the 1980s and ’90s, and the Atlantic region’s National Film Board collection of 16mm films. In 2004, NSCAD partnered with the Atlantic Filmmakers’ Cooperative to open an animation facility, housing the only 35mm film-capable Oxberry Master Animation camera in the region, as well as other animation and optical printing equipment.

NSCAD, Dalhousie, Mount Saint Vincent and St. Mary’s jointly run the Halifax Interuniversity Film Studies Minor Program. Students can network and watch documentaries with NSCAD, the Atlantic Filmmakers’ Cooperative and DOC’s Atlantic Chapter. The organizations run the DOCULA conference, which includes a symposium about the state of documentaries, and public screenings of Canadian documentaries such as Last Train Home.

Approximately 40 students are enrolled at any one time. (An additional 10 to 20 students take film courses as options to other majors.) As with other undergraduate programmes at NSCAD, approximately 60% of students are from Atlantic Canada, 30% from the rest of Canada and 10% international. Students must submit a portfolio to enter the film programme. Tuition is $3,100 per semester.

College of the North Atlantic: Media Arts Centre (M.A.C.), Stephenville, Nfld.

The only film programme in Newfoundland offers a diploma after two years of film and video production. While the typical film school will balance film production with theory, M.A.C.’s Bay St. George campus is unapologetically hands-on.

The programme is broken into five semesters, beginning with digital video training on Canon XL2s, and film history in the first. The secondexpands into crew work (lighting, electrics, grip, rigging) as well as digital audio and photography. In the third semester, students make a short film over six weeks. The fourth semester concentrates on producing, documentaries, editing and computer graphics. The last term covers more sound, digital compositing and cinematography. After the Canon, students use Panasonic and Canon HD cams, and cut on Avid Xpress Pro 5. Students here must produce both a narrative film and a documentary to graduate.

They can shoot in scenic smalltown Newfoundland or in a studio, while taking advantage of a large film library. Guest speakers include members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation and NI FCO (the Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Co-Operative). The school is also affiliated with a 24-hour filmmaking contest that many students enter.

Tuition is the lowest in eastern Canada and perhaps the entire country at only $830 per semester. Despite that, landing one of the 15 spots is easy, given the low number of applications from Canada and abroad. In fact, this year students hail from Mexico, India and exotic Ontario.

Concordia University, Montreal, Que.

Based on reputation and the calibre of its teachers, Concordia remains Quebec’s top English-language film school. The Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema boasts alumni such as Gary Burns (2000’s Waydowntown), actress Pascale Bussières (The Five Senses), Erik Canuel (Bon Cop, Bad Cop), Lynne Stopkewich (Kissed) and animator Torill Kove (The Danish Poet). Most of the school’s faculty actively make films, including the producer of Last Train Home, Daniel Cross.

The programme is broken into three streams: animation, film production and film studies spread over three years. However, out-of-province students must take an extra foundation year totalling 30 credits to match the extra year of education that Quebec students receive. Also, Concordia offers an MFA in Studio Arts (Film Production Option), an MA in Film Studies, and a PhD in Film and Moving Image Studies.

In the first year, students shoot one film per semester, while in the second and third years a script committee greenlights a limited number of student projects. Once they start the programme, students can take courses from other streams, but in only a handful of situations. For instance, a student could minor in Animation in order to access animation courses.

Unsurprisingly, it isn’t cheap attending Concordia. In addition to the $2,067 tuition ($5,667 for out-of-province students, $16,159 international), students must budget for living expenses in a city that’s no longer cheap, plus $1,000 to $2,000 in film stock, processing and other hard costs. Those in later years should budget for $5,000 annually, but can apply for grants to cover one-third of their budgets. Despite the costs, many apply. This current year, 570 applicants vied for 60 places in Film Production, and another 194 tried to land one of the 40 spots in Film Animation.

Because it’s located in downtown Montreal, there’s always something for the film student to do. Each May, Concordia hosts a festival of student films. Outside the classroom, students can participate in the students’ association, a graduate student association, a student-run journal, a website dedicated to le cinéma québécois and a couple of screening groups. Beyond the campus, Concordia posts internships, which students can do during the year, from its community and business contacts.