The University of Calgary provides students with a thorough grounding in the historical and theoretical discourses on moving images POV learned in an interview with Charles Tepperman, associate professor. Film students pursue degrees specific to cinema, but the programme’s placement in the larger house of Communication, Media & Film provides the chance to study complementary aspects of media arts, like social media, new media and popular culture.
New technology creates fresh opportunities, and the university offers studies in emerging forms—for example, students may pursue a class in video essays and articulate their ideas through images. The theoretical and historical groundwork of the programme situates cinematic evolutions within their cultural contexts. Similarly, new workshops with established filmmakers, including acclaimed director Gary Burns in one forthcoming class, offer opportunities to make films with equipment to which the average student has access, like iPhones or webcams.
Students develop their programming skills at departmental events like the Docs that Matters series, which includes Q&As with faculty members and guest filmmakers. Extracurricular activities with media co-ops and campus broadcaster NUTV, or production gigs in live action and animation expose students to current and emerging trends in filmmaking. These strong but comparatively small organisations in the Calgary film scene offer advantageous access points to robust learning experiences instead of the revolving-door internships one sees in the largest industry hubs.
Aspiring auteurs need this foundational knowledge to hopefully become the next masters of art cinema, as great directors like Martin Scorsese and Jia Zhangke have solid critical backgrounds. Students eager to pursue production may apply their knowledge to the “2 & 2” partnership with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) Polytechnic, which engages with the technical side of the field. One needs to understand the medium in order to perfect it.
York’s long-running programme in Cinema and Media Studies has strong roots in documentary as pioneering NFB filmmaker James Beveridge was the founding chair when York taught its first cinema class in 1969. Barbara Evans, associate professor and interim chair of the Department of Cinema and Media Arts, told POV that York continues Beveridge’s legacy by nurturing research expertise and production skills alike. There are even full screenwriting programmes at the undergraduate and graduate levels—a unique trait among Canadian film programmes.
York has three streams: Production, Screenwriting and Cinema and Media Studies. Students can’t do all streams equally, but the range of opportunities means that one may take courses from each pursuit. York requires students in the Production and Screenwriting streams to pursue courses in theory and history to receive some groundwork knowledge, while students in the Cinema and Media Studies stream may contribute to projects for the Production and Screenwriting students.
York classes generally favour the theatrical mode of filmmaking, and students in the documentary production class can expect to produce three short films in the areas of factual entertainment, documentary and alternative non-fiction. The school keeps apace with the field by offering classes on interactive documentary while expanding and enlarging students’ perspectives on non-fiction film. Courses on film history ground the students’ understanding that film is a medium of constant evolution, while classes in Transmedia Storytelling and Interactive Documentary explicitly engage with the new modes of web, mobile and tablet-based storytelling bringing documentary to screens. Moreover, the department itself exists within the interdisciplinary School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design, which exposes students to complementary areas of the arts and shows that culture and creativity are fluid. And with a subway stop finally expected to bridge the campus to rapid transit, York truly keeps itself connected.
Seneca’s unique Documentary and Non-Fiction Media Production programme incorporates training in technical, creative and editorial disciplines and is geared for both the business world and the film industry. The Institute—which offers a year-long graduate programme and an abbreviated summer version—encourages students to think like accomplished independent filmmakers. In an interview with POV, Mark Jones, chair, School of Creative Arts and Animation, explains how every student produces an individual project that begins at the outset of his or her studies.
Seneca encourages students to have a story in mind while applying, as pitches are part of the process. The story pitch tells Seneca’s staff how students fit within the programme and it helps the students learn to be flexible with their stories during research, coursework and production. Clearly, Seneca interweaves the practical realities of independent filmmaking within its educational DNA. Key to the dynamic and creative freedom of the Seneca experience are the many industry contacts that students will make during their close-knit studies with professors who themselves are working in independent production. The relationships created on campus are intended to establish opportunities for students after graduation.
Students eager to explore the increasingly fluid nature of the documentary form should consider the more diverse year-long graduate programme. Classes in transmedia let students build web-based projects like web-series and interactive docs in which code and design become just as essential as interviewing and research skills. Students and teachers are joint explorers in these emerging art forms that are too new to have any established rules. This freshness invites creative freedom, which the campus echoes overall with its inclusive approach to multi-disciplinary storytelling.
Students at Ryerson University find themselves at the intersections of documentary media. The main programme in Documentary Media requires graduate students to complete a film, photo show or new media piece as part of their master’s thesis.
Ryerson lets students in other programmes explore the space between film and photography with a new interdisciplinary stream, the Integrated Digital (ID) option. This stream, which film and photography students may choose to enter in their third year of studies, combines elements of both mediums with digital convergence.
ID builds upon foundational knowledge from the film and photography streams and introduces students to new trends in production and research that the other programmes don’t fully cover. Mobile app development, multi-channel video, non-linear and interactive productions are options for students eager to explore the new possibilities. Ryerson even houses new technology in virtual reality, so students pursuing documentary are truly on the cusp of the latest trends. While Ryerson doesn’t yet devote a specific class to VR—it’s simply too new—students may create their work in this form and stitch together images using the full range of space that extends beyond the screen. This new terrain doesn’t require much technical expertise outside of cinematic skills, as the software applications are pre-coded. Rather, this emerging trend requires a new way of thinking.
Equally innovative is the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC), which houses galleries, research opportunities and invaluable collections of photography and media arts. The RIC affords students opportunities for work and study, while frequent guest speakers and visiting artists connect students to leaders in their fields. Situated in the heart of downtown Toronto near cultural hubs, festivals, theatres, galleries and production houses, Ryerson encourages students to see the city as their campus. Like the new possibilities of doc form, it’s a grid of infinite views.