Film studies at the University of Toronto has progressed over the past 10 years from a college-controlled programme into an independent institute with fully integrated undergraduate, graduate and doctoral curricula. As enrollment in its undergraduate and master’s programmes increases, the Cinema Studies Institute (CSI) is strengthening its status as a premier film institution offering a programme that concentrates on film history and theory.
POV asked Corinn Columpar, the head of the CSI, about the effect of digital technology on the programme.
“Digital media has had a huge impact on film and media studies insofar as it has fundamentally changed our understanding of the very nature of film and media, most of which is now produced and exhibited through digital means, as well as the larger social and cultural context in which that film and media circulates,” she commented. “Given how seismic the shift from analog to digital has been, there is a ton of interest in exploring it, as exemplified by the work of our faculty. In that work you can see an active engagement with questions relating digitality to everything from aesthetics to politics, textuality to spectatorship and industry to technology. And based on the research projects being proposed by our graduate students, I expect that such interest and engagement will only increase in future years.”
POV asked if there are increasing numbers of students interested in VR and new media, and, if so, how they are being served.
Columpar replied, “There are. At U of T we just hired a new faculty member named Scott Richmond, whose specialization is digital media and who is teaching courses that foreground video games and social media, among other things. Having said that, a great number of our courses, even some of those dedicated to a far more traditional variety of cinema studies, take up questions of digitality since these questions have reframed so many of the debates and discussions that characterize the history of thinking about cinema. Through this two-pronged approach we are trying to keep apace with student interest. As for VR, this is not something we teach about with any regularity, but with the right faculty hire down the line, that could change.”
Columpar also pointed out that “our challenge is to place digital media in historical and theoretical context, linking it to other media forms and practices that were at one point ‘new’ while also appreciating and accounting for all that is unique and legitimately novel about it.”
The film studies programme at Carleton University favours academic study over practical filmmaking. Located in the nation’s capital, Carleton has the advantage of offering its undergraduate and master’s students a wide range of research and co-op opportunities. With honours and general BAs, which are offered alongside a research-driven MA programme, Carleton University is an established academic institution with unique practical elements that are difficult to find elsewhere.
POV asked Professor Tom McSorley about the impact of digital media on the film programme. “The impact has been considerable, with students being able to gain access to materials—primary and secondary—with much greater ease. While we still ensure that the moving images in class are seen collectively and without interruption (as in an actual theatre situation), motivated students are now engaging with the works in interesting new ways via digital research options (e.g. filmmaker interviews, websites, trailers, etc.). The rate of change in this area has been dizzying, but exciting and academically rewarding.
“We are also finding that students are increasingly interested in VR and new media, and we are trying to incorporate the study of these new forms into teaching about moving image culture and its ever-expanding manifestations (apps, gaming, etc.). It is a challenge, certainly, as the field is shifting constantly.”
Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema is divided into three programmes: Film Studies, Animation and Production. Digital media has affected all of them.
Concordia has built up an arsenal of digital equipment that can compete with any school in Canada. “Students are now shooting their work on the most advanced cameras used in the industry,” says adjunct Film Production professor Michael Yaroshevksy. “Third year students produce their films on ARRI Alexa XT 4:3/16:9 sensor cameras, second-years work with RED Scarlet cameras, and first-year students are introduced to digital film production on Blackmagic Cinema cameras.” The post-production tools are similarly impressive: students finish their projects with the Rohde & Schwarz Clipster digital intermediate system, an award-winning programme that can handle any level of resolution and is used in professional postproduction facilities globally.
“In Film Studies, digital media—particularly what’s available on the internet—has helped us greatly,” says Professor Catherine Russell. “For academics, there are articles and archival material available online, which can help research greatly in what is coming to be known as ‘digital humanities.’ Many of us still have to travel to find important documents related to our projects, but in many instances we can access important textual items through websites administered through universities, foundations, film festivals and other third-party websites.
“It’s also become possible to see rare films online. YouTube has many art films, documentaries, experimental cinema and silent classics, which are useful for students and professors alike. Through Vimeo and other sites, filmmakers and colleagues can offer access to even more contemporary and archival films. This is a real boon to us.
“We’re finding that students and teachers are engaging in the creation of video essays. Through greater access to visual material available in digital format, it’s possible to create essays combining film clips and contemporary footage, forming them into a scholarly statement.
“I’m seeing the gap between filmmaking and film scholarship closing thanks to the rise of digital media. We’re seeing the rise of ‘flipped classrooms,’ where students can view lectures online before class. When they’re in class, their time can be taken up with discussions, projects and exercises. That’s a step forward, though we’re only using this method sparingly so far.
“In our Film Animation unit, students are using digital technology almost exclusively. Apart from a drawing class or two—and even those use digital methodology—animators are all working with computers now. In Animation, we’re now engaged in paperless teaching. That’s quite a shift!”
The spirit of independent filmmaking continues at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD). Students are inspired to create auteur-driven works that draw from Halifax’s character and landscape says Solomon Nagler, associate professor of Film, in an interview with POV. They’re also studying in a community that has seen massive cuts to its cultural sector, so their teachers and professors emphasize community relationships as building blocks to a successful career.
NSCAD students get a thorough understanding of documentary through courses that show Canada’s history of non-fiction filmmaking. This understanding is key when the notion of “documentary” extends to hybrid films and poetic docs, right through to interactive works and virtual reality. NSCAD encourages students to see film within its larger context from the outset, as the school is unique in that students cannot enter with a declared major. A foundational year of coursework introduces students to various disciplines where they learn the history of a medium and develop critical approaches to media arts. Their second year narrows the focus and, by the third year, Media Arts students choose their path between Film, Photography and Intermedia.
Students benefit from conceiving of cinema as a composite art, especially nowadays when technological convergence means that forms are rapidly changing. Students eager to craft projects on apps, interactive and online tools, for example, might choose the Intermedia stream. The film stream offers cutting-edge technology like RED digital and the types of cranes, dollies, and sound equipment used in professional shoots. Students eager to study film on the medium for which it is named may relish courses like Cinema Sculpture, which lets pupils get their hands on tactile 16mm stock. By studying on physical film and learning hand-processing, NSCAD highlights the pedagogical benefits to shooting on celluloid as students learn the mechanics of the medium, more intimately than they might by fumbling with settings on digital cameras.
The Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative, the nation’s oldest English-language film co-op, offers hands-on experience and essential opportunities for students to make the transition from schoolwork to independent production. By starting the students with a strong foundation and developing their independent spirits, NSCAD prepares students for the ever-changing journey ahead.