Features

Scenarios for Film Programmes from Manitoba to Nova Scotia

Part 2 of POV’s 7th annual Focus on Education survey

The University of Manitoba


For an introduction to POV’s 7th annual Focus on Education survey, click here.

UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA, DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH, FILM AND THEATRE | WINNIPEG Three- to four-year BFA in Film Studies

Background information provided by George Toles, distinguished professor, and Jim Agapito, director of technical services, Film Studies programme; Department of English, Film and Theatre, University of Manitoba

LEAD ROLE: The film depicts an ensemble of university-age students throughout their experience in the University of Manitoba’s Film Production course. A scrappy bunch, they’re eager to learn and take on the challenges of indie filmmaking. A film about them would centre on a choral protagonist instead of privileging any one student’s perspective.

ROLL CAMERA: POV’s doc observes students over the full course of the feature film programme at the University of Manitoba. Twentyodd students undergo the course together. They conceive of a story for a feature film and work on it collaboratively through every stage of production through to completion.

The narrative starts with the students developing their film’s plot and characters with professor and filmmaker George Toles, who emphasizes the importance of great storytelling. Any wannabe with a camera can quote and sample from classic films, so the class learns that an original story is at the core of any great film. Through trial and error, writing and revision, and workshopping, the class finds the right material to move towards production in the second semester. Members of the Winnipeg Film Group, with which Toles and the school have strong ties, offer additional guidance.

Production begins in the next semester. The students scout locations, plan colour palettes, envision the right costumes for their characters, and fine-tune lighting schemes. They work together, and the film features constant back and forth as the students reconcile their creative differences. A montage evokes the theme of “long days and collaboration” as the assignment mirrors a real world film shoot.

Jim Agapito guides students through “three weeks of hell” as they shoot fourteen-hour days. They’re exhausted, but another montage shows them playing all sorts of roles behind the camera. The collaboration continues through post-production to completion.

THE CHALLENGE: The biggest challenge the students face is surviving the intensity of the programme. The class project of “guerrilla filmmaking” mimics real-world shoots with its exhausting workdays and high demands. Students must check their egos at the door. One student struggles with the long nights and chilly Manitoba mornings; others flourish at the intense pace. Arguments pepper the first half of the film as students have competing visions, but they diminish as they begin to develop a proper synergy.

We see several students become leaders as they learn multiple roles, juggle competing demands, and balance their creativity with the practical realities of a feature film shoot. By the end, the class is indistinguishable from a fine-tuned team on a professional shoot.

THE SCREENING: The final film screens at the Winnipeg Film Group’s Cinematheque. The students premiere their finished feature as the room buzzes with relief and excitement for the finished product of a two-year collective journey. A new class of filmmakers is born.

EPILOGUE: The students are well prepared for a variety of roles in the film community. Some move on to new film schools, like UCLA, and stand out among their peers with their experience. Others jump directly into indie filmmaking as writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, and editors, while others move into roles in distribution and acquisition. With so much hands-on experience, they’re ready for anything.

The Film Studies programme at the University of Manitoba (UofM) offers the only opportunity in Canada for students to take a feature filmmaking course. Whereas other schools task students with making short films, U of M prepares the students with the Film Production class, which mirrors real-world shoots and uses the feature film as a model to immerse students in production. Courses in theory, history and form ensure that students are well-read and well-versed in cinema before they put their passion into practice.

FANSHAWE COLLEGE, SCHOOL OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA | LONDON, ON One-year Ontario College Graduate Certificate programme in Advanced Filmmaking

Background information provided by Romy Goulem, programme coordinator, Advanced Filmmaking programme, School of Contemporary Media, Fanshawe College.

MAIN CHARACTER: Mandy, 24, graduated with a BA in film studies and heads back to school after a gap year. She wants to be a director, but she loves photography and avidly posts selfies with her book and Blu-ray collection on Instagram.

TREATMENT: POV’s doc on Mandy’s post-grad experience opens as Mandy starts the twelve-month program at Fanshawe by putting the book smarts of her critical theory education into practice. She learns that there’s a difference between setting up a shot and writing aboutone, and she loves it. She snaps a picture of her arrival on campus and the doc shows the first of many selfies that mark her journey. Title card: #HollywoodHereICome

The film shows Mandy creating a pitch for her first assignment, a documentary. The 40 students in Mandy’s class submit a pitch. Hers is one of 20 selected. She assumes the role of director. #LivingTheDream

The doc observes Mandy as she works on the assignment, a documentary about selfie culture, and develops it over the course of several classes. She learns the art of editing, and then edits the same project for class. The same goes for sound. In addition to class, she takes advantage of IATSE union training courses. The sequence shows a cycle of repetition and growth. #Teamwork

POV’s doc observes that collaboration is key at Fanshawe as Mandy directs the film but interacts with her classmates and students from other programmes. The doc shows her shooting the film (interviews with teens and a few montages of selfies across the ages) during the three-week block reserved for shooting. She meets with students in the Audio Post-Production program and they create a nifty sound design. Mandy posts a selfie in the audio suite with the completed selfie doc. #meta

The film shows Mandy reapplying her skills on a narrative feature in the second semester. This time Mandy is the cinematographer on the shoot and she works under the guidance of a classmate who learned under her direction in the documentary project. This act mirrors the first with its cycle and collaboration, except with different material. Mandy attends a casting process as students from Fanshawe’s Theatre Arts programme audition for the film. She snaps a selfie with the film’s new lead. #CastingIs90PercentDirecting.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Mandy’s biggest challenge is the heavy workload. Time management is tricky, and the film shows the students scrambling on the documentary project. They can’t find the right aesthetic to make the doc feel authentic. Mandy, Instagramming the shoot with her Toaster filter, has an a-ha moment as the image reminds her of a Maysles film from her studies. She knows the perfect look. In the second act of the film, Mandy, seasoned with her experience from the doc, sets up the perfect lighting scheme for the drama. She uses her experience on one film to inform the other. #SharpShooter

THE SCREENING: A selection of student projects screens at the school’s year-end film festival. Mandy’s drama didn’t make the cut, but her documentary did. She undertakes the marketing for both the festival and the film. She buys a new selfie stick for the occasion. #NextStopOscars

EPILOGUE: Cut to one year later: Mandy works as a cinematographer following a summer internship in Toronto. Her selfie documentary inspired her to live every day at 24 frames per second. She and her classmate made a film together. POV’s doc ends with Mandy taking a selfie on the red carpet of the Berlin Film Festival. #MadeIt

The Advanced Filmmaking programme at Fanshawe College is an Ontario College Graduate Certificate programme that teaches all stages of production, from pre-production to shooting to post-production. Students make both a documentary and a narrative film over the three-semester programme. The programme emphasises collaboration between departments, which gives students real-world experience as they interact with peers from fields such as acting, audio, marketing, and more.

Philosopher’s Walk.
Photo courtesy of U of T.

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, CINEMA STUDIES INSTITUTE | TORONTO Four-year BA in Cinema Studies

Background information provided by Corinn Columpar, associate professor & director, Cinema Studies Institute, University of Toronto.

LEAD ROLE: Polly, a 22-year-old student in her fourth year of film studies, is a sharp thinker with a vibrant sense of humour. She carries herself like Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday. Like the smart-talking reporter of the Howard Hawks comedy, Polly has a way with words. As she pursues a running investigation—the age old-dilemma of what to do with a liberal arts degree—Polly embraces life’s challenges. Add a dose of Greta Gerwig circa Frances Ha for contemporary good measure and spunk.

ROLL CAMERA: The film opens as Polly sits with her classmate, Sarah, as they vent their anxieties about their impending graduation. Their banter assumes a rapid-fire rat-a-tat-tat as Polly and Sarah debate their future. Dialogue overlaps as the pair finishes each other’s sentences with new ideas and competing thoughts. In the spirit of His Girl Friday, the actress playing Polly should be free to ad-lib.

Polly’s natural inquisitiveness has sharpened during her four years in the Cinema Studies program at U of T. She wanders around Innis College, inspired by Sarah’s suggestion that she investigate the deeper meaning of her studies.

Effervescent, chatty and approachable, Polly decides to share her investigation with her fellow students. POV’s doc shows Polly interviewing peers of various disciplines. She watches life around her, which carries the magic of a moving picture as she observes student life on the beautiful campus in the heart of downtown Toronto. Cary Grant-types zoom to class with coffees in one hand and essays to deliver in the other.

Reared on the wordsmithery of her film school days, Polly drolly confronts her future like a thesis in search of evidence. She pores over Facebook posts, old essays, photos of friends and lovers, memories of TIFF events (Oprah sightings and the like) as she wonders what the future holds.

THE CHALLENGE: Polly’s biggest challenge is keeping her sense of humour. The competing perspectives run through her mind and challenge her, but her inquisitiveness and self-appraisal ensure that she is ready for the challenges that follow graduation. She keeps her spirits up by attending film events around the city, like a Higher Learning chat at the Lightbox and a doc or two on campus during Hot Docs. She even gets a reading from Miss Cleo, who’s at Innis Town Hall for the premiere of her documentary Hotline. As Miss Cleo turns the cards, Polly latches onto the openness and malleability of her words. She realises that nobody has a certain path, especially during undergrad. The future is a place of endless possibilities.

THE SCREENING: Polly’s final work is a brilliant, lengthy essay. She submits an excellent term paper for her fourth-year film seminar. Polly analyses elements of screwball comedies from classic Hollywood, and shapes a strong argument that laughter is the key to personal and collective growth in uncertain times. She gets an A. Polly finds the grade to be refreshing proof that life always inspires her to reach for more.

EPILOGUE: Polly is now a successful writer. She has two novels to her name and she works part-time at a non-profit where she fights for standardised screening fees from galleries, film festivals, and other institutions to support artists. She teaches creative writing classes at night and intoxicates peers with her love of words every day.

The Cinema Studies Institute at the University of Toronto offers students a thorough grounding in the aesthetic, technological, economic and sociocultural dimensions of cinema. Students explore and research film in lectures and seminar classes, and they develop masterful communication skills as words form the core of their studies. A recent study with the _Toronto Star changed perceptions of the gender gap in film studies by noting that 67.5% of U of T Cinema Studies undergrads are female._

CENTENNIAL COLLEGE | TORONTO Three-year Ontario College Advanced Diploma in Broadcasting – Radio, Television, Film and Digital Media

Background information provided by Chris Terry, co-ordinator, Broadcasting and Film programme, Centennial College and Jeannette Loakman, co-ordinator for TV, Film & Business, Centennial College.

THE LEAD: Shireen, 24, is older than many members of her 55-person cohort at Centennial. She’s from Pakistan and took a few years to adjust to Canada before deciding to pursue her ambition, to make socially relevant documentaries.

ROLL CAMERA: (“First Year” appears on the screen) Shireen finds it hard at first to adjust to working with 18 and 19-year-old Canadians, but she soon picks up her pace to match them. In her first two semester —year one—she works on writing for radio, taking pictures for a photography course as well as taking classes in editing, post production and videography.

She wins a “Donny award”:http://centennialondemand.com/channel/media/video/the-donny-awards/—Centennial’s broadcasting and film prize—for an eight-minute radio piece on the difficulties a young Bangladeshi woman is having in getting a job and a proper home in Toronto.

(“Second year”) Shireen focuses more on documentary practice while still taking technical courses that would work for fiction films as well. In her third semester, she works on five- to eight-minute mini-docs with two or three classmates. Shireen loves a couple of these short docs—one directed by a friend on a female artist from Egypt and another that she shoots verité-style about a typical day in a crisis centre.

In her fourth semester, she works with 15 to 18 students on a half-hour TV news show. Shireen co-produces and helps to package the show; she shoots one of the three news items and helps to script another one. The show wins a Donny.

(“Third Year”) Shireen is on the short list to direct one of the two in the Doc & Factual stream at school. She doesn’t make it but does end up shooting one of them. Refusing to be discouraged, Shireen makes a 5-minute doc with one other student, which is fully sanctioned by her department’s coordinator. Her short—a vivid, direct cinema look at a feminist activist at a rally—is raw and breathtaking. She wins an unofficial prize: a placement with a brilliant female documentarian.

(“Last semester: The Placement”) Shireen works with her mentor, an award-winning tough but compassionate doc-maker. She shoots most of the interviews for what becomes a brilliant verité doc. Shireen’s mentor hires her and agrees to act as the producer on her first official doc.

THE CHALLENGE: Shireen’s biggest difficulty at Centennial is simultaneously her greatest strength. She is so good at cinematography and scripting that being named director for projects often eludes her. She realises that she’ll have to assert herself more in the “real” world.

THE SCREENING: The Donny Award Night. It’s a big night for Shireen. She is acknowledged for her cinematography on her friend’s 15-minute doc and gets a surprise win for her short doc on the female activist. After those two wins, Shireen feels empowered to work on the doc she wants to make.

EPILOGUE: It’s two years later. Shireen completes a feature length film on an Indian woman who suffers grievous injuries due to spousal abuse but emerges triumphant as a local feminist leader in Alberta. Her film is chosen for Hot Docs, where she wins the Emerging Canadian Filmmaker Award.

In Centennial College’s Broadcasting – Radio, Television, Film & Digital Media programme, students are trained in both the traditional skills of storytelling in the motion picture, television and radio industries as well as the emerging skills of multiplatform production. The programme prepares students with both the creative and technical skills required for success in the time-based media industry. Students learn how to develop and create original story content, as well as how to prepare, manage and carry out the production process to realise a creative vision.
— Centennial College report by Marc Glassman

Students filming in front of Queen’s University’s Isabel Bader Centre.
Photo courtesy Clarke Mackey

QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY, DEPARTMENT OF FILM AND MEDIA | KINGSTON Four-year BA in Film and Media

Background information provided by the author of this article, who has a BA from the Queen’s film department.

LEAD ROLE: Lee, 20, is a third-year film student. His house in Kingston’s downtown student ghetto contains more copies of The Criterion Collection than you’d see in a still image from the filmcrazy teen flick Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Lee has two homes in Kingston: his house and Queen’s Film House…for now.

ROLL CAMERA: It’s a bittersweet day for Lee. He stands with his classmates as they say good-bye to Film House, the iconic campus landmark at Queen’s University that sits on Stuart Street next to Leggett Hall. The day’s a lot like the emotion-packed one he spent when he left his family home in Vancouver and moved to Kingston for school.

Film House is closing and the cinema students are moving to a new home. Lee recalls fond memories as he takes his last stroll through the halls of Film House. He remembers the room where he shot his first assignment. Images of film prof Derek Redmond demonstrating the differences between a shotgun mic, a boom mic, and a cardioid mic float through his mind. He peeks at the editing suites where he spent hours cutting projects, like his documentary short for Film 250 and his silent-era inspired project for Peter Baxter’s film history class. He spent sleepless nights here with friends during the annual Focus Film Festival. Fade to black.

Lee and his friends walk over to the new Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts on King Street. They collectively gasp as they see the difference. “It’s like The Social Network, but a building,” his pal Casey says as she points to the brilliantly designed building, which mixes Kingston limestone with Ivy League architecture of steel and refinished wood.

The friends tour the building and see a world of possibilities in their new home. Open space invites collaboration. Large windows look out over Lake Ontario and provide inspiration. Lee imagines future projects as he cranes his head and admires the space. They visit the theatre at the heart of the Centre with immaculate worldclass acoustics. Lee runs to the back of the room and mumbles a few words he shouldn’t, just to see if his friends can hear him. They do.

When they get to the 92-seat film screening room equipped with the best in digital projection, their faces light up. This room is exactly where they imagined themselves as filmmakers in their dreams.
Lee’s amazing day forms the first quarter of POV’s doc on him at Queen’s.

THE CHALLENGE: The challenge of studying film at Queen’s is to stay constantly ahead of a field that evolves rapidly. Technologies change and ideas refresh, so Queen’s Film becomes Queen’s Film and Media. Lee remembers when his brother took his first courses on media and popular culture with Sidneyeve Matrix. Their mother raised her eyebrows when she learned that Lee’s brother participated in class by clicking a button à la Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but she openly ate crow when his friends added that Pop Culture was the only class they all attended every week.

The same innovation carries into Lee’s film project. Queen’s has encountered difficulties in a field that demands new technology as cameras and equipment evolve, but their new state-of-the-art facility, a work of art itself, demonstrates that the university and its students are ready to meet the challenge.

THE SCREENING: In POV’s doc, the Bader inspires Lee to make a science fiction film in his fourth year production class. He draws from his own idea of embracing the unknown and charting new territory in a place that’s out of this world. Professor Clark Mackey commends him when the credits roll on the first class of projects to screen at the new theatre. It’s like being in Cannes.

EPILOGUE: Lee now works in television as a cinematographer. He shoots a TV cop drama in Toronto and scores the occasional gig with a feature. He attends Homecoming every year—which provides a nice conclusion to the doc about him.

In 2015, the Department of Film and Media moved to its new home at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. This state-of-the-art facility is designed by Ottawa-based architects N45 and Oslo’s Snøhetta. The Centre features a 566-seat performance hall, an inspiring art and media lab, a 100-seat flexible theatre and a 92-seat film screening room with tiered seating, high-end audio, and DCP projection.

CARLETON UNIVERSITY, FILM STUDIES PROGRAMME | OTTAWA One- to two-year MA in Film Studies

Background information: the author of this report received his Master’s degree in Film Studies at Carleton.

LEAD ROLL: Grant, 22, enjoys his first year of grad school at Carleton University. The longevity of Carleton’s film programme in the School for Studies in Art and Culture impresses him. He’s excited to dive into a roster of courses on world cinema, Canadian cinema, and the film festival network.

ROLL CAMERA: POV’s doc begins as Grant arrives on campus. He’s just enjoyed one of the unique experiences associated with studying in Canada’s capital during the winter: instead of taking the bus or the O-Train to school, he skates to class on the Rideau Canal. It’s the perfect prelude for his upcoming class discussion. As a teaching assistant for the Film 1000 class, he is about to lead his students in a conversation on Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine. He studied the film with Professor André Loiselle during undergrad, so he enjoys the new experience of engaging students with a film that shaped his own love for Canadian cinema.

After Grant unlaces his skates and saunters to class, he opens up his MacBook and leads the class discussion. The first-year students keenly engage with topics in Canadian cinema and use the previous semester’s foundational lessons on style and meaning to confront questions on self-representation. His life mirrors the Canadian films he studies, as he documents his research in an endless stream of selfies filtered with a decidedly Canadian preoccupation with technology and self-representation. “Love live the new flesh! #cdnfilm #movies #school #studydaze,” he Instagrams from the private study room he shares with fellow grad students.

Grant’s passion for Canadian film teaches him the value of festivals within Carleton’s larger offering of world cinema. New courses on film festival programming and digital cinema pepper the syllabi of Carleton students. Entire film classes make the trip to Toronto and taste the festival experience of TIFF as a part of their studies.

Grant takes eager notes in anticipation of film critic Dudley Andrew’s upcoming guest visit. He also checks the poster on the wall and notes upcoming details of a visiting filmmaker who will present her documentary on Arab Spring. Next week, Cameron Bailey, artistic director of TIFF, will come to speak to students about the roles festivals play in fostering world cinema. The talks spur some ideas for Grant’s thesis.

THE CHALLENGE: POV’s doc features Grant enjoying the best that the small, but rich film scene in Ottawa has to offer. Trips to the ByTowne and the Mayfair are as essential as his weekly tutorials. Events with the Canadian Film Institute (CFI) are housed on campus with festivals like the Bright Nights Baltic-Nordic Film Festival complementing the school’s spotlight on world cinema by screening the latest international indies in pristine DCP at the new River Building Theatre. Grant becomes the teaching assistant (TA) for the CFI’s executive director Tom McSorley, who also teaches at Carleton. McSorley offers tips to Grant on which films to catch at the fest. (The answer, as always, is “everything.”) A new African Film Festival pops up on campus, which Grant eagerly awaits after enjoying a course in Burkina Faso with Professor Aboubakar Sanogo during undergrad.

THE SCREENING: Inspired by the practical efforts and passions of his profs, Grant writes his thesis on the film festival circuit. He attends a variety of film festivals and sees the celebration of film as a meeting place between his academic rigours and the popular realities of film.

EPILOGUE: In a fitting turn with Grant’s love for Canadian film, his narrative includes a road trip. He makes the move to Toronto and lands an internship with the programming team of a major film festival. POV’s doc concludes with him running like Antoine Doinel in Truffaut’s Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows) to a beach, where he looks pensively at the audience. Will he write a book? Program a festival? Make a film? Quién sabe?

The Film Studies programme at Carleton University offers a range of courses that engage students with historical, critical, theoretical, and philosophical approaches to film. Topics engage with a range of Canadian and international cinema. The programme offers undergraduate and graduate programmes, including a Thesis MA programme, an Intensive MA programme, and an MA in Film Studies with a concentration in Digital Humanities.


Film Studies at Carleton University from SSAC Videos on Vimeo.

CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY, MEL HOPPENHEIM SCHOOL OF CINEMA | MONTREAL Four-year BFA in Film Production

Background information provided by Catherine Russell, professor of Film Studies and chair, Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, Faculty of Fine Arts, Concordia University.

LEAD ROLE: Claire, 19, a first-year international student, has just arrived in Montreal from Senegal to study film. A film buff raised on a healthy diet of Ousmane Sembene and Jean-Luc Godard, she is a cinéaste of the world. Her mother jokes that she was born with a camera in one hand and a copy of Cahiers du cinéma in the other. She loves the Montreal setting, especially for how it feeds her appetite for bon cinéma.

ROLL CAMERA: The film opens with a shot reminiscent of Sembene’s La noire de… as Claire looks up at the tall buildings of the campus. They’re intimidating, but she is strong and fearless. Claire’s life is a French New Wave film with a contemporary sensibility. She eats, sleeps, and breathes cinema. Claire participates in class and has strong opinions on film form and visual storytelling. She is an auteurist at heart, who relishes the opportunity to explore new voices from around the globe.

POV’s doc shows Claire nurturing her sense of cinephilia in intense discussions with classmates both during formal classes and informal gatherings at the Cinema Students Association. Claire’s peers come from around the world and their coursework is equally diverse. Their professors—leaders in their respective fields—engage them in the social context and critical framework of films by Asian, Latin American, European, Canadian (including Québécois and Indigenous) filmmakers, among others. Cinema is the common language.

Claire dabbles in directing, too, as she creates a short film each year during her three-year programme: a dramatic short the first year, an experimental film the next, and finally a doc, just to try something new. Film expands Claire’s passion for research and thirst for knowledge as she takes advantage of the wisdom, innovation, and breadth of research provided by the faculty, which includes professors like Joshua Neves, the Canada Research Chair and the director of the Global Emerging Media Lab, and Daniel Cross, the founder of one of Quebec’s leading documentary companies EyeSteel Films. The work of Claire’s mentors inspires her, and she becomes a more informed filmmaker as her studies progress. POV’s doc shows Claire as she strolls through picturesque Montreal and looks in windows, but unlike Agnès Varda’s Cléo, Claire is no flâneuse. Downtown Montreal is not a place for shopping, but, rather, a meeting place for art, culture, and ideas.

THE CHALLENGE: Claire’s biggest challenge is that Montreal is just too rich in cinephilia for her own good. Festivals abound. Québécois body horror gives her a punch in the face at Fantasia the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma introduces her to indie innovators by the hour in October and she encounters a world of documentaries at RIDM. Many of the festivals are on campus—proof of Concordia’s excellent digital projections—so the temptation to cut class is fierce. She volunteers at some of the festivals, too, but research remains her passion as she immerses herself in the latest currents of world cinema.

EPILOGUE: Upon receiving her BFA from Concordia, Claire pursues her studies at higher levels. She achieves her MA and PhD. She soon returns to Concordia and proves a worthy successor to the researchers who nurtured her love for film. She teaches courses on African film, digital cinema, and global migration, and she comes to class with as much enthusiasm as do her keenest students. POV’s doc concludes with her making a fierce point on one of Sembene’s films to a class rapt with attention.

The Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema offers studio and academic programmes for undergraduates such as Film Animation, Film History, Film Studies and Art History. Graduate programmes include the MA in Film Studies, the MFA in Studio Arts, the PhD in Film and Moving Image Studies, the Interdisciplinary Humanities PhD and individualized MA/ PhD programmes that allow students to pursue areas of research not covered by an existing graduate programme.

A still from Cast No Shadow, directed by NSCAD alum Christian Sparkes.

NOVA SCOTIA COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN (NSCAD), MEDIA ARTS DIVISION | HALIFAX Four-year BFA in Film Production

Background information provided by Sam Fisher, associate professor, Film, Media Arts Division, NSCAD University.

LEAD ROLE: The film features Christian, an alumnus of NSCAD, as he explains how his experience in the film programme prepared him for his first feature film. He is a budding Canadian director, having made some successful short films, and his first feature heralds a new auteur on the Canadian film scene. His reflections highlight the creative freedom, technological savviness and interdisciplinary opportunities at NSCAD that nurture future auteurs.

ROLL CAMERA: The first scene in POV’s doc starts when Christian bookmarks his well-worn copy of Hitchcock/Truffaut as his crew completes the final changes on a set built in the NSCAD’s massive 3000-squarefoot production studio. He walks over to his classmate reading the light meter before setting the camera. Minutes later, Christian stands behind a monitor and gets a sense of how the scene will look once the 4K camera records it in the perfectly atmospheric palette.

We then see Christian in a photography class, followed by an intermedia seminar. He keeps on trying new things, experimenting constantly with technology. NSCAD’s campus flows with energy as ideas overlap between the intermedia, film studies, and photography classes. Conceptual approaches in one area inspire innovation in another. This inquisitiveness moulds his aesthetic. POV’s doc shows Christian shooting a scene similar to the one that begins the film. This time, though, the production is more ambitious and sophisticated. A crane now sweeps the camera across the set in all its glory.

We see excerpts of Christian’s student work as he reflects upon these moments of trial and error. He speaks from the school’s 50-seat theatre, and the montage of scenes evokes the idea of a director analysing the dailies as he watches images of his own experimentation. We see a learning curve—some ideas work; others don’t. However, a maturity of voice develops from shot to shot.

THE CHALLENGE: Christian, in a moment of frustration, admits that it’s hard to feel original these days. When everyone at school seems like the next auteur, honing an authenticity of voice is no easy task. Nobody wants to make a derivative work, so Christian and his classmates embrace experimentation even within the framework of an otherwise relatively conventional narrative.

Christian accepts the challenge and develops strong themes for his film so that the story has substance to back up the visual feasts. Experimentation, practice and critical analysis of one’s own work are all part of the process. He learns that innovative aesthetics and cutting-edge technology are no substitute for depth. The biggest challenge, perhaps, is keeping such an originality of voice alive in the workplace post-graduation.

SCREENING: It’s anyone’s guess what Christian’s thesis project could be, for the only consistency among the class projects is that they’re all unique. Daring to be different has its rewards. The most dynamic and driven students outshine their classmates, and Christian is ahead of the class thanks to his sharp sense for visual storytelling and his eagerness to explore.

EPILOGUE: A few years later, Christian finds himself at the Canadian Screen Awards where his first feature Cast No Shadow is the sleeper
hit of the year with four nominations including Best Film. The film has rich characters and a thrilling speculative atmosphere, and its unsettling rendering of the Newfoundland landscape is unlike anything Canadian cinema has seen before. Cast No Shadow is a new hallmark for Atlantic Canadian film. Accolades from festivals around Canada and enthusiastic notices from audiences attest to the discovery of a bold new voice. [POV’s doc has gone way over budget but unlike many Canadian films, it has a happy ending.]

The Film Program in the Media Arts Division of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design features innovative facilities with the latest technology. Facilities are well equipped with 4K cinema cameras, state-of-the-art sound recording equipment and three mixing rooms, including a full 5.1 equipped 50-seat theater, among other amenities.

See more profiles from the 2015 Focus on Education report here.