Film Programmes in Canadian Colleges and Universities: A Survey

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When I chose which university to go to four years ago, I did my research. I looked through MacLean’s and the Globe and Mail because I knew that what I wanted out of university was a great social experience, not just a great educational one. What I found lacking was specifics on programmes, particularly film programmes. The knowledge I had upon leaving high school was that Ryerson was the only practical programme that anyone would ever go to (thank you Toronto-centric guidance counsellors) and that there was not much else out there. While at university I found out that there are many universities and colleges across Canada that will teach the theories, history and practicality of film.

This is, so far as we can tell, the first survey of Canadian film schools, which meant that we had no base point to build on. As a national documentary magazine, our focus was on schools which had some form of documentary teacher—from a single course on the aesthetics of documentary all the way to an eight month documentary filmmaking diploma.

For the survey, I asked the questions that I wished I had known enough to ask when I was in high school. This started off with institutional support for students. Most film programmes, I found, are small enough that the professors get to know the students quite well: they know their work, their strengths, where they want to go post-graduation. Because of this, it is important for the students to know where their profs have been, what their focus is, so that they can choose not just a school but a professor.

I also asked about student involvement. The film industry is a collaborative one, and the values of sharing and collaborating in order to make a better film start in university with your peers. Having students involved in films and their courses means that they’ll be more effective when they enter the work place after graduation.

Last but not least, I asked about the grit of the programmes: course work and film equipment. Some programmes are designed to allow the student to take whatever courses suit their fancy while others have created a programme that students take from start to finish with no variation. Similarly, the programmes that offer the variance were more likely to be theory based, while the stricter programmes were more likely studio based. Depending on the focus of the programme, the amount and variance of equipment changed.

It is my hope that this survey will act as a comprehensive guide to film training and will help give those who are still in high school and those who wish to go back to school a better understanding of the opportunities available.

Algonquin College
Ottawa, ON

Algonquin College is one of several colleges and universities with a newly implemented programme. in Algonquin’s case it’s a two-term Documentary production graduate certificate. The programme, as with many others, helps students take a film “from script to screen.” Highly studio-based, the whole programme is largely focused on the business of film and the practicalities of getting a film made. There is, however, one course on the history of documentary. Though the programme does not have an internship or co-op programme as of yet, they do bring in influential documentarians—such as Peter Wintonick—to guest lecture. As it is a graduate diploma, students are expected to have a certain amount of cinematic knowledge to be eligible for entry. Students work exclusively on HD cameras and Final Cut Pro (FCP) and are responsible for funding their own projects. Many students come into the programme with a subject in mind though it is not required. Past students have traveled all the way to Sierra Leone and to Paris while making work for the school. Look to this programme for networking opportunities and for business education.

College tuition ranges from $3000- $12000 per diploma. University tuition ranges from $3000-$6000 per year ($12000-$24000 per degree).

Programme Size
Some programmes take in 16-30 students/year while others accept 60-100. In both cases the courses themselves are about 1:20 or smaller by third year.

Capilano University
Vancouver, BC

Capilano is a newly minted university with a college mindset. One of the few fully fledged documentary-based programmes, it offers students an 8 month Certificate in Documentary production as well as a studio-based fiction film programme. The programme is touted as 40% theory: 60% practical, and students are, as with most programmes, expected to put a lot of practical time in outside of class. Unlike many other practical programmes, Capilano does not offer internship opportunities, because the students are finished in two terms, rather than the standard three or four. However, as there are only 25 students admitted per year and with 7 full time faculty, students get great attention from profs and have access to HD equipment almost whenever they want. each student has their own Mac with Final Cut Pro (FCP) assigned to them for the duration of the programme and they each make a documentary before their courses are completed. This programme is still in its infancy, but the profs are all industry vets with a minimum 15 years experience and an MA. For students who are unsure how to pay the $8000 tuition, there are three scholarships available, including one for mature women students. Capilano touts that some students have gone on to win awards at festivals across Canada.

Concordia University
Montréal, QC

With three streams that are highly competitive (out of 500+ applicants, 60 get in), Concordia is the best choice for English language film study and production in Québec. Because it is a Québec university, the programme is three years long, so those students coming from outside the province must take a foundation year with a few film courses and several other arts courses including Art History. At an undergraduate level, students apply for Film production, Film Animation, or Film Studies, and once they start the programme, the only way to take courses from other streams is through special permission granted to students with high averages and interest. Concordia also offers an MFA or MA and, uniquely in Canada, a PHD programme.

The university itself is large, and the film classes can be as well in the foundation year; however the classes get smaller in the upper years. Students at Concordia can take on internships if they so please, but there is nothing formal set up for them. Most students complete internships during the summer months when school is out. One of the best reasons to look at Concordia is that it is in downtown Montréal, where there is a proliferation of rep cinemas, co-ops, and of course, la Cinématheque Québécoise and the ONF/NFB.

All of Concordia’s professors are actively working in film—including Daniel Cross of Eyesteelfilm, POV’s cover feature last summer, and Shira Avni, whose animated John and Michael won awards worldwide. And the profs aren’t the only ones doing extra-curriculars. The students at Concordia have a students association, a graduate student association, a student run journal, a website dedicated to le cinéma québécois and a couple of screening groups.

Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design
Halifax, NS

The Atlantic provinces don’t have much to offer in terms of a film programme besides the major at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) and The Halifax Interuniversity Film studies Minor program offered jointly by NSCAD, Dalhousie, Mount Saint Vincent, and St. Mary’s. NSCAD’s programme is far more versatile in real world terms: students in film often work with colleagues in the visual art and music programmes to create beautiful and award-winning set pieces with innovative scores. There are only 16 students a year and two full time faculty, though there are about 80 minors. Students may continue on to an interdisciplinary MFA at NSCAD.

In their first year at NSCAD, all students must take Art History and other foundation courses before declaring a major in film—after they attend a general meeting with faculty. Students at NSCAD do have the opportunity to make and see documentaries with the school hosting an annual DocConference and Docula. There is a large film library which includes prints of experimental and documentary films from the 1980s and ’90s. Faculty member Darrell Varga is a documentarian who has written about nova scotia filmmaking in the book Rain/Drizzle/Fog. students enter into the Atlantic Film Festival and Halifax Film Festival every year and sometimes win awards for set design and cinematography. The programme is approximately 75% studio work, meaning lots of hands on experience using RED cameras, 35 mm lenses, super 8 and 16 and ARRIs. Students edit on FCP, though as they have only recently transitioned away from Avid, there are still a few computers with that software, too.

Extra Expenses
Just like most films, student spend whatever they can on films from $50 to $10 000 if they’ve got the cash. Most schools recommend having between $2000-3000 per film to spend (which can include submission fees to festivals).

Queen’s University
Kingston, ON

Queen’s University is in a somewhat unique position in the Film school world as it houses a theory-based programme with significant production courses including a joint specialization in stage and screen studies with the Drama department. A fairly large programme at 14 faculty and 96 majors and minors a year, there is a wide variety of elective courses available that range from Media and Pop Culture to Special Topics in Canadian Cinema to Documentary Theory and production. Though the classes in the first and second year can be large, by third and fourth year students will be in classes of 20-30 people. To help navigate the programme, the faculty provides lots of networking opportunities with an annual Meet the Profs, a barbeque, a wine and cheese with profs and an end of year awards party. Students work together on projects starting in first year and often get the help of younger students on final projects. Because of the theory/production duality of the programme, the profs are involved in both sides of the industry—Blaine Allan recently wrote “Matters of Life and Debt” for Studies in Documentary Film magazine, and Sidney Eve Matrix spoke at the annual Canadian Communication Association meeting on “Generation ©ontent: Modes of Creative, Cultural, and Consumer Citizenship in Pop Culture.” reena Kukreja’s latest doc Delhi Bound For Work, looks at female migratory workers in india while Two Houses and a Longing from Dorit naaman has played at festivals in Jerusalem and Boston as well as several invited screenings.

University of Regina
Regina, SK

Regina is your best bet for film school in Saskatchewan. Top notch equipment for the BFA students and loads of financial support mean that students here are definitely getting their money’s worth. Regina offers separate Film production and Film studies programmes, which can sometimes be detrimental to those students who want to sample both sides of the industry. While at Regina, the students run the Film and Video students society, which “serves the interests of film, video and new media students in the city…” through festivals, access to equipment, and workshops with industry vets. After graduation, BFA students are prepared for above the line film work while BA students work all over in museums, programming, journalism, consulting, etc. And if the students want to stay in Regina for a bit longer, the university does offer an MA on a case by case basis.

Ryerson University
Toronto, ON

As far as primarily production-based universities go, Ryerson does a good job of balancing a stellar reputation in production with a solid foundation in theory. Courses are mostly mandatory in 1st and 2nd year, and by 3rd year, students choose more selectively between screenwriting, sound design, etc. and liberal arts in addition to core courses in production, art history, film theory, and writing. The Toronto locale is as beneficial to Ryerson as Concordia’s Montréal location is to them. Students often take on internships with broadcasters and production companies, and they can see a host of foreign films at the Cinematheque Ontario, NFB, and rep cinemas around the city. In classroom, profs show works on film prints, in HD, and stream over the web. At Ryerson, students first learn how to film on 16 mm cameras and work their way up to HD cameras by third year.

Student films from Ryerson have been shown locally at RUFF (Ryerson University Film Festival) and abroad at Sundance, Tribeca, and the Berlinale. Last year, Kazik radwanski, a recent graduate, won the Grand Jury Award for Best narrative short at slamdance for Princess Margaret Blvd. It also won Best International Short at Edinburgh and was in Canada’s Top Ten shorts.

Sheridan College
Toronto, ON

Sheridan College has two programmes for film: Advanced Television and Film graduate certificate and a justly renowned Bachelor of Applied Arts in Animation. For the purposes of this survey only the ATF certificate was discussed. Sheridan has one of the most established and well-endowed production programmes in Canada. Taking one look at their equipment room is enough to make many a documentarian jealous of the students: AVID and FCp, a green screen, climate control, RED and ARRI cameras, and many extras. Each student must undergo a four-month internship, which lands many of them jobs within the industry post-graduation.

An added incentive to students interested in post-production is a $5 million project headed by John Helliker which focuses on HD post-production techniques and is mandated to hire Sheridan students and alum. Add to that a large list of mandatory courses (including Documentary Film production, intro and advanced) and an immense chart of electives for every below and above the line worker, Sheridan shows off its guns. If the student is interested, they may also take a couple years of their degree at York University. Beware: most students will spend between $2000-5000 on their films. At a $11,713 tuition, Sheridan students truly are ready to spend now in order to earn in the future.

College vs. University
Colleges are practical for those who wish to enter the world of crew work, both above and below the line. Universities are the better choice for those who are unsure if they want to make films or think about them or for those who wish to take a greater variety of courses.

Rhere are two programmes in the whole country that specialize in documentary production at an undergraduate level: Capilano University and algonquin College. There are several documentary MAs and even a few PhD programmes.

Simon Fraser University
Burnaby/Vancouver, BC

SFU (Simon Fraser University) is a highly competitive programme. It lets in only 24 students a year and transfer students do not get credits from their previous college. What students get are small classes—there are 35 students at their biggest, eight at the smallest—a tight-knit community and a BFA in Film. Students accepted into the programme are invited to help on productions before they even start classes. At the moment, there is no formal internship programme, but in the past students have undertaken informal internships during their summer months.

The programme itself is moving into a new building in Fall 2010, which will be right in the downtown core as opposed to its current Burnaby locale. This will move students closer to the Van City Theatre, NFB, and the Pacific Cinematheque—providing they have time to visit! Students have access to the film library at any time and may take DVDs home and even borrow from some of the profs. While the students are kept on their toes by the profs, they also run a Film Union which hosts the year-end screening and socials. Professors encourage students to submit to festivals, especially those with no or low submission fees. This has earned past students entry into VIFF (Vancouver International Film Festival), Whistler and the Montreal Student Film Festival. Unlike most university programmes, SFU makes all of its film courses mandatory, therefore students wishing to pursue a double major must often stay an extra year.

University of Western Ontario
London, ON

Western offers a purely theoretical programme, one of very few in Canada. In addition to a Film studies major, students can elect to take a general Cinema studies or national Cinemas minor. Many profs who work at Western have written very specialized texts, meaning that students who do take their courses are studying with experts in the field. In the last few years, for instance, Christopher Gittings has published “Activism and Aesthetics: The Work of John greyson” and Paul Coates, “Cinema, Religion, and the Romantic Legacy.”

The facilities at Western are limited, because the degree does not require an extensive equipment room. They do have film projectors in some rooms and digital projection in all classrooms. Western has a Film resource Centre where students may watch films, but they can’t take them home. The students of Western are active— they have the Western Undergraduate Film society which hosts a festival that includes films from Fanshawe College students, and their film society hosts orientation activities, guest speakers, and a radio show. As with some other theory degrees, Western allows students to take just about whatever courses they want within the department, and must take one on Canadian Cinema. Western also offers a Critical studies or global Film studies MA.

Most surprising for me was that only two of the schools interviewed have required internships: NALT and Sheridan. All the others allow internships but most have nothing formal set up in the way of contacts or placements.

Studio vs. Studies
No film school was 100% practical nor 100% theoretical. However, the programmes on the extremes were the Concordia film studies stream and Western’s film programme on the studies end and Sheridan’s advanced television and film and Algonquin’s Documentary programme on the studio.

I couldn’t list all of the schools from across Canada, so in the next round we’ll deal with a whole different group. This group all had interesting bits that separated them from the pack, whether it was a new building in development, or a newly minted programme, an experienced team of educators, or a willing and active student body. Each school had its reasons for being included in this guide, and it is my hope that it will prove useful to students and non-students alike as they choose when and where and what to study. Canada does have a lot to offer, from all across the country, so don’t think that you’re limited to the Big Three cities when you do your applications; you might find the right programme in the prairies or the east Coast. Good hunting!

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