The Next Wave of Great Canadian Filmmakers

Concordia’s Filmmaking I Students Host End-of-Year Premiere

The Bolex 16 mm camera can be a film student’s greatest ally—or foe. Graphic Julia Wolfe

The movie business is a ruthless one, and last September 60 film production students from across Canada and the world were thrown to the wolves, putting their skills to the test in their first trial-by-fire university production course, “Filmmaking I.”

Some came to Concordia wanting to focus on technical aspects such as lighting or camera work. Others wished to concentrate on scriptwriting and the ideas behind what makes a film. Whatever details the students take from the class, all are left with the indispensable experience of working with a close-knit group of other filmmakers.

“I didn’t really know what to expect coming in [to the class],” said student Taylor McDougall. “But I wasn’t expecting it to be so much about getting feedback.”

The class is all about teamwork and support, and the constructive feedback comes from a diverse group of fellow students with a wide range of perspectives.

“Students are exposed to individual film ideas that are radically different,” said Korbett Matthews, one of the course’s professors.

“People with experimental practices will influence students who are going into fiction, and experimental filmmakers will learn from the documentary filmmakers, etcetera. So there’s a cross-pollination that happens and they learn from each other.

“There’s no secret recipe to making a great film,” he added.

As an introductory class, students are encouraged to find the type of film that interests them, since in the coming years they will be funneled into different focuses depending on their genre.

“It’s inspiring to see everyone’s imaginations and what they want to talk about in their films. It’s also good to hear other people’s opinions and know what they think [about your work], but at the end of the day it’s about what you want and what you’re filming,” said student Maryam Salehi.

One Camera, Different Paths

The culmination of the group’s work will be a premiere projecting all their films over two days, presenting a varied selection of stories that span across genres.

McDougall chose the path of fiction.

“One of the reasons I got into film is that I’m really interested in relationships between people, and I find that fiction film gives you the most creative control with exploring and creating those,” she said.

While McDougall’s film explores one woman’s emotional journey while facing a failed relationship, Salehi has chosen a very different path.

“I have two characters who are kind of animalistic. I wouldn’t call them human nor animal, I just call them creatures—one female, one male,” she said.

“They come across each other for the first time and they have a sort of reaction towards each other, so throughout the film you see different emotions: anger, love, and it just evolves from there. It’s not like an act, it’s more about movement and dancing.”

While the students spend a lot of time developing their stories, the technical aspects are a crucial part of the class as well.

Many students come into the class accustomed to using digital cameras, but all have to use the 1960s-era Bolex camera to film their projects, which puts a different spin on their work.

“It’s not a camera made for sync-sound recording so they have to add all their sound in afterwards,” said Matthews.

“They basically shoot a silent film, and then they add sound in post-production and it ends up making for really creative films since they can’t have sync dialogue, so they have to tell a story visually and use sound in interesting ways.”

A Dying Medium

This year’s premiere is especially an important because one it’s the last that “Filmmaking I” will actually be using film. Film is quickly disappearing from the contemporary world, with even Kodak having declared bankruptcy, and it’s becoming difficult to find companies to actually develop the film that the students shoot.

The move to digital will result in the loss of many filmmaking lessons for students. “They teach us on film because your amount of footage is limited and you can only shoot as much film as you bought. That means we have to plan out our shots more carefully—you can’t have 45 minutes of footage for a one-minute film,” McDougall said.

“That’s a really big restriction that most of us aren’t used to working with; it teaches you to be more careful when you’re planning and to make sure everything’s set up so you’re not wasting time,” she continued.

“It helps when you get to the editing room because you have less to work with so you’re not spending hours and hours sifting through your footage.”

But whether it’s on film or digital, the goal of the movies and of the class remains the same.

“The ultimate goal is to become visually literate, finding a voice and to use the medium of film to express something that no other medium can do,” said Matthews.

This sometimes proves difficult, however.

“Once you write the script and then film it, you have to re-edit everything and it’s hard to try to convey what you want the message to be,” Salehi said. McDougall agrees.

“I think the hardest part is the transition between [writing your script] and having that the way you want, then once you get your footage back realizing that your actual footage might not work for your script, so you have to reinvent your story when you’re editing,” she said.

“I think that’s what most people find the hardest because they have their heart set on this one idea but realistically, sometimes what you have just doesn’t work so you need to work through that.”

The Finishing Touches

Students are no doubt scrambling to finish up their editing this week as the premiere draws nearer.

“The most nerve-racking part of the premiere will be public exhibition. Sometimes [students] lack a bit of objectivity when they actually start editing the films, so to suddenly screen it to an audience of five hundred people, I’m sure there will be a lot of directors with butterflies in their stomachs, but as a director you’re making films to bring to a larger audience,” Matthews said.

“When the lights go down and the person’s film comes up, they no longer have creative control of the film. It’s now the turn of the audience to judge it.”

But no matter how the audience judges their work, Matthews is proud of this year’s students’ work.

“What surprises me most about the students is their creativity,” he said. “The magic, that cinematic vision. After it’s been shot, after it’s been edited, after they’ve added sound, that’s when the magic comes out. That’s why I have the best job in the world.

“I get to teach the next wave of great Canadian and Quebec filmmakers.”

Filmmaking I premiere // Hall Building, H-110 // April 11 and April 12 // 7 p.m. // Free