MFA in Film: A Community of Cinema
The York Graduate Film Program, a core member of Toronto’s vibrant film community, offers in-depth instruction in four overlapping areas:
Professor Ali Kazimi’s stereoscopic 3D installation Fair Play was the centerpiece of Art in the Ruptures in Arrival: Art in the wake of the Komagata Maru at the Surrey Art Gallery, B.C. It was also remounted during RealAsian 2014 as well as Visible Evidence. Professor Kazimi leads the Stereoscopic 3D Lab @York with vision scientists Prof. Laurie Wilcox & Prof. Rob Allison—a unique interdisciplinary initiative that brings together artist/filmmakers and scientists to research, create and explore stereoscopic moving images in cinema, installations and new media.
Long celebrated as Canada’s oldest and most respected graduate MFA degree, the Film Program has recently revitalized its celebrated interdisciplinary curriculum to confront the challenges posed by the fast-changing worlds of digital cinema and transmedia platforms. Each student creates an individually-tailored program from our dynamic production, screenwriting and studies courses, and from our diverse workshops, partnerships, internships, and research labs. Together students study evolving theories and practices of global and local cinemas, including new directions in post-colonial, feminist, queer, indigenous and underground expression. The program culminates in the creation of an original thesis project, expertly guided by a supervisory committee of production faculty.
Stand Up Man, a comedy about K-pop in Windsor by MFA alums Aram Collier (writer/director, pictured here on set) and Tony Lau (producer) recently received a standing ovation at the closing night of 2017's ReelAsian Festival. This mircro-budget feature is our third co-production with Telefilm Canada: the other two are Amar Wala's searing doc Secret Trial Five and Wayne Wapeemukwa's Luk'Luk'I, winner of TIFF First Feature Award 2017 and the DGC's Discovery Award.
York’s MFA production faculty are all award-winning working filmmakers, celebrated internationally for their diverse productions in documentary, alternative, narrative and transmedia cinema. Recent works by full and part-time faculty include: Offshore and Weather Report (Brenda Longfellow), What These Ashes Want and All Fall Down (Phil Hoffman), Continuous Journey and Random Acts of Legacy (Ali Kazimi), My Prarie Home and Michael Shannon Michael Shannon John (Chelsea McMullen), Fig Trees and Murder in Passing (John Greyson), Chez nous, c’est nous ici (Tereza Barta), Exhibit A and St. Urbains Horseman (Howard Wiseman), Whole New Thing and Travelling Medicine Show (Amnon Buchbinder), Alter Egos (Laurence Green), Prairie Women (Barbara Evans). They bring this hands-on experience into their classrooms, providing impassioned instruction in the form and content of cinema’s possibilities.
Professor Philip Hoffman (award-winning filmmaker of By the Time We Get to Expo with Eva Kolcze) is seen here with Kolcze and fellow MFA student Maia Tozer in Cuba. They spent two weeks there, collaboratively teaching Hoffman's celebrated two-week-long Process Cinema Workshop in 16mm to students at Cuba’s Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV in May, 2014.
Students commence their MFA with a fall-term homeroom, where they actively workshop thesis ideas in our three production studios, exploring a wide range of technologies and techniques (green screen, improv for the camera, 16mm handprocessing, run ‘n gun agit-prop, long takes, junk culture collage, neo-realism). Hands-on electives in Screenwriting, Documentary, Future Cinema, Process Cinema and Hybrid Fiction are offered annually, while additional courses in Digital Activism, Documentaries without Borders and Directing Actors are offered every other year. Students are also encouraged to take graduate courses in our Studies stream, and consider courses offered throughout Fine Arts and York University (especially if they are thesis-related). In addition, we offer annual intensive Summer Institutes on special themes, often in collaboration with our AMPD partners (Theatre, Visual Art, Music, Dance, Design, Digital Media).
One of Canada’s most celebrated documentary filmmakers, visiting professor Jennifer Baichwal lead grad students through an in-depth case-study of her Genie Award-winning Manufactured Landscapes in the 2016 winter term Documentary Workshop course.
Independent Studies, Internships and TA-ships, Workshops
Students are encouraged to work with faculty to create specialized Independent Studies and Directed Readings on topics related to the creation of their thesis projects. Internships with a wide variety of Toronto film community companies and organizations are offered: festivals such as Images, ReelAsian, Imaginative; distributors such as Vtape, CFMDC; co-ops such as LIFT and Trinity Square Video; diverse production companies such as Conquering Lion and Alter Ego; etc.). TA-ships (teaching undergraduate courses) provide hands-on learning and valuable experience for future positions. Friday technical workshops are tailored to address the specific technical needs and interests of each cohort.
In 2015, TIFF hosted a special spotlight celebrating the work of award-winning filmmaker and MFA alumni Luo Li, including his most recent feature Li Wen at East Lake (left). This mid-career retrospective also included Luo’s award-winning 2010 MFA thesis film Rivers and My Father.
Equipment, Facilities and Research Labs
York’s Film Program offers Grad students a full state-of-the-art slate of digital and celluloid camera options, including Sony FS-7s, Canon 300s, Red Cameras, DSLRs, Bolexes, SRII Super 16s and Black Magics, plus a full spectrum of professional sound, lighting and grip equipment. From April to September, grads have exclusive access to our three in-house sound stages (from 800 s.f. to 2000 s.f.), dedicated grad edit suites, two online DaVinci suites, and two foley/mix theatres. In addition, grads have year-round access to our new 8500 s.f. studio, located in Cinespace, Toronto’s largest television/film soundstage complex.
MFA’s are encouraged to get involved in York's four cinema research labs: the Future Cinema Lab specializes in creating new stories for new screens, testing the possibilities of immersive installations; the Alice Lab for Computational Worldmaking explores the possibilities of AR/VR expression and transmedia; the Stereoscopic 3-D Lab@York is a workshop for artistic innovation and vision research in 3-D cinema; AMPD's Sensorium is a collective umbrella for interdisciplinary transmedia creation and exchange. Partnerships with colleagues and students from fine arts departments and other disciplines (environmental studies, gender and womens studies, political science, education) are encouraged, especially in the exploration of new digital content.
200 Castles (2013-6) was an augmented reality app for ipad built with Unity and Vuforia. 200 Castles is a book-based augmented reality piece for iPad/iphone about time, longing, and magical spaces set in both the domestic spaces of a castle and in the spaces of memory. Exhibited at the Biblioteque Nationale, Paris, and "Language and the Interface” show in Coimbra in 2015, it was also featured here at The Kitchen, NYC in 2016 showcasing influential moments in electronic literature.
Thesis Projects and MFA Supervisory Committees
An MFA thesis is typically an original short film/transmedia work (documentary, alternative, fiction) or feature-length screenplay, plus a contextual support paper, to be completed and defended in the 5th or 6th term. Supervisory committees are collaboratively formed during the first term, consisting of a Supervisor and Reader drawn from our fulltime faculty. Each committee tailors it's creative and practical workplan to the needs of both the student and the project. We encourage creative collaborations across our programs, drawing in particular on senior BFA students and alumni to help crew on thesis films.
Murder in Passing, an innovative transmedia project by Professor John Greyson (told in 40 daily 1-min. episodes on subway platform screens), is now being adapted into a feature-length hybrid opera film. Starring artist/PhD candidate Chase Joynt and actor Alexander Chapman, and exploring transgender/transit issues, the cast and crew just returned from shooting new scenes in India’s Thar desert on camels.
Depth of Field & Downtown Events
We curate irregular downtown grad screenings and events at the Art Gallery of Ontario, TIFF, Cinecycle and other Toronto venues, encouraging exchange and collaboration between 1st and 2nd year MFAs, alumni, undergrads, MAs and PhDs in our programs. Regular screenings of thesis, faculty and alumni films are animated by faculty and MA/PhD student introductions and dialogues. In addition, special workshops, masters classes, free tickets and meetings with visiting filmmakers are offered in collaboration with our many Toronto festival partners, including Hot Docs, Images, TIFF, Inside Out, Regent Park Film Festival, Planet in Focus, Imaginative, Toronto Palestinian Film Festival, CineIran, Planet in Focus, Reelworld, Alucine and Reelasian. Graduate students are provided with in-kind equipment/services grants from a wide range of Toronto co-ops, equipment houses and post-production facilities (PS, Sim, Alterego, LIFT, Technicolor), production grants from donors, and travel/research funding from the University.
Each year we accept 16 students (15 domestic, 1 international), working in documentary, experimental, fiction and transmedia (and including 1-2 screenwriters). Each student receives a basic $15K funding package, and is eligible for additional scholarships. Tuition is $1800/term. For more detailled information, see our FAQs.
Life After York
Teaching: recent MFA’s who have secured fulltime teaching positions include Chelsea McMullan (Lakehead U), Kyath Battie (U of Regina), Nicolás Pereda (Rutgers U), Simone Rapisarda (Simon Fraser U), Rafal Sokolowski (Ohio U), Tony Lau (U of Windsor), Marcia Connolly (NSCADU), Noé Rodriguez (Simon Fraser U), Kim Nelson (Windsor).
Film Industry jobs: recent York grads who have secured fulltime employment in film industry/film community organizations, and/or founded their own production companies include Boaz Beeri (Sandbox/La Boite a Film), Sinara Roza (Alu Cine), Matthew Miller (Zapruder Films), Chris Gehman (Vtape), Aube Giroux (Greenpeace AV), Aram Collier (ReelAsian), David Ridgen (CBC), Karam al Masri (OMDC).
Post-MFA: Some grads have gone on to research-creation PhDs, fellowships and residencies, including Yuval Sagiv (York), Jorge Lozano (York), Kami Chisholm (Osgoode), Alexis Mitchell & Sharlene Bamboat (Stuttgart), Meghan Greeley (Tarragon Theatre).
New works: Many recent grads have recently premiered their new films on the world stage, including: Chelsea McMullen and Matthew Johnson (Sundance), Kazik Radwanski (TIFF), Igor Drljaca (Locarno), Luo Li (Rotterdam), Nicolás Pereda (Berlin), Alison Duke (AGO), Kim Barr (Calgary), Jorge Lozano (Ryerson Image Centre), Alexis Mitchell (Bangalore), Geoff Pugen (Nuit Blanche), Adonay Guerrero (Imaginative), Simone Rapisarda (Venice).
Alexis Mitchell & Sharlene Bamboat
York’s Community of Cinema
Beyond our courses, facilities, and partnerships, we feel that what our MFA in Film delivers best to students is our profound community of cinema. Your five terms will be spent in an intense, immersive environment of creativity and critical debate, sharing your skills, visions and passions with fifteen other film artists from wildly diverse backgrounds. Typically our applicants have been active out in the world making work for at least five years beyond their undergraduate training. When they enter our MFA, they bring these diverse documentary, dramatic, experimental and writing experiences with them to the table. York’s profound ties to Toronto’s independent film scene ensures that our MFAs become full members of this extraordinary community, going on to exciting careers in directing, teaching, producing, creating, writing -- but even more, pursuing their voices and visions with this new network of trusted collaborators.
Nico Pareda (MFA 2010) recently celebrated the world premiere of his new 2015 feature Minotaur at TIFF, followed by screenings at festivals around the world, including Berlin in February. Since graduating, he has taught new fiction and digital cinema at York and Simon Fraser, and is now Director of Rutgers Centre for Digital Filmmaking.