A community of cinema
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. Luo will be presenting a special screening of Li Wen for York’s current graduate students at Cinecycle in September, 2016.
Long celebrated as Canada’s oldest and most respected graduate MFA degree in Production, the York Graduate Film Program has recently revitalized its celebrated interdisciplinary curriculum to confront the challenges posed by the fast-changing worlds of digital cinema. A core member of Toronto’s vibrant film community, York offers in-depth instruction in four overlapping areas:
1. Independent Fiction, including new narrative, new neo-realism, hybrid fiction, micro-budget cinema, transmedia storytelling… (recent thesis fiction films include Elizabeth Lazebnik’s Liompa, Matt Johnson’s Operation Avalanche, Vlad Paskaljevic’s Absence is Present…)
2. Expanded Documentary, including community and social justice docs, essay and verite films, interactive and transmedia documentary, digital activism, documentaries without borders… (recent thesis docs include Sama Waham’s Sing for Me, Victoria Lean’s After the Last River, Kami Chisholm’s Pride Denied…)
3. Future Cinema, including Virtual and Augmented Reality, installation/transmedia projects, 3D Cinema… (recent thesis works include Zach Finkelstein’s Still Life, Zain Burgess’ Moon Bodega, Aaron Rotenberg’s Return…)
4. Alternative Cinema, including alternative and process methods, experimental works on 16mm and digital… (recent thesis projects include Terra Long’s Notes from the Anthropocene, Leslie Supnet’s In Still Time, Eva Kolcze’s All that is Solid…)
Each student creates an individually-tailored program of study from our dynamic production and studies courses, and from our diverse workshops, partnerships, internships, and research labs. These together aid in the creation of an original thesis project, expertly guided by a supervisory committee of production faculty.
York’s MFA production faculty are all working filmmakers, acclaimed nationally and internationally for their diverse productions in narrative, documentary, alternative and transmedia cinema, which include: What These Ashes Want and All Fall Down (Phil Hoffman), Continuous Journey and Narmada: A Valley Rises (Ali Kazimi), Chez nous, c’est nous ici (Tereza Barta), Our Marilyn and Weather Report (Brenda Longfellow), Alter Egos (Laurence Green), Prarie Women (Barbara Evans), Zero Patience and Fig Trees (John Greyson). They bring this hands-on experience to the classroom, providing impassioned instruction in the form and content of cinema’s new possibilities.
Students commence their MFA with a fall-term Production homeroom, where they actively workshop thesis ideas in our three production studios, exploring a wide range of technologies and techniques (everything from green screen and hand-processing to run ‘n gun agit-prop and long takes, from junk culture collage to varied methods of blocking drama for the camera). Hands-on courses in Hybrid Fiction, Process Cinema, Documentary Workshop, Short Narrative and Future Cinema are offered annually, while additional courses in Digital Activism, Documentaries without Borders and 3-D Cinema may be offered every other year. Students are also encouraged to take graduate courses in our Screenwriting and Studies streams, and consider courses offered throughout the University (especially if they are thesis-related). As well, we offer an annual intensive Summer Institute on a special theme (this summer it will explore Performance and Media, with Professor Laura Levin and Montreal artists 2boysTV.)
Professor Caitlin Fisher’s augmented reality tabletop theatre piece Circle was awarded Jury’s Choice Award at ELO 2012 Media Art Show. Along with Professors Marchessault and Greyson, she leads the Future Cinema Lab, a research-creation hub for graduate students and faculty exploring the possibilities of new stories on new screens, and using technologies like 360° cams, fog screens and GPS-locative media.
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.
Independent Studies, Internships, GA-ships 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; etc.). GA-ships (research positions with faculty) and TA-ships (teaching undergraduate courses) provide hands-on learning and valuable experiences for future positions. Friday technical workshops are tailored to address the specific technical needs/interests of each cohort.
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Milcho Manchevski (Before the Rain) recently joined Professor Tereza Barta for an in-depth conversation with grad students during the fall Graduate Seminar. Other seminar highlights included a panel on no-budget features, a master class with writer/director Professor Amnon Buchbinder and a field trip to the Ontario Archives.
Equipment, Facilities and Research Labs
York’s Film Program offers Grad students a full state-of-the-art complement of digital and celluloid camera options, including Red Cameras, Canon 300s, 5Ds, Bolexes 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 can access 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: Future Cinema Lab specializes in creating new stories for new screens, testing the possibilities of new screen technologies; S3D@York is a workshop for artistic innovation in 3-D cinema; Augmented Reality Lab creates immersive installations, AR fiction for iPads and transmedia projects; and Future Doc Lab explores i-doc, VR and transmedia idioms. Partnerships with colleagues and students from other fine arts departments (dance, music, visual arts, theatre, computational arts) and disciplines (environmental studies, gender and womens studies, political science) are encouraged, especially in the exploration of new digital content.
Professor Phil Hoffman (award-winning filmmaker of All Fall Down and What These Ashes Want) along with MFA students Eva Kolcze and Tara Khalili, taught his celebrated week-long workshop in hand-processed experimental cinema to students at Cuba’s Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV in May, 2014.
Thesis Projects and MFA Supervisory Commitees
An MFA thesis is an original fiction, documentary or alternative ‘film’ (typically a short single-channel work, but can also be an installation or transmedia work) and 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 Production faculty member, and a reader drawn from Production, our Screenwriting and Studies areas, or in some cases another University department, based on the form and content of the proposed thesis project. Each committee tailors its contributions to the needs of both the student and the project.
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 film opera. Starring artist/PhD candidate Chase Joynt and actor Alex Chapman, and exploring transgender/transit issues, the cast and crew just returned from shooting new scenes on camels in India’s Thar desert.
Depth of Field & Downtown Partners
We offer monthly downtown grad screenings and events at the Art Gallery of Ontario, TIFF, Cinecycle and other Toronto venues, encouraging exchange and collaboration with 2nd year MFAs, alumni, MA’s and PhD’s in our program. Regular screenings of thesis and alumni films are animated by faculty/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, the Canadian Film Centre, Reel Asian and Planet in Focus. We also present conferences on varied topics; recent examples include Verging: Technologies/Practices/Aesthetics in Contemporary Documentary (March, 2016) and Visible Evidence (August, 2015), an international conference co-presented with Ryerson and U of T.
Graduate students are provided with in-kind equipment and service grants from a wide range of Toronto co-ops, equipment houses and post-production facilities (PS, Sim, Alterego), production grants from donors, and travel/research funding from the University.
Life After York
Teaching: recent MFA’s who have secured fulltime teaching positions include Chelsea McMullen (Lakehead U), Kyath Battie (U of Regina), Nico Pareda (Rutgers U), Simone Rapisarda (Simon Fraser U), Rafal Sokolowski (Ohio U), Tony Lau (U of Windsor), Marcia Connolly (NSCADU), Noe Rodriguez (Simon Fraser U)…
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), Mathew Miller (Zapruder Films), Chris Gehman (Vtape), Aube Giroux (Greenpeace AV), Kami Chisholm (Osgoode), Aram Collier (Reel Asian)…
Post-MFA: Some grads have gone on to research-creation PhDs and fellowships, including Yuval Sagiv (York), Alexis Mitchell (U of T), Jorge Lozano (York)…
New works: Many recent grads have recently premiered their new films on the world stage, including: Chelsea McMullen and Matthew Johnson (Sundance), Kaz Radwanski (TIFF), Igor Drljaca (Locarno), Luo Li (Rotterdam), Nico Pareda (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)…
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.
York’s Community of Cinema
Beyond our courses, facilities, and partnerships, what we feel York’s MFA in Film delivers best is a profound community of cinema. Your five terms will be spent in an intense, immersive environment, sharing your skills, visions and passions with a dozen other film artists from wildly diverse backgrounds. Typically our applicants have been out in the world making work for at least four years beyond their undergraduate training. When they enter our MFA, they bring these diverse documentary, dramatic and experimental cinematic and life 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 — pursuing their voices and visions with this new network of trusted collaborators.
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.