Brock film students thrive at Weengushk Film Institute

Jonathan Yesno hangs about in the rafters during a film shoot.

M’CHIGEENG—Lights, cameras and plenty of action were in evidence at the Weengushk Film Institute’s Tom Peltier Film Studio as the first group of Brock University Film Studies students took part in a credit course being offered at Weengushk.

The students were effusive in their praise of the program at Weengushk, universally citing the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with high end videography equipment, although some admitted to being out of their comfort zone as actors.

Under the tutelage of teacher Phylliss Ellis, herself a filmmaker and long-time collaborator with Weengushk founder, playwright, renown actress and film director Shirley Cheechoo, the students took their projects from idea/pitch, through scriptwriting and scene construction, to filming, sound, directing and finally editing to a finished product.

“It was definitely challenging, fun, but challenging,” said student Jenny Simpson of St. Catharine’s, an admitted “townie.”  The opportunity to engage in a rural environment and First Nation community was also a draw.

“Awesome,” was Tolmie Wright’s (also of St. Cathrine’s) description of the Weengushk experience, who cited the opportunity to work on a project from start to finish as a particular draw. Each of the students created a 10 minute short, for instance, Jonathan Zagula of Mississauga created a dystopian world for his ‘Invisible Man.’

“My friend Zander told me about the project,” said Mr. Zagula. “There is nothing quite like this available at Brock.”

Brock University film studies students were happy to get a lot of hands-on experience Jenny Simpson and Tolmie Wright.
Brock University film studies students were happy to get a lot of hands-on experience Jenny Simpson and Tolmie Wright.

The students have a wide range of interests, where one is interested in exploring the opportunities of webcasting a series based on his idea, Ms. Simpson is more interested in pursuing a career in documentary film production. “That is what makes this so great,” said Ms. Simpson of the Weengushk course. “We get an opportunity to explore every aspect of production.”

The Weengushk course is the beginning of a series of lab courses that a number of the Brock students have already signed up for this fall.

A new partnership between Brock University and Weengushk Film Institute is opening doors for students studying on Manitoulin Island.

Starting in September, Brock is offering an eight-month certificate program in film production that will be taught at Weengushk. This program will not only attract film students from university streams that want a practical hands-on approach to the film industry, but will act as an accessible entry point for students for whom university might seem unapproachable.

“A lot of the students (entering the Weengushk course) may want to go on to university and this is a first entry point,” suggested Scott Henderson, chair of Brock’s Department of Communication, Pop Culture and Film. “They’ll have credits under their belt.”

The certificate program provides training and instruction taught by industry professionals.

“It’s a really hands-on program. You learn how to make short films from screenwriting all the way up to marketing,” said Weengushk senior manager Nano Debassige. Mr. Debassige pointed out that the students will be introduced to the seven core aspects of filmmaking: screenwriting, producing, directing, cinematography, editing, composing and marketing, as they work towards writing and directing a short film.

Jill Brindle, chair of the board of directors at the Weengushk Film Institute, said the approach of the Lab 1 certificate film program is sensitive to the needs of individuals coming from under-served communities.

Ms. Brindle noted that consideration for acceptance into the program is given to students who wish to explore artistic expression in the media arts, including those students who may not meet mainstream requirements or who may have gaps in their education.

“This certificate program is designed to help open doors for students, enabling them to pursue further university education, to develop themselves as artists and bring applicable skills to the work force,” she said.

Part of the goal, Mr. Henderson said, is “to introduce students from the North and indigenous students to university life. For all first year students, the academic transition is tricky and for indigenous students, especially from the North, it’s also a tricky social situation,” he said, noting many indigenous youth live in small communities and Brock has a student body of over 18,000. “I see this as a bridge. It’s a chance to start getting those academic courses and credits and looking towards coming here. It creates a nice transition.”

Mr. Debassige said Weengushk has a transition and support program that helps individuals coming from remote locations make that transition and adapt to urban living. The organization has successfully run a wide number of programs that have engaged students from remote and isolated communities, in fact, founder Shirley Cheechoo has noted in the past that the central raison d’etre for her foundation of Weengushk was to reach out to those very students.

Brock University students get hands on experience in all aspects of film production at Weengushk Film Institute. photos by Michael Erskine
Brock University students get hands on experience in all aspects of film production at Weengushk Film Institute.
photos by Michael Erskine

Mr. Henderson noted that the program being initiated this fall is “an adaptation of the institute’s existing Lab 1: Short Film program” and that “completion of the program will earn students five Brock credits.”

“Importantly for these students, those who aspire to use this as a launching pad to a career, there’s lots of new production around Sudbury and in the North,” he said. “This is a chance for students to get that production background.”

Mr. Debassige agreed, adding that students in the program work with industry professionals and the networking opportunities often result in work for students.

After learning about Weengushk at Sudbury’s Cinefest Weekend, and following Ms. Cheechoo’s appointment as Chancellor of Brock University, Mr. Henderson approached her about creating an opportunity for students to train at the institute in a collaborative production environment and the film production certificate program and a spring film production course at Weengushk was born.

Ms. Cheechoo added that through the Brock University Lab 1 partnership with Weengushk, Brock is working towards recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Brock is being invited into the indigenous community,” she said. “I am very excited that we will be making history at Brock.”

With the completion of the first course at Weengushk this week, the first page of that history is now in the books.