The art of storytelling

Documentary Certificate Program’s graduation showcase boasts themes of healing and identity

Helen Aikenhead // Contributor

Since its humble beginning in 2006 at Capilano University’s Sechelt campus with only seven students, the Documentary Program has seen great success and growth. Two years into the program and hoping to attract more students, CapU made the program available at the North Vancouver campus.

When only six students enrolled and the program ran the risk of being cancelled, the faculty decided to restructure it, turning it into the acclaimed Documentary Certificate Program that the School of Motion Picture Arts (MOPA) offers today.

One of the women responsible for the structural changes that would lead the program to its current success is Michelle Mason, the longest running faculty member and a current instructor and mentor to aspiring filmmakers. Mason, an award-winning documentarian and journalist, is a fine example of the experience the faculty of industry professionals who teach in the program bring to their students.

The graduation showcase, which will be taking place on Apr. 24 in the Nat and Flora Bosa Centre Theatre, is a testament to how much the program has evolved in 10 short years. It will be a night where the public is welcome to join the 2017 graduating class of the Documentary Certificate Program, comprised of 25 talented students, as they screen the short 10-minute documentaries they produced as their final capstone projects.

There will be many unique stories told at this year’s screening, including those of local bands and musicians, survivors of abuse, homeless children, family legacies and an in-depth look at the realities of alcoholism just to name a few. When asked if there were any common themes amongst the graduate’s work, Mason described the collection of stories as having a sense of healing past wounds.

“Whether it’s sexual abuse, or female identity, or physical abuse, or healing around various experiences of prejudice and discrimination,” she said, it’s one of the storytelling powers of documentaries that the program tries to teach.

“Documentary is people’s cinema,” she explained. “It’s about going and listening to people who [aren’t] normally represented in the mainstream media and hearing their experiences, and learning about our world through those experiences.” The ability to explore the underrepresented is one of the many appeals and rewards of this particular art form.

The capstone projects, Mason explained, are the last the students produce using all of the skills they’ve learned throughout the eight-months of instruction and hands-on training. This structure is a result of the refiguring the program underwent that makes it work so well.

She explained that in recognizing the varying needs of their students, often more mature, who come to the documentary program “sometimes on their second or third careers,” they found that “people didn’t want to take two years out of their life to get documentary training, and didn’t really need to, so we consolidated it into a very intensive one- year certificate.”

This consolidated year starts in September. Then, after eight weeks of instruction, students are asked to produce a five-minute, campus-based lm. This, Mason said, “is a way for them not only to explore their own campus, but also to kind of drive home the theme that there are good stories everywhere and starting to identify what elements need to go into a compelling story.”

When they return in January for eight further weeks of instruction, the students are provided with the next set of skills, which they then bring into developing their capstone projects. “It’s through that applied learning, which is a hallmark of all the programs at the Bosa Centre, that they really take that theory of the classroom and apply it to telling their own stories,” said Mason.

Having an intimate group of 25 allows instructors to act as mentors. A priority from the start is to find out what students are most passionate about, and to then help them translate those passions into a story they’re excited to tell. “We really look at trying to get to know our students quickly so we can align them with their passions,” Mason explained. “My personal experience of working in the lm industry… is if you follow your passion, you will make it happen.”

The 25 films coming out of the program this year take this sentiment and exemplify it. On another triumphant year of empowering students to find their voice Mason concluded, “We’re really happy with the program at this point. We seem to get great feedback from our students and from the industry.”

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