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Spotlight shines on film program’s debut

Algonquin will be taking centre stage as the college premieres a new film production program in September 2020, the first of its kind in Ottawa.

The film program, which will be the newest addition to the Faculty of Art, Media and Design, will focus mainly on the post-production and behind-the-scenes elements of film production, such as camera work and sound and video editing.

It will be a non-semestered diploma program, which sees students complete a two-year diploma in half that time – September to August of the next year.

Dan Pihlainen, chair of media studies, said that the program has been in the works for a while.

“We’ve been talking about it for years, but seriously it’s been at least a couple of years,” Pihlainen said. “Last year – late summer, early fall – it was given the green light. It wasn’t enough time for this coming fall but we are going to launch it in fall of 2020.”

Robyn Heaton, dean of the Faculty of Arts, Media and Design and a director with the Ottawa Film Office, explained that the idea for the program stemmed from the need for more crew members for films that are produced in the city.

“At one point the City of Ottawa was going to build a sound stage in the Bayview area, and if there’s a sound stage in the area, you’re going to need more crew,” Heaton said. “That’s why we started planning that particular program. But then that whole project fell apart and the sound stage didn’t go through. So we decided to continue exploring the idea.”

Now, with the recent approval of a new sound stage being built on West Hunt Club Road and Woodroffe Avenue – just minutes from the college – preparation for the film program is in full swing. The creative hub, under Tribro Studios, is expected to create 500 new jobs and is planned to break ground this summer.

“Essentially it’s the behind-the-scenes part of film. It’s the production, the shooting, the editing,” Heaton explained. “To my understanding, the biggest piece of the film is post production. There’s a hope that there will be an opportunity for students to be on set, whether it be at the sound stage or on campus in the summers when people are on location.”

A seemingly similar program, television broadcasting, is offered at the college, where students also operate cameras and learn editing, which brought concern that the two programs would fight for the limelight.

“We’ve found that many of the students that came into the program wanted the film side of things. They didn’t really want the broadcast,” Pihlainen said. “There is a difference; in broadcast they’ll be getting live broadcast experience and studio work and stuff like that that won’t lend itself to the film program. You’ll see the curriculum in the television program change slightly.”

Said Heaton: “We don’t think it’s going to negatively affect the TV program. Right now in our broadcasting program, we have a couple of electives that help with some of that absence of crew here in the area. The idea is that they will be two separate paths.”

The film program is expected to have a large draw, as Ottawa does not currently have a hands-on film program.

“The fact that it’s here in Ottawa…There are some really good film programs across the province; there’s a really good one up north,” Pihlainen noted. “That being said, there isn’t really good coverage in eastern Ontario region. So, we’d be drawing out students from there.”

Students from Carleton University’s film studies program are also expected to be enrolling at Algonquin, as the college will provide the practical experience the university lacks. According to Pihlainen, students from Carleton register in the current television broadcasting program, but find it is not suited for their filmmaking needs. However, an accredited program between the two institutions is being considered.

Physical preparation for the film program can already be seen on campus; the media centre on the first floor of the N-building has expanded into another room to accommodate the new equipment that will be purchased.

Heaton, who is excited for the new program, is looking forward to its launch. “There are lots of different opportunities in the film industry and this could be a foot in the door.”

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