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Inaugural Filmmaker in Residence Program features Calgary filmmaker Gary Burns

Class will include a free public screening of Burns' film waydowntown Tuesday, May 23 at Plaza Theatre

UCalgary's Filmmaker in Residence Program has just launched, and its first resident filmmaker is Calgary director Gary Burns. Photo courtesy Gary Burns

By Heath McCoy

The Department of Communication, Media and Film has launched its Filmmaker in Residence Program this Spring session with acclaimed Calgary filmmaker Gary Burns at the helm for the class’s inaugural run.

Burns is known for such independent films as waydowntown (Best Canadian Feature winner at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival) and Radiant City (Genie winner for Best Documentary and Special Jury Prize at 2006 Vancouver International Film Festival). Other notable Burns features include The Suburbanators (1995), Kitchen Party (1997) and The Future Is Now! (2010).

He is a University of Calgary alumnus, having studied fine arts and drama here from 1988 to 1990 before transferring to Concordia University’s film program, where he graduated in 1992.

Burns to help students focus on idea exploration

Burns says the primary focus of the class will be about helping budding young filmmakers explore their ideas. “For me, the biggest value of film school was that my fellow students and I were all at the same level, for the most part, and we were all making films,” he says. “Then you’d look at each other’s work, critique it, and learn from each other’s mistakes. You feed off of each other in that way.”

He adds: “It’s not so much a technical class where we supply equipment for a big production. It’s more about making two or three minute films with the equipment we all have – like our iPhone. If you want to use better equipment that you’ve sourced, go crazy, but if you’re only shooting work on your iPhone that’s just as good for this class, because it’s more about developing our ideas.”

The films that the students produce in the class will be screened at a private event on June 2, with students’ family and friends invited.

Free public screening of Burns' film slated for May 23

The class will also be hosting a public event with a free screening of waydowntown followed by a Q&A with Burns at The Plaza Theatre on May 23 at 7 p.m.  

Charles Tepperman, associate professor in the film studies program, feels that the Filmmaker in Residence Program is an invaluable learning opportunity for fledgling filmmakers at the University of Calgary.

“Most of the courses we offer focus on developing critical and analytical skills,” says Tepperman. “Students learn to write about the historical, cultural and stylistic aspects of motion pictures. This course is different because it gives students an opportunity to bring theory and practice together under the supervision of a really accomplished and thoughtful director in Gary Burns.”

“Working on their own short films will give students a chance to experiment and work through creative challenges.”

Course includes logistics as well as how to make your film stand out

As part of the course, Burns will also share his experiences on the logistics of getting independent films made, from developing scripts to the casting process, to raising the money needed. “These questions always come up,” he says.

“It’s a lot more competitive now than when I went to film school,” notes Burns. “When I shot my first film, The Suburbanators, there was a handful of people making low budget feature films, so you’d get a lot of attention right away. But today, with the mushrooming of the film schools and the availability of the technology, there are so many films out there. So if you want to be a serious filmmaker and have people pay to see what you’re making, you have to offer them something. You have to consider ‘What makes my film standout from all the other films out there?’”

“Making movies is a grind and it can be a brutal industry. So you have to ask yourself: ‘Why do I want to do it and do I have the ideas? Am I creative enough?’ Yes? Well then, what’s your idea?”