Truth be told, I am one of the least qualified people to talk about something like film.
I am hardly an entity of prose and prestige when it comes to media, much less the otherworldly eccentricity that is cinema. Most of the time, I take movies at their face value — for pure entertainment. They are the complement to pizza dinners on Friday night, the background noise that plays when I’m painting. Admittedly, the closest I’ve ever gotten to serious analysis is that one time I wrote a school essay on the political lenses of Independence Day.
So, as I sit here, wine glass in hand and chocolate wrappers discarded to the side, I’m frantically wracking my brain for reasons why a thing like film production classes are necessary. For all I can fathom, movies are but a pastime, a first date opportunity, and a medium for book adaptations. But what would I know? I know nothing. I am nothing. I am become nothing.
Before I dig myself into the idiot image any further, I do need to clarify — I’m exaggerating. I fully realize that art has historically been one of the most powerful mediums for expressing and displaying stance, and cinema is no exception. From age-old black-and-white classics contemplating Nazi Germany to today’s sparkly summer smash hits on feminism, there is always a story to be told, a message to be translated into a moving picture. Cinematography does just that. What captures the people’s attention holds the power, and nobody has ever turned away from the pretty things in life.
We as people have always been interested in dissecting film. Every year, Hollywood and the indie world spark massive commentary as people speculate on the creative choices behind the season’s divine masterpieces. In the last two years alone, we’ve seen powerhouses like The Menu, Everything Everywhere All At Once, Barbie — and even “fun” ones like Spiderman: Across the Spiderverse and Turning Red — wreak havoc on interpretation and discussion, catching people’s attention and ideas. From the early legacies of creators like “CinemaSins” to the recent rise of #FilmTok and @DiscussingFilm on Twitter (X) our long history of film criticism communities— as well, proves that there is a wealth of interest in the layers underneath the big screen. And where there is interest, there is opportunity.
And yet, that’s only the surface level of things. Maybe, as plebeian casual chick flick enjoyers, we will never understand the great minds of artists like Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan, or why they use this dialogue or that soundtrack. Or how they colour-graded the dreamscape for Leonardo DiCaprio to sprint through in Inception, or the inspiration behind the infamous boy-meets-alien E.T. scene. Maybe we can’t see any of this from the outside without the experience of being a producer. But isn’t the whole point to learn?
Of course, U of T already has its Cinema Studies department. Complete with a diverse course catalogue that extends an impressive range of themes, it boasts a promising look into the film industry and the careers that wind through it. But it is promising at best. As it currently stands, the department seems to have taken on a more theoretical approach to the degree, coddling an education from afar so as not to get anybody’s hands dirty. I may not be the most avant-garde expert, but even I can tell that the path to the arts is hardly through the books.
When we say we want to learn, we aren’t referring to the hundred-dollar textbooks that teach us how to judge a rom-com, the formulas behind every jump scare, or studies on media after they’ve already passed the publishing goal post. You don’t learn to paint solely by reading Picasso’s biography. Film production encompasses the hands-on processes that take a movie from inception — great film, by the way — to release, the storyboarding to the final visual effects touches. That is what we want, that is what there ought to be.
Compare this to institutions like Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), which has a Film Studies department. Whereas it still offers classic interpretative programs like Film Theory and Visual Studies, the degree takes a much more active, integrated perspective into film, providing classes like Film Production, Introduction to Editing and Sound, Directing for Camera, and more. I mean, do we really want to be bested by TMU? Sounds like it’s time for an upgrade.
As the Toronto International Film Festival wraps up this week, remember that behind the sparkles and standing ovations is a team of dedicated individuals who all got their start with a budding interest in the cinematic arts. In a few years, the people on that red carpet could very well be people we passed on campus this morning — people who found their calling through film production, if you will. But until U of T finds a place in its heart — and its funding — to provide a film production program for our students, I guess we’ll never know.
Isabella Liu is a third-year student at Victoria College studying public policy and international relations. She is an Associate Comment Editor at The Varsity.