March Break Video Academy gives youths learning opportunity

The Centre for Art Tapes is holding a video workshop over March Break that is centered around giving youths an introduction into filmmaking.

Six youths between the ages of 12 and 17 are spending their March Break getting acquainted with the art of filmmaking – in a program that is the first of its kind in Halifax.

The March Break Video Academy runs from Monday to Friday this week. These teens will spend this time in a small room discussing big ideas and learning fundamental filmmaking skills from two industry professionals.

So far, they have viewed and discussed videos ranging from modern music videos to short films, dissecting every artistic detail to understand them better.

It is the first program of its kind to be held by the Centre for Art Tapes (CFAT). Spearheading the program are Luckas Cardona-Morisset, freelance filmmaker, and Leslie Menagh, arts promoter.

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A discussion taking place at the March Break Video Academy. Photo: Patrick Fulgencio

“There’s a visual language that we assume everybody knows but it’s actually been very carefully constructed over time, it’s been built up,” said Menagh. “So we were kind of working to deconstruct it, take it apart, look at the parts so that we can make those choices on purpose when we make our own film, and look at how deliberate each of those decisions are.”

The next four days will involve workshops on storytelling, prop building, video editing and then a screening on the last day.

“Young people are exposed to media all around them so this is an opportunity for them to learn how it works, how it functions, from the real grassroots to creating their own media,” said Keith McPhail, director of CFAT.

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Keith McPhail in the main office of the Centre for Art Tapes. Photo: Patrick Fulgencio

Not a moment of silence ever loomed over the discussions; the teens gave the facilitators their undivided attention.

“What you end up getting are kids that already are predisposed to thinking about these things. They’re quite thoughtful,” said Cardona-Morisset. “As long as they feel like they’re in a safe space to be creative, once you create that, then it can all come out and they can express themselves.”

Like the Atlantic Film Co-op, CFAT focuses on supporting media artists. The March Break Video Academy, however, focuses specifically on youths. As McPhail describes, it is “an opportunity for us to perhaps make [youth programming] a little more long-term.”

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Participants of the March Break Video Academy watching a short film. Photo: Patrick Fulgencio

“My experience in working with the arts is that it’s an opportunity that when youth – or anybody for that matter – of any age gets the opportunity to express themselves and learn something, it’s a real eye-opening experience,” said McPhail. “And it’s one that is usually a long-lasting impact.”

Filmmaker wins $35K to make short film on Alzheimer’s

Grant will cover the cost of making short film inspired by her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

Leah Johnston — who grew up in Truro, N.S. — won a $35,000 grant from Bell Media’s bravoFACT on Sunday in Halifax. The grant will go towards the making of her newest short film, a commentary on Alzheimer’s disease.

BravoFACT, a foundation dedicated to supporting Canadian shorts, partnered with Women in Filmmaking and Television Atlantic (WIFT-AT) to launch a pitch contest at WIFT-AT’s annual Women Making Waves conference held on Sunday. The five finalists for the grant pitched their short films to a panel of four industry professionals on Saturday.

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While working in Los Angeles, Johnston wrote a sprawling 35 page epic that she says wasn’t possible to make into a short film. That was the first draft of “Ingrid and the Black Hole,” which is about two children imagining the possibilities of time travel.

It wasn’t until she moved back to Truro as a part time caretaker for her grandmother — who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s — that the concept began to fall into place. “Ingrid and the Black Hole” is a tale of children and time travel, but is also a commentary on the disease.

While caring for her grandmother, Johnston watched Alzheimer’s at work from a sobering front row seat. “Suddenly I knew how to tell the story and have the same themes, but tell it in a shorter and engaging way,” she said.

As a young girl, Johnston realized her love for film and theatre. She was cast in Neptune Theatre productions, and went on to complete a BFA in acting at New York University. However, waiting around for auditions and potential gigs proved to be unfulfilling.

Johnston moved to Los Angeles after seven years in New York and took an interest in photography. “Acting is a very collaborative process,” said Johnston, “and you can’t really be creative on your own.”

Through shooting conceptual pieces, Johnston flexed her creative muscles and began gaining a small online following. But photography wasn’t enough — she wanted to make her pictures move.

That’s how Johnston found her calling as a director. “I love directing because I get to be in control,” Johnston said. “It’s a symphony of the arts.”

Hoping to combine her passions of acting and photography, Johnston wrote a script and shot her first short on a 5D camera in Los Angeles.

“I was ashamed of it for awhile,” Johnston said of the short, “Another Man,” that she both directed and starred in. It later won the Jury’s Choice and Audience Choice Awards for best short at the Parrsboro Film Festival.

The grant from bravoFACT will cover the budget for “Ingrid and the Black Hole,” and Johnston says it’s the biggest cash budget she has ever had for a production. She hopes the short, which will be shot in Nova Scotia, will make its premiere at next year’s Atlantic Film Festival.

“People here are really genuinely passionate about their work,” Johnston said of filmmaking in Atlantic Canada. While unsure about the future, Johnston dreams of drifting back and forth between Halifax and Los Angeles.