Dissolution of Film and Creative Industries ‘a slap in the face’ for film students

APRIL 22, 2015 BY MOIRA DONOVAN: Halifax Examiner: read it here (behind paywall)

Although much of the attention in the aftermath of the provincial budget has been devoted to the reduction in the Film Tax Credit, students of NSCAD and NSCC say they’ll be just as much affected by the elimination of Film and Creative Industries NS.

The latter provided resources for students making their final-year thesis films, including six production grants of $2500. Now that the smoldering ruin of Film and Creative Industries NS (FCINS) has been absorbed into Nova Scotia Business Inc, it’s unclear whether that funding still exists.

“It’s very much up in the air,” said Yalitsa Riden, 3rd year film student at NSCAD and Financial Vice President of the Student Union. Either way, the dissolution of the department is a blow for NSCAD’s struggling film program, she said.

The cutting of funding for thesis films isn’t the only possible outcome of the change. Empire Theatres used to provide first and second year NSCAD film students with a theatre in which to screen their end of year projects; when Cineplex engulfed Empire Theatres, that arrangement disappeared, and FCINS stepped in to fill the void. With FCINS gone, students may have lost the space to screen their work, said Riden.

It isn’t just the effect on curricula that creates a barrier for film students; Riden points out that multiple training programs, including the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative’s Film 5 program, are now in peril. Film 5 was funded through FCINS’s Partnerships in Training program, and provided emerging filmmakers with the funding and mentorship to make their first professional short films. It also provided on-set training for 20-30 young people, among them many NSCAD and NSCC students.

Riden herself volunteered as a trainee on two Film 5 productions; the experience helped her get a foothold in the film community in Nova Scotia, including landing her a job on Trailer Park Boys in the summer of her first year in university. That this program is at risk – along with others that have been around for decades, such as the Centre for Art Tapes Media Arts Scholarship Program –is “mind boggling.”

Third year film student Raghed Charabaty was also supposed to be a trainee on a Film 5 production. That project – which was set to shoot May 2nd and 3rd – is now on indefinite hold.

Charabaty is from Lebanon. He chose NSCAD over universities in other provinces because of the quality of education that it offered. The elimination of funding and training programs has put that quality at risk, he said.

Students who signed up for a four-year degree expecting a certain level of support in that degree “feel cheated and lied to.”

Charabaty said he’ll stick it out for the final year of his degree, but notes that other students are already contemplating leaving.

Annie Cheung, multimedia technician at NSCAD, said that the combined effect of tuition increases, post-secondary budget cuts and changes to the film industry could be severe.

“For a school that’s already struggling financially, it’s really a dire situation.”

NSCAD’s provincial operating grant decreased from $9.3 million in 2011 to $8.4 million in 2014, leading to such proposed cash grabs such as the sale of NSCAD’s Academy Building on Brunswick street. Although that ultimately didn’t happen, students have nonetheless felt the impact of increased tuition and reduced course offerings. Cheung said her own position at an institution that is low on resources is precarious enough, but that the main effects of the budget, at least for now, will be felt by students.

“They’ll go elsewhere…and that’s a big loss for the province.”

Charabaty is directly involved in recruitment; in addition to being a student, he’s also the Film Students Representative and works in the admissions office. But changes in the budget have left him uncertain how he’ll do either job.

“I don’t know what to tell prospective students.”

NSCAD students aren’t the only ones to feel the impact. At the film rally last Wednesday, recent graduates from NSCC’s Screen Arts Program stopped short of calling the two years spent on their education a waste, but only just.

Shelbe Smith, who graduates this year, said that her program only made sense because of the film industry’s presence in the province. With that gone, she would in theory seek work elsewhere. But because of the cost of her program, she doesn’t have the resources required to pack up and move to another province.

“I’m $20,000 in debt,” she said. “I can’t afford to leave.”

It’s ironic, said Riden, that the government trumpeted its commitment to experiential learning in post secondary education shortly before they released a budget in which experiential learning opportunities for art students were imperiled. The changes, she said, are another example of the way in which the government will say one thing and do another. But the heedless and haphazard way in which these opportunities were lost has presumably as much to do with the kind of experiential learning the government deems valuable as it does with its ability to keep promises. Either way, for Charabaty the message to students and artists is clear.

“It sends a strong message to NSCAD, the arts community and the students who come here to study art that they are not wanted,” said Charabaty. “It’s a slap in the face.”