Now entering its 11th year, Powell River Digital Film School has established itself as a springboard to post-secondary training programs in film, as well as successful employment within the industry, according to school founder and lead instructor Tony Papa.
“We have about 28 students who have gone on to either post-secondary studies in film or are working in the film industry today,” said Papa.
Many are working on productions for Netflix, CBC, Amazon and independent producers, he added.
Papa ran a production company in Vancouver that produced television and movies before making the move to Powell River.
“I was invited up here one year for a film I did, got to know the town and heard about Kathaumixw, and did a film on that,” said Papa.
When Papa and his then eight-year-old daughter decided to make the Sunshine Coast their full-time home, he contacted Brooks Secondary School to pitch the idea of a film school.
Students participating in the program are offered 20 high school credits and three university credits to Emily Carr University and Toronto Film School, as well as preferential acceptance into Capilano University and Langara College. The course has run at full capacity every year with a maximum of 14 participants and attracts students locally and from around the province. Through workshops and firsthand industry experience, students learn more than just the theory of filmmaking.
“Because I was in the industry in Vancouver for so long, I have contacts with producers and productions that are going on,” said Papa. “I’m able to get the group onto various live sets so they can see how things are really going; that keeps them up to date with techniques and the way sets are run.”
In addition, the group does screenwriting workshops with writing coach Heather Conn, who said she believes Papa’s rapport with students is a major part of the program’s success.
“They deal with interesting themes and respond to things in their community,” said Conn. “It’s really interesting to see them get inspired about a topic, something that they’re passionate about.”
The film program is also the sponsor for Powell River Film Festival’s Adventures in Film Camp.
“We spend three days with students province-wide doing workshops and then making one-minute films that are exhibited at the Patricia Theatre,” said Papa.
The digital film program culminates in a year-end film screening of the students’ finished work, which will take place on June 20 at the Patricia Theatre.
Having their finished products seen by an audience is an integral piece of the learning process for the young filmmakers, according to Papa.
“It becomes a participatory thing seeing their film through the eyes of an audience,” he said.
Screenings also give the community a chance to see films that have gone on to win national and international awards in competition. In 2014, Papa’s students won gold in the national Skills Canada competition held in Toronto.
Conn and Papa said they agree the most valuable skill students gain in the program is trust in their own abilities.
“We’re enabling them to have more confidence as a person and taking the mystery out of filmmaking,” said Papa. “This opens the door to post-secondary and also allows them to actually work in the industry, if that’s what they choose to do.”