OU students, alumni glean industry insights at Toronto International Film Festival
Twenty-six Oakland University students and alumni recently immersed themselves in the world of global cinema at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the largest festival of its kind in North America.
The faculty-led study abroad program gives participants a unique opportunity to observe the inner workings of the film industry by attending screenings, industry panels and master class workshops with media professionals.
Dr. Kyle Edwards, associate professor of film studies and production, served as faculty coordinator for this year’s TIFF study abroad program.
“The OU TIFF Study Abroad program offers OU students and alums incredible opportunities for educational, professional, and personal enrichment,” said Dr. Edwards. “Participants in this program, which began in 2015, have used the knowledge and experience gained at TIFF to pursue a variety of career paths in the film and media industries. They’ve also formed lifelong connections with the OU students and alums with whom they shared their TIFF adventure.”
German film director Werner Herzog spoke at this year's festival.
Senior film major Reece Wooten described TIFF as an ideal study abroad program that allowed him to explore one of the world’s most dynamic metropolises, while gaining valuable professional insights and progressing toward his degree. As part of the program, students enroll in FLM4910, a four-credit elective course.
“I have always wanted to be a part of a study abroad program, but with my school and work schedule I never thought I would be able to since they are typically months long,” he said. “TIFF was a quick trip of only a week, yet was still an amazing experience out of the country and did not overly, if at all, cut into my classes or work schedule.”
Dr. Bridget Kies, assistant professor of film studies and production, is teaching the TIFF-related course, which helps students develop a critical lens through which to view the film festival and situate themselves as future professionals.
“Instead of just attending a film festival – already an amazing experience – our students are asked to think critically about how the festival is programmed, which movies are included and how they're categorized for audiences and film distribution companies. Students also attend a conference full of industry professionals to learn what the key issues in the industry are right now,” said Dr. Kies.
OU attendees toured TIFF headquarters.
“For some, the highlight was getting to hear Tyler Perry talk about his career. Others attended panels on issues of diversity and equity in Hollywood, and we all got a chance to meet privately with the director of a film premiering at TIFF who gave the students advice on how to break into making their first feature film.”
During his time in Toronto, Wooten took in the city, forged new friendships and learned about the film industry from those closely connected to it.
“I watched 16 different films from various film categories, attended press and industry panels including actors, directors, and other professionals in the industry, bumped into celebrities, and just had an incredible time walking around and experiencing the city,” he said. “From the restaurants and bars, to the shops and stores, to the general hustle-and-bustle along the streets, Toronto provided some of the most fun and heat-of-the-moment adventures I have ever been a part of.”
Participants attended various film premieres during the festival.
For Nicole Diroff, a 2019 graduate of OU’s Cinema Studies program (now called Film Studies and Production), it was her third TIFF study abroad. She spent much of the festival attending panels and screenings, including feature films such as “Glass Onion” (the sequel to “Knives Out” a dark comedy mystery that premiered at TIFF in 2019), “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” (a documentary featuring surgical footage from French hospitals), and “Tales from Gimli Hospital Redux” (a new 4K restoration, originally directed by Guy Maddin in 1988).
“Maddin did a Q&A after the screening of “Gimli Hospital,” discussing the production process and restoration,” Diroff noted, “a rare experience that comes out of attending film festivals.”
Since graduating from OU, Diroff has continued her education and held multiple positions in the film industry. In fall 2020, she enrolled in the certificate program at the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, which is under the Moving Image Department at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York. After graduating in 2021, she held a temporary position in collection management, helping ensure the long-term preservation of the George Eastman Museum's holdings. Later, she became a film projectionist at the Museum’s Dryden Theatre and another art house theatre downtown, called The Little.
“All of this is to say I work in the field of film exhibition, which is exactly what film festivals — like TIFF — are about,” said Diroff. “Exhibition is the culmination of all of the hard work that goes into producing a film and, specific to the archival field, is the final act of film preservation.”
Along with her career experience, Diroff highlighted the broad assortment of job opportunities in the film industry.
“I think when you tell people you’re studying film, the discourse primarily surrounds the creation and production of film and video. In reality, the film industry is enormous and encompasses a wide range of jobs and opportunities to be a part of,” she shared. “I personally love the work that goes into preparing for a show — film and digital alike — and the payoff of getting a large crowd feels great. You’re in a theater watching with others who love film too, which only serves to enhance the experience of the film itself. At festivals, especially as large as TIFF, these feelings are especially potent.”
Learn more about OU’s TIFF study abroad program at oakland.edu/ie/ou-programs/film-tiff-program/.