January 12, 2016

SFU Students Direct One of Canada's Top Ten Student Films, Selected by TIFF

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By Mack Stannard

On Wednesday, December 9, 2015 a group of third-year film students at SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts received some exciting news. Kellen Jackson, Sasha Tomasky, and Suzanne Friesen’s film, “Smoke”, was selected by the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) as one of Canada’s Top Ten Student Films. Suzanne says “to be recognized by a festival of this scale and reputation so early in our filmmaking careers is a huge privilege and honour”.

The three co-directed the film in their second year within the SFU Film Production program. “Smoke” follows a little girl who helps care for her ill mother and tends to the beehives on her family's sprawling farmland, however, after an unwelcome discovery, she must question the surreal and mysterious world she lives in. Kellen explains that the film “arose from some very personal discussions between the three of us on the nature of family bonds, the depth of our capacity for hope, and the intensity with which we as fragile beings tend to feel betrayal". The film garnered much success even before the TIFF announcement, having already played in the Montreal World Film Festival, Moonrise Film Festival, and Lights Camera Cure Film Festival.

All three directors are thankful to SFU’s Film program for helping guide them through this experience. The three express their sincere gratitude to those in the program who supported them through the process of taking creative risks in order to realize their personal visions.

“Smoke’s” crew was entirely comprised of SFU students and the three directors are appreciative for their incredible work ethic, inspiration, and support. A great deal of the success of this film is due to the crew of SFU students who pushed the trio to enhance the quality of their work. One of the many advantages of SFU’s film program for these directors is that it has provided them with a community of equally driven people who want to make amazing work together.

When asked what advice Kellen, Sasha, and Suzanne could offer to aspiring young artists, they expressed how important it is for artists to do what matters to them personally and to tell stories that they feel need to be told. They explained how vital it is for each of us to understand our art’s importance, function, and placement within the world. Ultimately, they suggest that we all need to believe in our work. The trio attributes the success of this film to the trust they have put in their emotional intuition throughout the development of the project and their willingness to learn and adapt along the way.

Kellen, Suzanne, and Sasha will all be in attendance for the screening of “Smoke” on January 15th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox cinema. The festival will serve as an opportunity for the trio to learn from industry expert panels, network with other filmmakers, and show off their work to new audiences. When asked about their excitement about the upcoming festival, Sasha explained that the festival “is an exceptional spread of opportunities for young filmmakers and we’re humbled to be a part of it”. The festival will travel across Canada after its initial screening in Toronto and play in Vancouver at the Cinematheque on Januy 17th.