Sam Mason on Cinelab
Here's a text by SCA film alumnus Sam Mason about his time working with Vancouver's The Cinematheque, where he's been helping run the Cinelab summer filmmaking program for 14–19 year-olds, which the SCA supports – their sessions take place in our building! Read on ~
Feels strange to think some two years ago I’d been caught in a fugue state. The drop into Covid’s first lockdown coincided with the uncertainty of post-graduation – a graduation made up of canceled celebrations and beloved Zoom calls – leaving me at somewhat of a loss.
Prior to the shuttering of norms, I’d applied to facilitate a summer camp hosted by The Cinematheque; the camp, Cinelab, was a filmmaking camp for teens I’d heard of through SFU’s channels and positive past experiences of my cohort. The Cinematheque was a staple cinema of arthouse, independent and international works I knew well, having been a consistent patron for several years at that point.
Taking teens through the filmmaking process, from conceptualization to production filming to final edits, applied a lot of what I’d learned throughout my 5 years of Film Production at SFU, while it also let me lean into my preferred areas of Assistant Directing and Producing. It was the perfect alternative to the industry life I was hoping to avoid.
I taught at camp that August of 2020 and quickly found things pleasantly snowballing. I was asked back as a seasonal coordinator early the following year, with that season then extending, and then that extension extending into my current position as Learning and Outreach Coordinator. There I’ve been privileged to work with the Learning and Outreach Director Chelsea Birks, who also teaches as a professor at UBC, and fellow SFU Film alumni Thea Loo, documentarian extraordinaire – currently preparing to film a one hour documentary for Knowledge Network.
At the time of writing this, I’ve been working with The Cinematheque for some 19 months. In that time I’ve worked at schools and programs in Vancouver, Surrey, Squamish, Pemberton, and beyond; I’ve had the pleasure to work and learn alongside other hired facilitators from SFU, Emily Carr, UBC, Capilano, and BCIT. We’ve worked with organizations such as VIFF, The Polygon Gallery, and even the City of North Vancouver (their mayor, Linda Buchanan, has come to two of our screenings alongside numerous other council members!) Somehow, despite how far-fetched it seems even to me, at this point I’ve helped produce over 200 films during my time here, across a variety of genres and forms such as documentary, narrative, experimental, and even animation.
This year, my third year of running Cinelab, Covid restrictions had been lifted so that we were able to return to SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts campus. Two years after graduating the Film Program there, I was coming back to teach in the classrooms where I had been taught. I felt a weird twist of comfort and discomfort, now standing in a position of authority in the same familiar halls and spaces where I had previously looked up at my instructors. Nonetheless the camp went well – even better than usual – thanks to the many amenities of the SCA campus and our amazing facilitation team.
Across the two weeks, the students produced 16 films tackling various subjects, including but no limited to: attempts to rekindle friendship; memories left behind by loved ones; long searches for love and passion; and, of course, many blood-soaked murders. All of them, along with all of our past Cinelab films, can be easily viewed on our Vimeo channel! A couple of weeks after camp, we were able to present the finished films at The Cinematheque without any of the capacity restrictions we’d had in past years, (2020’s restrictions meant many of the students had to choose one parent or the other,) letting us almost completely fill up the cinema with students, parents, friends and actors.
Having these programs go off successfully and then celebrating them with a final screening was immensely satisfying for both myself and the participating students, especially after such a long period of being deprived of those experiences. The students got to see their works presented on a big screen, with other students they’d met during their program and others they hadn’t had the chance to meet yet. They got to celebrate with ice-cream in our courtyard, gushing over each other’s work, creating group chats and planning future films they want to work on together.
Thankfully, just like the Cinelab students, this same year in early April my own cohort had our own moment for finality, after waiting two years. We presented our completed grad films at The Cinematheque and got that proper closure we’d lost out on. Even though many of us had already started on our career paths, we’d all felt that weird binding– for better or for worse – back to our pseudo-graduation. By finishing our films and presenting them on the big screen as we’d expected to years prior, we could sever that feeling and continue forward without regret.
And it’s exactly that, that I’ve been doing so far. As I continue my work at The Cinematheque, we’ve now come back from our busy summer and the celebration of our 50th anniversary into another school year, and many new projects and collaborations are being organized and prepared. Beyond developing some projects internally (I’m hoping to develop some sort of expanded cinema program for next year) I’m trying to get back on track with personal projects; soon I’ll be starting work on a performance project with fellow alumni Tomoyo Yamada and Charlotte Telfer-Wan to be presented around April next year. Besides my ongoing struggle to write and not just plan scripts and writings, I’ve also been trying to push myself into other areas – I’m currently dabbling very much out of my depth by designing some board games – so we’ll see how that all goes.
Nonetheless, I look forward to the upcoming years; that fugue state finally feels like a thing of the past, and though I'm still not finding perfect clarity about my future at this moment, it no longer worries me. I’ve learned to embrace that this is the nature of things, and I even see it too from fellow alumni; talking to many with similar uncertainties, they simultaneously produce works that blow me away, (not that I’m surprised after witnessing what they could achieve while in school) and so I’m left even more excited to see where we go next.
Sam Mason is a filmmaker and writer who graduated from Simon Fraser University with a BFA in Film Production. His projects frequently engage with theatre and dance, looking to explore the possibilities of cinema beyond the single screen and our physical and mental relationships to the spaces around us. His dance film Small Spaces and Big Places screened at the 2019 FORM Film Festival, while his short film Maybelline, 1995 screened in the Cinematheque Filmmaking Showcase exhibit at the Polygon Gallery in 2022. Currently he is working with The Cinematheque cinema as a Learning and Outreach Coordinator, teaching filmmaking through the facilitation of various workshops and programs, and hoping to encourage an exploration of interdisciplinary cinema and a general love of film in future generations.