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Students Share Story Through Film

Written on May 29th, 2017

On May 8th, 2017, we published an article on the High School Improv team at Toronto District Christian School, and the way that improv has changed the lives of students who have been involved in it. This week’s story continues that theme, with TD Christian’s Communications Technology teacher Tim Buwalda and his class sharing their experiences of telling stories through film and inviting other Christian high school educators to join them in this rewarding educational journey.

For the second year in a row, students from Toronto District Christian School (TDChristian) were awarded the Overall Best Student Film at the Vaughan International Film Festival (VFF) in Toronto. This year’s video, entitled “The Other Side”, was submitted by five senior students from the Communications Technology class at TDChristian.

“We were all so excited when they announced the winners,” shared Alex Stevens, a grade 12 student at TDChristian. “It was an amazing honour for all of us to see our work being recognized in that way!”

Now in its fifth year, the VFF is an exciting four-day event that showcases both local and international talent on all levels. Their aim is to provide a platform for film makers and storytellers to put forth their work and to encourage professionals to invest in the next wave of artists. Four years ago, the VFF expanded the competition to include film submissions from high school students from across Ontario.

The opportunity for students to share their stories via film is one that has been exciting for Tim Buwalda, teacher of Communications Technology at TDChristian. He has been using the opportunity as a final project for his class, in which his students tie together everything they’ve learned throughout the semester.

“Many people think that the most important part of creating a good film revolves around the use of technology,” he shared. “But to me, that has to come second. It’s not just a technology class—it’s communications technology. Creating film is much more about telling a story visually. Film-making involves knowledge and skill, but it also requires an investment of the heart,” he shared.

To challenge his students to be intentional about the stories they choose to tell, Mr. Buwalda assigned a topic for this year’s film project—empathy. “So often, students in Christian schools try to attach a message at the end of a story to make it good,” he shared. “I wanted them to weave the theme throughout the story they are choosing to tell in a way that makes it real to them.”

This process is one that Alex Stevens has grown to appreciate this past semester. “I love the adventure surrounding film making!” he shared. “Each film is a new opportunity to create an experience with your peers while creating something that involves a part of each of you.” Alex went on to share about an ambitious, ten-minute short film that he and a classmate decided to film in downtown Toronto earlier in the semester.

“We shot most of it in two days,” he laughed. “We slept over at one of our houses, shooting video footage for a few hours in the night. We got up early the next morning to film some sunrise shots by the waterfront, then hauled our hockey bag and backpack of film gear around on the subway and buses all over Toronto. I learned that although the final product is your goal, there is also great value in the process—in the moments that you and the crew have together and the people you grow closer with.”

Alex and his classmates Ethan VanderKooi, Jacob Hoving, Quinn Kavaner, and Jamie D’Allessandro submitted this year’s VFF first place winning video, “The Other Side”—a story about a student who inadvertently steps into the shoes of one of his classmates and is forced to experience what it is like to be ignored or mistreated by others.

“We hit a few roadblocks while shooting this video,” shared Alex. “One of our classmates that was acting in the film was sick for a couple of days, and we had to find a creative way to work around that problem. And, as is often the case, there was the challenge of knowing when the video was finished, because there’s always something that you see that you want to make even better—whether that be wishing for better equipment or finding a way to make that dolly track just a bit smoother. In the end, we were really happy with how the video turned out. It’s all about overcoming challenges, not always sticking to the script and not being afraid to improvise.”

“In some ways, I found that film is an easier way to share a story than writing it down,” shared grade 11 student Sydney Tsigoulis. “Instead of worrying when to capitalize or where the period goes in a sentence, you get to focus on how emotion is portrayed visually through settings and characters. This class not only taught me to tell better stories, but how to make them come to life on the screen.”

TDChristian was one of at least ten high schools across the province that submitted videos to the student competition at the VFF this year. Out of the ten videos submitted by TDChristian, three were chosen to be shown at the final screening before the winner was chosen, receiving $2 000 towards new video equipment for their school.

“Seeing all our hard work come together—the writing, shooting, and editing—into the final product that shares a message is such a rewarding experience,” shared Alex. “Winning is just a bonus!”

Above photo left to right: Tim Buwalda (teacher at TDChristian), Jacob Hoving, Alex Stevens, and Jamie d’Allessandro.

“It’s thrilling for the students to see their work up on the big screen,” agreed Mr. Buwalda. “It’s also a great learning opportunity for them to see what other students are creating. There were all kinds of films—black and white, animation, documentaries … and stop motion videos were a big deal this year.”

Mr. Buwalda admits that although he loves the opportunity that his students have been given to share their stories through film at the VFF, he would love to see many more Christian high schools across the province participating in the event each year.

“If there’s one thing that I’d like to be a part of, it would be to create a similar competition for Christian high schools. It would be so great for students to see what others are doing in their schools—not only technically, but also what type of stories they’re sharing and what things are important to them.

“Jesus told stories—it was his way of connecting with people around him,” he added. “And as Christian educators, we all have the same vision for our students. No matter what subject we teach or how we ask our students to interact—through video or song or acting or on paper or canvas—we’re asking them to tell a story.”