Tucked away within the depths of Galiano Island sits a rural film camp amongst an old, growth forest. Attendees shed their civilian life for a week at a time to reveal their eccentric selves on the secluded island and create.
Something about the camp keeps them coming back for more, as much as six times in three years for some.
The Gulf Islands Film and Television School (GIFTS) offers emerging artists intensive courses and the opportunity to interact with mentors and industry professionals.
The work certainly paid off for two young Richmond filmmakers who snagged a couple of awards at this year’s 17th Annual EyeLens Film, Video and Animation Festival on Saturday, April 21.
Mark MacDonald won the Adult Professional Dramatic Filmmaking award for his short Letters to Alice, while James Gill took home the YouTube Production & YouTube Most Viewed for I’m a Gamer, parodying a parody I’m a Gangster.
For its 17th year, the festival was held in Victoria, rather than the usual Vancouver, featuring the province’s emerging talent, as well as a keynote address by award-winning Canadian filmmaker Bart Simpson.
“It was unbelievable, we really didn’t expect to win,” said a still overwhelmed 14-year-old James, who collaborated on the project with Jeanette Bates, Jack Catford, Clayton Dowdell and James Klemmensen.
A first time video for James, the project took about four days to make during GIFTS’ YouTube production course, which attracted James to its DIY (do it yourself) nature.
“I like the idea of being able to make something and post it online,” he said. “At the school, it’s a cool vibe. The people are mature and supportive, and the forest is a great place to shoot videos.”
MacDonald explored the dramatic genre with Letters to Alice — a tale about a novelist who writes love letters to herself for the thrill of receiving them in the mail. Devyn Brugge, Heather Fennell and Darsey Meredith collaborated with him on the project.
This isn’t the first short for the 20-year-old writer and director, who has made seven previous films and has been nominated for past awards. As a six-time GIFTS attendee, all within the past three years, MacDonald has become somewhat of a regular who plans to keep returning.
“There’s no bad memory,” he said. “You get to abandon any sense of civility out there and you always meet great characters. We’re free to make anything we want in a relaxed, supportive environment. It’s also nice to get away from society and create.”
James said he might take a break from the behind-the-scenes work and try his hand at some acting, while Letters to Alice helped MacDonald get into Vancouver Film School, where he just began his third term.
“I love making something that is yours,” said MacDonald. “It’s the most fun time.”
GIFTS offers media intensives with a focus on developing new filmmakers and encouraging students to take part in every aspect of the production. A week-long program costs $565. Many of its students’ films and videos are screened at national as well as international festivals. Of the 140 videos submitted to the EyeLens Festival, 21 received awards. All submissions were produced at GIFTS during 2011.