J-school students enjoying a red carpet year

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: May 30, 2022 8:00 a.m.

U of R journalism students are picking up documentary filmmaking awards at film festivals from every corner of the globe.
U of R journalism students are picking up documentary filmmaking awards at film festivals from every corner of the globe. Photo credit: iStock photo

It’s been a banner year for U of R Journalism School students on the global film festival circuit. In 2021-2022, journalism school student documentaries picked up 19 awards and nominations from such diverse festivals as Cannes Short Film Festival, Toronto Women Film Festival and Chicago Indie Film Awards.

Theresa Kliem and Florence Hwang earned their master’s of journalism degrees in 2021. The pair’s documentaries produced that year have received numerous accolades at film festivals from Yorkton to India. Kliem’s film, The Newcomers, about immigrants in rural Saskatchewan, was recognized at the Prague International Film Awards, Chicago Indie Film Awards and the Toronto Women Film Festival, among others.

Florence Hwang

Hwang’s documentary, Dirty Laundry, a film about attitudes toward mental health challenges in Asian culture, picked up best documentary awards at the Boden International Film Festival in Sweden and the Uruvatti International Film Festival in India. The film was also selected for SaskFilm’s Saskatchewan Independent Film Festival and was a finalist at the Vancouver Director's Cut International Film Festival.

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Florence Hwang is the director of Dirty Laundry, a film about attitudes towards mental health in Asian culture. Photo courtesy of Florence Hwang

The pair also worked on The Beast Inside My Head, a group project that included undergraduate students Ethan Butterfield and Donovan Maess. The Beast, as Kliem and Hwang refer to it, is a 35-minute documentary about the drug crisis in Saskatchewan. The documentary was very well received at film festivals around the world including an honourable mention at the Cannes Short Film Festival in France.

Theresa Kliem

“I think the biggest thing for us was winning the RIFFA (Regina International Film Festival and Awards) short film award for The Beast Inside My Head last year.” says Kliem. “That was totally unexpected. The film was screened at festivals around the world and was an award finalists at several festivals including festivals in the U.S., Germany and Sweden. That makes you proud. The film focuses on such an important topic. The drug crisis isn’t just in Saskatchewan. Drug abuse is a worldwide problem so just I think sharing that story is just so important.”

 

Theresa Kliem
Theresa Kliem was one of the 2021 journalism graduate students whose documentary film was screened at festivals around the world. Photo courtesy of Theresa Kliem

Adds Hwang about her film being recognized, “Yeah I'm proud but I’m also humbled because these festivals get hundreds of applications. It’s great to be selected let alone winning anything.”

After the early success at RIFFA, the pair began entering their films into more and more festivals around the globe. Their persistence paid off. To date, the pair’s documentaries have been recognized at 12 festivals.

“I guess I’ve always been a storyteller,” Kliem says of her love of documentaries. “I love meeting people and listening to their stories and then telling those stories. I'm always blown away by how many interesting people you can meet and how many interesting stories you can hear if you just listen. I really enjoy exploring the world with the camera and really getting creative. Especially during my master’s project I was spending more time behind the camera. I just love those creative moments and capturing pieces of stories with the camera and discovering how much you can say without words.”

After completing their master’s degrees both Kliem and Hwang are working for CBC, Kliem in Saskatoon and Hwang in Regina. Still, both have plenty of ideas for future documentaries should the opportunity present itself.

“I really had a challenge for my film because it was very conceptual,” says Hwang. “How do you show mental illness without the contrived conventions? How do you work around that? It really pushed me creatively. To think what would show it without being so obvious. It really pushes you to think about layers in metaphorical and symbolic ways. I found that was a great stretch and something I like grappling with. But that's what makes you grow.”

Trevor Grant

Trevor Grant is the School of Journalism’s department head and a 25-year veteran writer and producer of documentaries, TV series and music programming. Grant says the successes of Kliem and Hwang comes down to their dedication to the craft and the effort they put into their projects.

 

Filmmaker

Mentor to the journalism students is Trevor Grant, the School of Journalism’s department head and a veteran documentary producer/director and writer. Photo courtesy of Trevor Grant

“Both came into the program as mature students,” says Grant. “They both wanted to make documentaries. They are incredibly passionate and eager learners and they went at it 60 hours a week, hammer and tong. They had a level of commitment and openness to learning so there was a good mix of learning but also taking a stand on a story and sticking with it.”

Grant says that the School of Journalism is gaining a nation-wide reputation for its documentary making master’s program.

“We’ve been branding ourselves as a news journalism program but also as an elite place in the country to study documentary filmmaking,” Grant says. “About 85 per cent of our graduate applications are for documentaries so that seems to be growing every year. People want to come here, we ask them why and often it’s because they have compared us to other documentary filmmaking programs and they want to come here.”

With the success that the past year’s documentaries have had on the festival circuit it’s not hard to imagine that the school’s reputation will continue to rise.