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Images from USask student films, "Muffin Man" (left) and "Sleep Paralysis" (right) by Jesse Fulcher Gagnon (BFA'15, MFA'22) and "Chimera" by Louisa Ferguson (MFA'22).

International film festival showcases USask student video work with ‘Focus on Canada’

International film festival based in Germany featured Art and Art History student works

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By Kristen McEwen

When University of Saskatchewan (USask) associate professor Lisa Birke was approached by an international film festival about showcasing Canadian filmmaking, she knew she wanted to feature her students’ work.

Birke, a faculty member in the Department of Art and Art History at the USask College of Arts and Science, submitted 39 experimental video works by 22 students between 2020 to 2022 under the title Prairie Poems.

Prairie Poems seemed like an apt title because it reflected the breadth of the subject matter, but also the emotional tone of the program,” she added. “There’s a really broad range of exuberance to this contemplative reflectiveness, to really sharp-witted humour.”

Birke has had a long relationship with the film festival, INTERNATIONALE KURZFILMWOCHE REGENSBURG. Founded in 1994, the film festival showcases a range of genres including fiction, documentary, animation and experimental films from around the world.

This year, the festival asked Birke for submissions as part of a “Focus on Canada” showcase. Her own experimental short film, Signs of our Times, also played as part of the showcase.

All student videos were created as part of the Digital and Integrated Practice Program (DIP). The exhibition ran as a one-hour loop throughout the festival.

“The works have a really broad range of subject matter,” Birke said. “The themes are very open-ended. That’s really, really important for the development of one’s creative voice to be able to really determine what the artist feels like is important to them.”

Videos reflected on a range of topics, from health to ability to identity. The works were also in a showcase that was part of a Nuit Blanche Eve event in Saskatoon.

“Being able to share (this work) with an international audience is really, really exciting,” Birke said.

Louisa Ferguson
Louisa Ferguson (MFA'22)

Louisa Ferguson (MFA’22) had one of her video works submitted as part of Prairie Poems. Her work, “Chimera,” is a study of her own dual citizenship between Canada and Portugal.

Born in Montreal, Ferguson splits her time between Azores on San Miguel Island in Portugal—her parents’ home country—and the village of Meacham, Sask.  In her work, Ferguson notes the similarities between the two places.

“It’s very agricultural here (in the Azores),” she said. “It’s a very small village, but it’s surrounded by ocean, so it has a slightly different feel. There are cows and tractors but it’s an island nation.

“I was just noticing how these huge fields of wheat, if the wind is blowing right, they actually undulate like the ocean does,” she added.

Along with the imagery of wheat stalks moving up and down in waves—like the ocean—Ferguson layers image upon image in the video, with a soundtrack she created.

“I was playing around with the idea that I have these two identities within me, which is where the Chimera comes from. The Chimera is a fire-breathing dragon, but in terms of the medical condition, it’s someone who has two separate genes within them.”

Jesse Fulcher Gagnon
Jesse Fulcher Gagnon (BFA'15, MFA'22)

Jesse Fulcher Gagnon (BFA’15, MFA’22) had three videos submitted as part of the exhibition, “Muffin Man, “Sleep Paralysis,” and “Work.”

Fulcher Gagnon’s work frequently uses animation to bring his ideas to life on screen. His video, “Sleep Paralysis” is based on his own experience with the sleep disorder.

“A big reason I went back to grad school was to combine my doodles which was a big focus of my practice at the time, with my performance practice,” he said. “I have a theatre degree and I’ve been working in theatre community since 2015.

“I thought I was going to really be studying animation in a very sort of technical and traditional sense,” Fulcher Gagnon said. “Lisa really pushed for animation to be another tool in your toolkit of mediums and be a lot more experimental and exploratory with it.”

Fulcher Gagnon mentioned that Birke finds opportunities to encourage students to explore and work outside of their artistic comfort zone.

“She’s gone out of her way to take students’ work that was done a couple of years ago and give it another life, and give some of these students who maybe have recently finished their degrees and are in the early stages of becoming a professional artist, giving them the opportunity to have a screening somewhere and keep that resume beefed up.

“(Students can) just be excited about some of their work that they probably put a lot of time and effort into it. I know I certainly did.”

Though not all Prairie Poem submissions are available for public viewing, Ferguson’s “Chimera” and Fulcher Gagnon’s “Muffin Man,” “Sleep Paralysis,” and “Work” are all available online.

All students who participated were: Randy Huang, Jesse Fulcher Gagnon, Emmanuella E. Aliu, Daniel Bissell, Leif Shantz, Kim Kargut, Aurora Wolfe- MacNeill, Kelly Neuda, Annie Bérubé, Louisa Ferguson, Athena Ni, K. A. Hicks, Narges Porsandekhial, Leanne Read, Gabby Da Silva, Eva Francis Work, Alleah Bowring, Renata Ćosić, Qihang Liang, Sahar Soheili Sadigh, Ming Zhang, and Scot Yellowlees.

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