UVic contributes talent, technical & creative power to Victoria’s burgeoning film industry

Director & Dept of Writing professor Maureen Bradley (right) on the set of her locally lensed feature film,  Two 4 One 

Connect to any streaming service and it’s not hard to find UVic alumni on screen, thanks to busy actors like Erin Karpluk (The L Word), Peter Outerbridge (Orphan Black) and Emily Piggford (Umbrella Academy). Less obvious is the behind-the-scenes talent, like visual-effects artist Michelle Lo (Black Panther) and production coordinator Amanda Verhagen (Jurassic World: Dominion).

Yet while Vancouver’s Hollywood North casts a mighty shadow over Vancouver Island, alumni filmmakers continue to contribute technical and creative power to Victoria’s steady and growing TV and film industry.

Writing the life of an independent director

In many ways, award-winning director Connor Gaston (MFA ’14) is typical of the quiet talent UVic produces. After directing a string of short films, his 2015 debut feature—The Devout—premiered at Korea’s Busan International Film Festival. It then earned him the BC Emerging Filmmaker Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival before it went on to receive Best Picture and six other honours at BC’s own Leo Awards. Gaston, who is also a graduate of Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre, is currently working on his second feature film.

“Getting your first feature made is never easy—but it’s really difficult to make your second,” he admits. “Your first film really has to blow people out of the water to activate the next round of funding, which is usually a big step up, budget-wise.” By way of comparison, The Devout came in at $150,000, while his in-progress feature, Baby Tooth, is budgeted at $1.7 million: still a bargain compared to typical Hollywood productions.

“Even at $1.7 million, it’s almost like having no money again—all your budget goes to paying people very little for what they’re actually doing… and then all your money is gone,” he says. “But most people work on independent films because they want to be there—to learn, to help—so some money for them is better than no money at all.”

While BC’s film and digital-media industry generates $3.2 billion and 71,000 jobs annually, the vast majority of that work remains in Vancouver. The Island received roughly $55 million in direct spending of that amount and about 800 jobs in 2021, with 40 different productions shot across the region.

But a typical day in Gaston’s life mainly involves a lot of writing, not bean counting. “Working on the screenplay, writing grants… it’s very much a slog,” he says. Gaston keeps his cinematic chops in shape with short films—2022 saw him direct both Year of the Tortoise and The Cameraman Chapter II (a sequel to his 2016 short The Cameraman, inspired by the book of the same name by his novelist father, Bill Gaston). But unlike some directors, he doesn’t work on other peoples’ films. “I’m actually quite useless,” he laughs. “I wish I could do something more practical.”

While it’s a medium he clearly loves, Gaston acknowledges being a filmmaker comes with serious challenges. 

“Directing is so strange. If you’re a painter, you can paint every day, but with directing you need money to even practise your art. Writing helps, but you can only envision your screenplay so much.” 

Connor Gaston

Snapshot of a working filmmaker

As a self-described “working filmmaker,” Chen Wang, BFA ’18, is on the move. After a “quick” visit home to China in February 2020 turned into a two-year, COVID-restricted stay, Wang is happy to be back on campus to both complete his MFA in screenwriting and continue his work as cinematographer on the interdisciplinary research documentary Four Stories About Food Sovereignty. The project started in 2018 and includes UVic professors Elizabeth Vibert (History), Maureen Bradley (Writing), Matthew Murphy (Business), Astrid Pérez Piñán (Public Administration) and a team of international partners.

It was specifically thanks to his involvement with Four Stories that he was finally able to leave China in 2022 to film the latest installment, “Aisha’s Story”, in Jordan. “Aisha is a Palestinian woman who lives in the Baqa’a refugee camp,” Wang explains, “and she’s trying to keep her Palestinian culture alive through food: growing, cooking and passing that knowledge along to the next generations.”

Wang also shot the short film about UVic’s Voices In Motion intergenerational choir for adults with memory loss—one of the many pre-pandemic projects that kept him hopping on campus and in the community. As an undergrad, he founded the UVic Film Club, joined the CineVic Society of Independent Filmmakers, started his own commercial production company and created over 20 commercials with CHEK TV’s production team, as well as crewing on both professional and independent-film productions. “Before COVID, I was quite busy: features, shorts, documentaries, music videos… generally, I do camera, cinematography, director of photography, sometimes directing,” he says.

Guochen Wang

In addition to completing his MFA, Wang is also keen to finish the international Four Stories, which has shot in Sooke, Jordan and South Africa, with only Colombia remaining. “We’ve captured such an amazing story, I now want to complete it,” he says. “Not only is it the project that got me back to Canada, but I was so fascinated by what I saw in Jordan: I want people to see this film.”

Despite the proximity of Vancouver’s studios, Wang likes the idea of staying in Victoria. “I could shoot in other cities, but I like it here,” he says. “I like the environment, and there are so many talented people who work very hard.”  

Wang also shot the short film about UVic’s Voices In Motion intergenerational choir for adults with memory loss—one of the many pre-pandemic projects that kept him hopping on campus and in the community. As an undergrad, he founded the UVic Film Club, joined the CineVic Society of Independent Filmmakers, started his own commercial production company and created over 20 commercials with CHEK TV’s production team, as well as crewing on both professional and independent-film productions. “Before COVID, I was quite busy: features, shorts, documentaries, music videos… generally, I do camera, cinematography, director of photography, sometimes directing,” he says.

Mentoring future filmmakers

If you want to get a feel for the homegrown film scene, look no further than the CineVic Society of Independent Filmmakers. Founded in 1991, the artist-run society provides affordable professional-grade equipment, facilities, training and screening opportunities to local filmmakers and media artists; previous members—like South Island Film Commissioner Kathleen Gilbert and longtime Victoria Film Festival director Kathy Kay—make a clear case for CineVic’s importance as a local training ground.

Current executive director David Geiss (MFA ’13) has spent the past six years furthering the cinematic ambitions of CineVic’s 125 members. “I realized it was actually more satisfying to help other people with their work than spend an inordinate amount of time and money to make my own short films, which then may—or may not—be screened at a film festival,” he says, with a chuckle.

Geiss is no stranger to the indie film world: his films and documentaries have been broadcast nationally and seen worldwide, he’s taught screenwriting and served as programmer for the likes of the Short Circuit Pacific Rim Film Festival, National Student Film Festival and Queer City Cinema Film Festival, among others. But it’s only by running CineVic that his past experiences and skills have really been spliced together.

“In many ways, it feels like this was the job I was born to do,” he admits. “I realized I actually like the support work—the planning, the advising—more than making short films. I no longer wake up at three in the morning with ‘Eureka!’ ideas… As an arts administrator, I now just get a good night’s sleep.”

Geiss says CineVic has a diverse membership from students to hobbyists, and from people looking to break into the film industry to those already working—like local photographer and director Arnold Lim, whose award-winning 2020 feature film debut All-In Madonna was penned by screenwriter and UVic alumna Susie Winters, BFA ’16.

David Geiss (Victoria News photo)

Teaching film production on campus

Daniel Hogg, BFA ’04, is another local filmmaker who focuses on both teaching and creating. Currently completing his screenwriting MFA at UVic, he has twice been part of Telefilm Canada’s Talent to Watch program and his credits as producer include the award-winning feature film Two 4 One (the world’s first transgender romantic-comedy, directed by writing professor Maureen Bradley) and both the animated feature Esluna: The Crown of Babylon and the original nine-episode animated web series Esluna: The First Monolith. He was also executive producer on Connor Gaston’s The Devout.

Hogg is an experienced cinematographer and screenwriter as well as producer and has been teaching the Writing department’s film-production classes for years. The class is modelled on a professional film set, and students take on all the individual roles in a production—from director, producer, camera operator to editor, sound work and even catering.

“It’s not a production program per se, it’s a screenwriting program—it’s just supposed to give them a taste of the industry,” Hogg says. “Certainly, we’ve had students move into film and TV where they work as production managers, assistant directors or screenwriters.” (All-In Madonna’s Susie Winters is a good example of students making this leap.)

Hogg is excited for the future of Victoria’s burgeoning film industry.

“It’s growing and will continue to grow, but a lot of the community aren’t necessarily connected and integrated: not everyone knows everybody else,” he says. “A lot of people are doing things independently while others are connected through organizations like CineVic. But either way, we’re living in a time where people are actively trying to find ways to tell their stories.”

Putting Indigenous stories on screen

After spending 30 years producing and directing hundreds of live plays, UVic grad Leslie Bland, MFA ’99, started his own film company—Less Bland Productions—in 2011. “I felt like I was hitting the ceiling of what could be accomplished with live theatre, but film and television offer a bigger, broader canvas,” says the producer of popular documentaries like Gone South: How Canada Invented Hollywood and the all-female comedy series She Kills Me. “There’s a complexity in working with film that I really enjoy.”

Sporting a solid track record of film-fest screenings and experience with broadcasters CBC, Discovery Networks, Super Channel, Knowledge Network and Télé Quebec, Bland has partnered with fellow producer Harold Joe, a member of the Cowichan Tribes, in a joint venture, Orca Cove Media, which focuses exclusively on celebrating First Nations storytelling.

From left: Harold Joe, Leslie Bland, Graham Greene

So far, the producing pair have had hits with hot docs like Dust n’ Bones (examining the preservation and rededication of First Nations remains and artifacts) and Tzouhalem, a cinematic investigation into the story of legendary Cowichan Chief Tzouhalem. “Orca Cove’s mandate is to allow Indigenous creators to tell the stories they want to tell,” says Bland. “A lot of the stories are hyper-local, but they also have broader appeal and a point of authenticity.”

That broad appeal can either come through subject matter—their current documentary, A Cedar Is Life, explores the cedar tree’s pivotal role in the cultural life of coastal First Nations from Alaska to California—or narrative approach. The team has completed filming The Great Salish Heist (starring Dances with Wolves’ Graham Greene and Battlestar Galactica’s Tricia Helfer), set to be the world’s first comedic Indigenous heist film; also in development is Pow Wow Summer, a coming-of-age romance set on the Canadian pow-wow circuit.

Talent on the rise

With alumni talent both on- and off-screen, and the next generation of young filmmakers being mentored to tell their own stories, the future looks bright for Victoria’s film scene. As plans for production facilities continue to evolve with hoped-for studios in both Saanich and Langford, director Connor Gaston’s optimism is reflective of the local industry as a whole.

“In film, there are so many things that need to go right and so many elements you need to put it all together, but I still have fun doing it,” he reflects. “Being on set is still my favourite thing. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

One to watch: Letay Williams 

New grad Letay Williams (MFA ’ 22) is a screenwriter who is intentional about creating stories that resonate with a global audience but are also infused with the diverse, vibrant culture of her Jamaican heritage. In 2021, her project Traytown won the Audience Choice Award at the Creators of Colour “Big Pitch at TIFF” competition, and she was one of only eight writers chosen to participate in the 2022 Toronto-based BIPOC TV & Film Episodic Writers’ Lab.

In May 2022, she produced a live public reading of her as-yet-unproduced MFA script, Inheritance, a feature-length film set in both Jamaica and Canada. Described as a “heartwarming, LGBT/family drama,” the script was read by a cast of local and out-of-town talent (Kelowna, Toronto) who said they’ve “never read a story like this” and that it’s “the movie intersectional communities are longing to see on screen.”

This story originally ran in the fall 2022 issue of UVic’s Torch alumni magazine


Letay Williams

Southam Lecture: David Beers & “The War on Journalists”

When veteran journalist David Beers founded The Tyee two decades ago as one of Canada’s very first independent online-only news sites, he intended an “experiment to see if the nascent internet would allow the flourishing of diverse, public interest-minded journalism organizations, which collectively would strengthen Canada’s existing journalism ecosystem.”

Today he’s sobered to see that ecosystem not stronger but decimated — a situation that sparked his Feb 7 talk at UVic, “The War on Journalists: Who’s waging it and why … and what’s at stake if they win”.

Fresh layoffs at Canada’s largest newspaper chain Postmedia, as well as Victoria’s vibrant online startup Capital Daily, are further blows to the diminishing ranks of journalists in Canada. The trend is global, and Beers thinks it’s not by some accident of technological fate that journalism crafted to high standards — which he terms a “bulwark of democracy” — is left to atrophy.

Beers, an award-winning writer who worked in senior editor roles in two big city newsrooms and Mother Jones magazine before starting The Tyee in Vancouver, gives this year’s prestigious Harvey Stevenson Southam Lecture, organized by UVic’s Department of Writing.

You can watch the talk here:

The paradox of journalism on the internet

In this interview with Writing professor Deborah Campbell, excerpted from the full version on The Tyee, he offers a preview of some of what he discusses in his talk.

Deborah Campbell: Maybe we should start with your definition of “journalist”. Can’t anyone with a Twitter, YouTube or Substack account be a journalist today?

David Beers: They can certainly inhabit the media ecosystem and compete for attention with journalists who adhere to traditional methods of gathering, preparing and sharing news. But there can be a world of difference between the two types.

Joe Rogan’s podcast pulls in 11 million listeners per episode. His listeners may imagine him to be, perhaps, just an edgier version of a news interviewer on the CBC. In fact, Rogan has proven, over and over again, to provide a portal for disinformation, some of it deadly, as in the case of the quack anti-vax voices he’s had on. When Rogan took fire for that, his excuse was to say, sorry, maybe I should start vetting the guests I afford my powerful platform. In saying that he was declaring he’s no journalist whatsoever — more of a carnival barker flogging the next bogus attraction.

Actual journalists understand they will suffer direct consequences if they get things wrong, or distort the facts to suit their own aims and biases. Journalists with this understanding of their role can be found working in a variety of settings — corporate, the state-funded CBC or for a member-supported non-profit like The Tyee. What they all have in common are formal standards and practices and a commitment to finding and presenting fact-based truths instead of roping in rubes.

In my talk I’ll address the paradox that The Tyee could only exist on the internet, yet aspects of the internet have been weaponized to harass and defeat journalists. And I’ll spend a bit of time discussing how it is possible to hold distinct political values — mine are progressive — yet as a journalist adhere to rigorous principles, ethics and methods.

Declaring war on journalists

DC: A “war” on journalists? That’s a pretty heavy word. What makes you say there is a war on journalists in Canada today?

DB: A lot of discussion about the waning of our basic journalistic infrastructure in this country is talked about in the passive voice. What a shame, the shrinking of our newsrooms, the collapse of the advertisement-funded business model. So sad, the blurring of lines between solid information intended to empower citizens to reform democratic institutions, and destructive disinformation that merely disrupts and destabilizes.

I think it’s too passive to just keep repeating, “Journalism is in crisis. Journalists face challenges.” Talking this way about the dire state of professional journalism can give the impression that the weather simply, mysteriously changed and we all must get used to the new reality.

But one well-cited definition of war is organized theft on a large scale. So what I am trying to say with my use of the term “war” is that, indeed, there are identifiable forces actively working to steal from citizens this bulwark of democracy we call professional journalism in the public interest.

And so I start with a standard question for investigative journalists. Who stands to benefit? Who would gain from so massive a disruption?

The answer, as I’ll spend some of my talk explaining, is powerful figures who have no regard for democracy because it does not serve their egos, bank accounts or wills to power. Exhibit A, of course, has been Donald Trump, who’s followed the classic authoritarian playbook by trying to replace our understanding of reality with his own by uttering endless self-serving lies disseminated via cable television, radio and the internet. These lies find a receptive swath of the public hungry for a cult-like figure to lend meaning to their existences. Such tactics, and why they find a willing audience in atomized, confused and disillusioned people, was brilliantly explicated by the philosopher Hannah Arendt regarding mid-20th century fascism.

So the war on journalists might aptly be termed the war on reality itself. Once a citizenry’s shared reality is shattered, once basic facts that form the spine of narratives can’t be agreed upon, the playing field is open to would-be authoritarian leaders. We see the result played out today in Orbán’s Hungary, Putin’s Russia, the Philippines shaped by Duterte, China and elsewhere.

Mental health concerns

DC: What’s it like to be in the trenches then as a journalist these days?

DB: Well, it’s increasingly hard on your mental health, particularly for reporters in the field. Researchers have found higher incidences of depression, anxiety and PTSD among journalists than the wider population. Some of that is because of the revved-up demands of the 24-hour internet news cycle, which can thrust some journalists into grim or scary circumstances without much time to process.

Some of it arises from the precariousness of jobs in journalism combined with that grind. Some journalists in the digital age are made to view horrible images by the bushel, and we’re learning that can take a real toll.

And a key source of harm to mental health in journalism is exposure to malevolent trolls who, via the internet, can target and anonymously and viciously attack journalists for what they’ve published. I consider these the foot soldiers of the war on journalists, mobilized to sow doubt, confusion and inchoate anger.

In October I joined over 40 practitioners in the field of Canadian journalism in a summit on mental health among journalists at Carleton University. Our top conclusion was that journalism has become a hazardous worksite and the industry doesn’t do a good enough job of protecting those on the frontlines. So, life during wartime, I suppose.

Solutions needed

DC: What’s to be done?

DB: In making my case that there is a war on journalists, my aim is to issue a recruitment appeal. As precariously difficult as it has become to be a journalist these days, the stakes have never been higher. Even ten years ago, I’d not have imagined myself making the case that the bedrock of shared reality was itself under siege and that journalists — who after all are a pretty nerdy, earnest bunch — form a vital, small line of defense that powerful actors are striving to breach and overwhelm.

We need a new generation of journalists committed to fact-finding to solve problems and hold power accountable. We need business models and work cultures to support them in ways that take less of an emotional and physical toll. Nothing less than our democratic way of life is at stake.


About the Southam Lecture series

Each year, a journalist of national renown is invited to share their knowledge with the university and local community as a visiting lecturer and/or a journalist-in-residence, thanks to the Harvey Stevenson Southam Lecture Fund in Journalism and Non-Fiction.

The visiting lecturer engages with a variety of our classes and gives an annual public lecture offering an insider’s view of the shifting media landscape, while the journalist-in-residence teaches a class in the area of their unique expertise for one semester in our Writing department. Both of these positions give our students an opportunity to learn from some of Canada’s top working journalists and experience valuable mentorship for young writers and aspiring journalists. 

The fund was made possible due to a $250,000 donation from one of the country’s leading publishing families and the program has been an immea­surable success since its introduction in 1994. In its original incarnation, the Harvey Southam Diploma provided several students a year the opportunity to complete post-degree studies in UVic’s professional writing program. Diploma graduates have gone on to successful careers in journalism, publishing, com­munications.

Well over a dozen lecturers have delivered a diverse range of courses to our students and talks to the general public, including the likes of climate journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, photojournalist Farah Nosh, bestselling author Brian Payton, CBC broadcaster JoAnn Roberts and Ojibway journalist and author Richard Wagamese, to name a few.


About Harvey S. Southam

Harvey Southam, the son of Gordon Thomas and Gertrude Jean (nee MacMillan) Southam, worked as a journalist at the Winnipeg Tribune, the Vancouver Province, and Vancouver Sun before serving as a director of a number of Southam companies—including Southam Inc., Southam Printing Ltd., and Coles Book Stores Ltd.—as well as being the founder and editor of the Vancouver-based Equity, a monthly Vancouver business magazine. Southam was also a University of Victoria alumnus. He died suddenly in 1991.

The freelance life of Jenessa Joy Klukas

Given the 24-hour global news cycle, we’re living in a time of rapid media consumption, but freelance writer Jenessa Joy Klukas is finding success by keeping her focus tight and building relationships one story at a time.

A recent Department of Writing graduate, Klukas, BFA ’21, finished the final year of her degree by interning at independent media outlet The Tyee as part of the Indigenous Reporters Program with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), followed by a short posting at the equally independent IndigiNews as an education and child-welfare reporter.

Now freelancing for a variety of outlets—including expanding her work with The Tyee and IndigiNews, but also publishing with the likes of the Watershed Sentinel—Klukas has had no trouble keeping busy. “It’s been very steady since I graduated last year, but I’m enjoying the freedom that comes with freelancing: it allows me to take on stories I’m really passionate about,” she says.

Developing a beat

Of Xaxli’p and Métis descent, Klukas grew up on the land of the Haisla Nation in Kitimat before moving to Victoria and transferring from nearby Camosun College into UVic’s Writing department, where she focused on creative nonfiction. She’s managed to develop her own beat by focusing on stories about child welfare, education and Indigenous issues, and has also maintained ties with JHR through their Indigenous Media Collaborative.

“Because of these connections, stories are finding me a lot faster than I was anticipating—specifically in terms of Indigenous stories,” she says. “I find I get a lot of outreach on those.” Case in point? Her recent Watershed Sentinel story about Tea Creek Farm—an Indigenous-led, culturally-safe, land-based Indigenous food sovereignty and trades-training initiative located near Gitwangak in Gitxsan Territory (near Hazelton). The group reached out to her for coverage.

“Agriculture isn’t something I’ve really written about before, but because it was specifically Indigenous agriculture in a specific location—northern BC, near where I grew up—they felt I was the right person to contact,” she explains.


Another similar story focused on cultivating kelp resurgence in W̱SÁNEĆ waters via a partnership between the SȾÁUTW̱ (Tsawout) First Nation and the Cascadia Seaweed commercial farm. And Klukas is currently researching a story about how asthma is affected by climate change, specifically looking at the impact of wildfires. “With our changing climate, we’re seeing a real uptake in wildfires and it’s having a significant impact on people’s health,” she notes. “I’ll be taking a deeper look at how ceremonial burning can have a positive effect on wildfires.”

Klukas is grateful for the support of JHR’s Indigenous Media Collaborative to develop stories like these. “It’s a funded initiative that allows journalists to take the time to invest in stories,” she says. IMC’s reporters are focused on solutions-based journalism and can pitch any media outlet as they develop their concepts into whatever shape best suits the story, be that a one-shot, longform or a series. “Since it’s funded, they help guide you through the process of getting your stories out into the world.”

Stories that matter

Given the societal changes that coincided with her degree studies—including reconciliation, COVID, the rise of recent social-justice movements and the continuing climate crisis—Klukas feels the time is right for her to tell stories that matter.

“I came into journalism at a good time to have my voice heard. In Canada, we’re at a point in history where people are more accepting about creating space for Indigenous voices—which, in the past, didn’t happen very often.”

—UVic writing grad and journalist Jenessa Joy Klukas

Klukas pauses and offers a wry laugh. “Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone is always receptive to it.”

This deepening of voices is indicative of a cultural shift that she’s proud to be part of. “I would have really valued seeing Indigenous voices in journalism when I was a teenager—that representation would have meant a lot to me—so I’m totally willing and available to write stories on Indigenous matters,” she says. “It’s incredibly valuable to have Indigenous voices in the media space, not only for the average person to hear but also for Indigenous youth.”

But Klukas does admit that there’s a fine line between representation and tokenism in mainstream media. “Indigenous people shouldn’t be delegated to write only Indigenous stories if it’s part of a beat they’re not wanting to take on. As with any journalist, I always consider if this is the right story for me—I mean, I’m happy to cover Indigenous stories, but it’s important to have boundaries.”

Boundaries are especially important for her when writing about sensitive issues, like Indigenous child welfare. “It’s a passionate topic for me, so I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing about it—but it can be difficult to not feel overwhelmed,” she says. “There’s a heaviness that comes with it that can be emotionally draining. But that’s one of my favourite things about freelancing, spacing those stories out with a variety of topics: it helps me take care of my mental health.”

Another way Klukas keeps herself in balance is by having at least one creative project on the go, whether that’s “dabbling” in fiction via short stories or screenplays. “It’s important to have something for myself, just to keep flexing my creative muscles.”

While she’s still relatively new to the world of freelancing, Klukas feels she’s found her niche. “It takes a lot of initiative to be a freelancer, and it’s a constant process of learning something every day. That’s something the Writing program taught me: it’s important to pitch everywhere, send those emails in and just follow up. It can be scary—some days I feel very confident, while other days I have total impostor syndrome—but that’s very normal… writing is a very secluded endeavour, so it’s easy to fall into the ‘why am I doing this?’ mindset.”

Klukas finds success by giving her attention to one story at a time.

“I’m very proud of the work I do, and I’m really happy with the trajectory my career is taking, but I try to keep the focus on each story,” she says. “In journalism, sometimes you write for quota, sometimes you write for money… there are always going to be pieces you’ll like more than others, but I feel most successful when there’s a story I’m really proud of: building relationships is one of my favourite parts of journalism.”

This story originally appeared in the fall 2022 issue of UVic’s Torch alumni magazine

Call for grad student proposals: Ocean Networks Canada Artist-in-Residence Program

2021 ONC Artist in Residence Dennis Gupa

UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) are calling for graduate student applications for the 2023 ONC Artist-in-Residence program.

Note: the application period closes on December 17, 2022.

The Artist-in-Residence program strengthens connections between art and science that broaden and cross-fertilize perspectives and critical discourse on today’s major issues, such as environment, technology, oceans, cultural and biodiversity, and healthy communities. This program is open to all current Fine Arts graduate students who have completed most of their course requirements with practice in any visual, written, musical or performance media. Co-led and sponsored by Fine Arts and ONC, the Artist-in-Residence program receives additional financial support from UVic’s Faculty of Science and Office of Research Services.

About the residency

The Artist-in-Residence will ignite cross-disciplinary exchanges, interacting with Fine Arts faculty members and scientists & staff at ONC, as well as with other individuals using ONC’s world-leading ocean facilities. The Artist will learn from and engage with the current research, connecting it to the Artist’s own practice, and to wider societal and cultural aspects, creating work for public presentation at the end of the residency. The Artist will also be invited to contribute as a lead or co-author in scientific conference proceedings and/or journal articles.

The selected Artist will actively engage with researchers on a variety of ocean science themes that may include:

  1. Deep Sea Ecology
  2. Seabed-Ocean Exchanges
  3. Coastal Ocean Processes
  4. Marine Natural Hazards
  5. The Ocean Soundscape
  6. Arctic Ocean Observing
  7. Ocean Big Data

The ONC Artist-in-Residence program is established to:

  1. explore the potential of the arts or alternative cultural practices in the area of the visions, challenges, philosophical, aesthetic, and ethical aspects of the ocean and the impacts humans have on it;
  2. add a complementary artistic and creative perspective to ocean science, the societal ramifications of its exploitation, and its cultural aspects;
  3. create opportunities for potential new research questions, experimental approaches and knowledge synthesis resulting from interaction between the arts and science; and
  4. help envision and communicate the potential long-term impact of ocean changes on humanity.

Learn more about previous Artists in Residence

Previous ONC Artists in Residence include Colton Hash (Visual Arts, 2019), Dennis Gupa (Theatre, 2021) and Colin Malloy (School of Music, 2022). Watch for a special performance event in late January 2023, when Colin will be debuting his project created as part of the residency.

But you can get a sneak peek of Colin’s work by listening to these two compositions which he created during his time with ONC:

2022 ONC Artist-in-Residence Colin Malloy

Financial provision for the Artist

The residency period can start anytime between 1 Feb 2023 and 31 May 2023 and last for up to four months. A cost-of-living stipend of CAD$2000/month will be paid to the selected Artist, with limited additional funds to support production or materials.

At the conclusion of the residency, a public exhibit of the resulting art will be displayed or performed, and will be promoted by ONC and the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Proposal Submission

Interested applicants are to email ONC at dwowens@oceannetworks.ca with the subject line “Ocean Artist-in-Residence Program,” and attach:

  1. the artist’s CV
  2. a concise portfolio of previous relevant artistic work;
  3. a letter of motivation outlining the artist’s project proposal for the residency, and
  4. a 500-word project proposal with a separate project-costs budget.

The application period closes on 17 December 2022. Applications will be reviewed by representatives of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada. Artists may be contacted for an interview or to supply further information before a decision is made.

Public Exhibit or Event

At the conclusion of the residency, the artist will host a public exhibit or event within a specified budget agreed to during the residency and depending on the type of project to be exhibited. Assistance for marketing and/or ticketing could be made available from other UVic departments (Visual Arts, Theatre, etc.).

About Ocean Networks Canada

Established in 2007 as a strategic initiative of the University of Victoria, ONC operates world-leading ocean observatories for the advancement of science and the benefit of Canada. The observatories collect data on physical, chemical, biological, and geological aspects of the ocean over long time periods, supporting research on complex Earth processes in ways not previously possible. The observatories provide unique scientific and technical capabilities that permit researchers to operate instruments remotely and receive data at their home laboratories anywhere on the globe, in real time. The facilities extend and complement other research platforms and programs, whether currently operating or planned for future deployment.

About the Faculty of Fine Arts

With experiential learning at its core, the Faculty of Fine Arts provides the finest training and learning environment for artists, professionals, and students. Through its departments of Art History and Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing and School of Music, the Faculty of Fine Arts aspires to lead in arts-based research and creative activity and education in local, national, and global contexts by integrating and advancing creation and scholarship in the arts in a dynamic learning environment.

As British Columbia’s only Faculty exclusively dedicated to the arts, UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts is an extraordinary platform that supports new discoveries, interdisciplinary and diverse contributions to creativity, and the cultural experiences of the students and communities UVic serves. With thanks also to the Vice President Research & Innovation and Faculty of Science for their support.

Explore UVic on Nov 26

Considering a future as a student in the Faculty of Fine Arts? Join us on Saturday, Nov 26, as we open our doors as part of Explore UVic—UVic’s free, all-day open house. We’ve created a fun-filled day of student panels, sample lectures, presentations, tours and more. Check out the schedule of events, plan ahead and make the most of your visit!

This is your chance to discover what it’s like to be part of BC’s only stand-alone fine arts faculty, which means you’ll be learning as part of a dedicated arts-specific community. On Saturday, we’ll be hosting an open house (12-2pm in the lobby of the Fine Arts building) with representatives from our departments of Art History & Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing and the School of Music who can answer your program questions. We’ll also have a general representative on hand to answer your questions from 11-12 and 2-3pm if you can’t make the open house.

Explore where you’ll be learning

We’ll also be offering behind-the-scenes tours of our facilities at these times and locations:

  • Art History & Visual Studies: 11:00, 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 (meet in the Fine Arts building lobby)
  • Fine Arts/Writing: 11am-3pm (meet in the Fine Arts building lobby)
  • School of Music: 11:00, 12:30, 2:00, 3:30 (meet in Music’s upstairs lobby, MacLaurin B-Wing)
  • Theatre: 11:00, 11:45, 12:30 (meet in the Phoenix Building lobby)
  • Visual Arts: 11:00, 12:00, 1:00, 2:00 (meet in the Visual Arts building lobby)

Enjoy a sample lecture

You can also catch a sample lecture on “Activating Performance” with Theatre professor Sasha Kovacs from 2:15-3pm in room 167 of the Elliott Building.

The word “performative” is everywhere across social media. People add “performative” in hashtags to denounce those who don’t, as Hamlet advised his players, “suit the action to the word, the word to the action.”

Performance has always gotten a bad rap. People criticize performance as hollow, ineffective, lazy and false. But does this account for performance’s power to activate and incite real-world change? Through historic and contemporary examples, we’ll reconsider the power of performance as an agent of positive change.

Sasha Kovacs

Take in a show

If you’re specifically interested in Theatre, take the opportunity to see first-hand what our students can do by catching a matinee of our mainstage show Spring Awakening, running 2-4pm Saturday. This powerful rock musical transformed Broadway in 2006 and went on to win eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score — now, our Phoenix students are bringing this electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality and rock ‘n’ roll to life on stage. (Note: this is a separate ticketed event that must be booked separately from Explore UVic.)

Spring Awakening (photo: Dean Kalyan)

And if you’re interested in Music, you can hear what our students are creating at two separate concerts on Saturday: a Piano Studio Recital (2-4pm, featuring students from the studio of May Ling Kwok) and a Student Composers’ Concert (8-10pm, featuring new and daring works by composition students), both in the School of Music’s Phillip T Young Recital Hall in the MacLaurin B-Wing. 

Register now for Explore UVic

Register in advance now for this free day of exploration and activities . . . or just drop by on Saturday. We’d love to meet you!

Discover Shane Book’s world of words

When Shane Book began teaching poetry workshops at the University of Victoria in 2017, he had to fill out a form listing the number of times he had moved. After some mental gymnastics, he arrived at an approximate number: 65.

“I think I’m on the spectrum of it’s beneficial and then it’s not beneficial,” says Book, who was born in Peru to a white Canadian father and a Black Trinidadian mother. His father worked for the Canadian International Development Agency, helping communities establish clean drinking water, so Book spent much of his childhood split between Ghana and Ottawa. Book’s mother was a teacher at Ghana International School. As an adult, Book crisscrossed the continent several times over chasing degrees, fellowships and teaching gigs, with stints in New York, Philadelphia, Iowa City, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Nashville, Bowling Green, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria, to name a few. He also lived in Brazil, Cuba, Italy, France and Trinidad and Tobago.

“It’s made me a little bit more flexible than the average human being in terms of change,” Book says. “You have to be when you’re a kid and you’re moving around and you’re the new kid in the school—and culturally more fluid because I’m comfortable in a lot of different cultural milieus. It probably would’ve made me a good spy.”

Multiple art forms

As it turns out, the skills required to be a secret agent are transferrable to that of an award-winning poet and filmmaker who graduated from the very department for which he now teaches. Book’s first poetry collection, Ceiling of Sticks, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award. His second collection, Congotronic, was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. According to publisher House of Anansi, “Book’s poems splice, sample, collage, and jump-cut language from an array of sources, including slave narratives, Western philosophy, hip-hop lyrics and the diaries of plantation owners.”

In 2013, Book made a short film called Dust, based on one of his poems. His second film, 2017’s Praise and Blame, is billed as “a dark comedy about poets, exiles, burglars, secrets and the intellectual elite,” and stars Costas Mandylor of the Saw movie franchise. Both films screened at more than 50 festivals around the globe and won numerous awards.

Lately, Book—now an associate professor in the Department of Writing—has been delving into the Criterion Channel’s enjoyably gritty catalogue of blaxploitation films from the early 1970s, such as ShaftSweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Across 110th Street, while completing his third poetry collection, slated for release later this year. All Black Everything is a mashup of voices and styles that’s both performative and musical.


“It has a lot of hip-hop references and these kinds of attitudes that you see in hip-hop, this kind of braggadocio and that kind of stuff that is maybe not as common in poetry. And then it also has more modernist, lyric poems. So, it’s a real mixture.”

—Shane Book

Originally, Book had intended to sample lyrics from rappers throughout the collection until his publisher informed him that securing permission would be costly—to the mic-dropping tune of $26,000. So, Book’s been rewriting 93 of the passages that contained hip-hop lyrics, keeping only three. He won’t say who made the cut except that the trap-infused rhymes of Atlanta rapper Young Thug will make an appearance. “I feel like a lot of poems that I read now are very sanctimonious. People are really like, ‘I’m going to teach you something. This is my wisdom.’ And I just was getting tired of that. I wanted to write something not trying to teach people. There’s meaning hidden in there, but it’s trying to be fun, entertaining.”

Form and freedom

Book’s first exposure to rap and hip-hop came while living in West Africa, when his school friend Kevin, an American kid, introduced him to hip-hop records and breakdancing.

“It blew my mind. I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’ So we started breakdancing. We claim to have introduced breakdancing to Ghana. I think we probably did.”

Book says rap’s wordplay and “progressive elements” had an immediate and lasting impact on him, from its DIY aesthetic to connecting him to his roots.

“Just making something out of very little, like just a turntable and a microphone,” he says. “There’s also something simpatico [about rap]. It is essentially a Caribbean music. Like it’s morphed into what we know of it today, but I think of the similarities to old-school dancehall, reggae, and then even going to calypso [from] Trinidad—like that political talk, talking about the day, the news, that way of music being super verbal. I think it’s in all of those forms and it probably really influenced me because it’s really valued. And I think verbal dexterity in Black communities is really valued.”

Despite the lyrical nimbleness, sampling, remixing and cross pollination that hip-hop offers, Book is also a fan of traditional poetic structures. In his poem “Santa Cruz,” for instance, he employs a sestina, a form that goes back to the 12th century, and features the intricate repetition of end-words in six stanzas and an envoi (or short final stanza).

“I think that’s the benefit of form—it allows you to have something to work against.”

Back to his undergrad roots

The creative spark that experimentation within tight structures can ignite is also what attracted Book to the early bebop of Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and later the more avant-garde jazz explorations of Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman. Before setting his compass on poetry, Book had aspirations of becoming a professional jazz saxophonist. “I think I liked jazz because it seemed like individuals would coalesce as a group and then leave, go off and do their solo and then come back, always returning… There’s something about the formal constraints of jazz with moments of freedom.”

Since joining UVic’s writing department, Book has had time to reflect on his own experiences as a student in the 1990s. During his first year as an undergrad, Book lived in a tricked-out 1979 Dodge extended van with raised fibreglass roof, evading UVic security and the ever-vigilant local police and parking enforcement. Now he occupies his former writing instructor and novelist Jack Hodgins’ office and walks the same halls of his early mentors, poets Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane.

He says returning to the very place that helped form his younger self made him reflect.

“It definitely made me look at my life again in a pretty unvarnished way, like really take stock and face certain things that I thought I had overcome and try to not feel like I’m part of a Groundhog Day scenario. Like what was that last 20 years of struggling? What was that about? But it’s been great.”

Like most poets, Book has spent much of his professional life hustling—for grants, scholarships, fellowships and teaching positions. It’s arguably the least romantic aspect of a poet’s life.

As for the current state of poetry, Book is cautiously optimistic. If book sales might be down, the internet is also helping poetry reach a younger generation. “I was never worried about why anybody would read [poetry] or if they wouldn’t, because if I think about it too much I would probably go into a state of despair,” Book says, laughing. “But I think poetry will always exist as long as people have language… I think poets really revivify and clean up the language and restore the dignity to the language and at their best give people the experience of what it’s like to be a human being.”

—Michael Kissinger

This story originally ran in the spring 2022 issue of UVic’s Torch alumni magazine