Just Film Festival unveils talented Langara graduates

Director Jeff Berg (left) and drag artist David Cutting (right) during the filming of Human Rules. | Photo by Jeff Berg

Three graduates of Langara College will participate at a Vancouver film festival alongside award-winning international documentaries. Jeff Berg, Amy Psyden, and Mariah Kennedy each directed student films that will be screened at the Just Film Festival taking place at VanCity Theatre between March 30 and April 1.

The Just Film Festival is jointly organized by CoDevelopment Canada, Amnesty International Vancouver, Village Vancouver and VanCity Theatre. The festival has a tradition of hosting the Langara Student Film Festival. Annat Kennet, Program Coordinator of the Documentary Film Production Program at Langara College, was involved in selecting the student films. “[The films] are well-shot, edited and have a strong sense of themselves with clear structures that stand out,” she says.

Documentaries and exploration

In Human Rules, Berg explores the topic of gender expression through a film on drag artists. Originally from Calgary, Berg moved to Vancouver to study counseling. After some soul searching, Berg realized that documentary films could facilitate the same process of self exploration that exists in counseling. “I saw documentaries as a way to get into people’s heads and to challenge their perspective,” says Berg.

Berg approaches filming as an explorer. He takes an idea that speaks to him and starts filming to see where the project leads him. The idea for Human Rules came from conversations he had with friends about who drag queens are. Berg then collected video clips of drag shows he attended, as well as recordings of conversations with performers as they were getting into drag.

One resulting theme of Berg’s film is the concept of gender as a complex and personal topic that defies traditional masculine and feminine norms. “My main aim was to have people who watched the film question what their own rules around masculinity and femininity were,” he explains.

This will be the first film festival that Berg is involved in. He welcomes the exposure of his film to a wider audience. “Putting [the film] together, it’s just this thing that I think is cool and you don’t really know how others are going to feel about it,” he says. “It’s good to put it out in a creative community and get that acknowledgement and validation, to hear that it really fits with something they are doing.”

Berg’s film is paired with Queen of Ireland, a film about performance artist Rory O’Neill that has won the Irish Film and Television Academy award for Best Feature Documentary in 2016. “It’ll be really great to see my film on a giant screen,” says Berg. “And terrifying.”

Documentaries and storytelling

Psyden’s film, Lucila, tells the story of Lucila Munaretto, an Argentinian ballerina who came to Vancouver on a dance scholarship. A rollerblading accident in North Vancouver left Munaretto with multiple fractures, brain and spinal injuries. Psyden felt that Munaretto would be a good subject for her film after watching a news interview of the dancer.

“She has such a sense of overwhelming positivity and strength that contrasts with her tiny physical frame,” says Psyden. “I knew her story of beating all odds would resonate with a large audience.”

Kennedy’s film, On Crows, is a poetic examination of crows and their kinship to humans. From the story of a simple friendship between a man and the crow that visits him daily, to the beautiful shots of crows making their way across twilight skies to roost together, the film reveals surprising similarities between humans and these intelligent birds.

Psyden and Kennedy have since moved back to Australia. Along with her partner Daniel Clarke, Psyden hopes to apply the range of new techniques she learnt at Langara to their company NTinti Media. The company focuses on exposing indigenous Australian youth to filmmaking and photography. “We ultimately hope to work in both areas,” says Psyden. “As educators and mentors for indigenous filmmaking youth and as documentary makers tackling issues of social change and unique individual stories that appeal to audiences around the world.”

For more information, visit www.justfilm.ca.