The inside scoop from five CineSiege winners

November 10, 2017

The inside scoop from five CineSiege winners

Recently rocking its 15th anniversary, CineSiege celebrates the best student films produced in the Department of Cinema & Media as picked by a jury of professional filmmakers and industry leaders. On October 25, the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema was filled with applause and congratulations recognizing excellence in 19 categories from screenwriting to editing and everything in between.  Of the 179 films created last year, the jurors deliberated over a short list of 28 and offered meaningful and appreciative feedback for the up and coming filmmakers.

CineSiege jurors:

  • Mary Young Leckie (BA ’78), co-owner and president of Screen Door and owner of Solo Production Inc.
  • Tess Girard (BFA ’05), filmmaker and cinematographer most known for her documentary A Simple Rhythm
  • Barry Greenwald, a documentary filmmaker and co-founder of the Canadian Independent Film Caucus,

AMPD News touched base with a cross section of 5 winners to get their story and share the props from the hardworking CineSiege jurors.

Persistence was the key to excellence for Mahnoor Zaidi (BFA ’17). Many people told her that death wasn’t an appropriate topic for a doc and she had more than a few second thoughts from the topic to shooting on location in her homeland of Pakistan. Her original doubts made it all the more gratifying when she received  the Best Documentary award for her film Dust to Dust.

Mahnoor Zaidi

“I feel very honored to receive this award because it was given by York, which has been my home away from home, as well as the place that taught me everything I know about film,” Zaidi said. “This documentary holds a special place in my heart because of the topic of death. I’ve lost two loved ones and I have had a near death experience myself. Death is the only reality I see in life, and viewing it in a new light allows me to have a positive outlook.”

With her degree in hand, Zaidi has returned to Pakistan and is working on a multitude of projects. “I’m a director for a social media company called ‘ProperGaanda’ in their video section and I am also co-directing a theatre production set in February. There are a handful of other shows and documentaries I’m involved with coming up soon.”

“My degree at York gave me confidence in my work, and it provided all the right opportunities to dabble with different film forms. Although I have always been interested in documentaries, York gave me the chance to try all the genres and then decide for myself. Now I’m thrilled to put my skills to use in Pakistan.”

Props from the Jury: In sharing the protagonist’s passion for his task, this beautifully created humanistic documentary is both a celebration of the dignity of work and a profound ode to memory and honouring those we love. With great confidence and skill, Director Manhoor Zaidi and team establish an openness and intimacy with their film’s subject compassionately illuminating a little known world.

For updates on her projects you can follow Mahnoor on Instagram @mzaidi12


Film still from A is for Apple

Can you imagine editing a film in a foreign language? That is just a piece of why alumna Cara Shaw (BFA ’17) landed Best Editing for Fiction Film for her work on A is for Apple (also the winner for Best Fiction Film) directed by Sarah Aminuddin. “It’s an interesting process looking at an English script and cutting scenes based on the characters actions and reactions instead of their exact dialogue but it was a great learning experience for me and I now know a few words in Urdu because of that,” Shaw said.

Cara ShawShaw is grateful for the award and for the editing support from Aminuddin, who is fluent in Urdu, the language in which the film was shot, and her professor Ali Kazimi. “My profs have amazing experience and I have learned so many skills from them. York taught me how to collaborate, work on a budget and most importantly how to get work done even when you don’t always agree or when personalities get in the way.”

Since graduation she’s been working as a freelance location mixer and post sound editor. “I’m currently working with a very talented director named Andrew Gerhold on a comedy web series called Life’s Lemons which should be premiering in the next few months,” Shaw Said.  “I am both the location mixer and post sound editor for this series and I can’t wait for its release! I’ve also collaborated with some other York Alumni on a short film called Now Playing directed by Maddy Summers which is currently in post-production.”

Props from the jury: “Scene through scene, Cara Shaw’s editorial art holds us spellbound as the central character navigates a world made onerous by others.”

For updates on her projects you can follow Cara on Facebook @carashawsound

Film still from Sleep of Reason

Aaron Fauteux (BFA ’17) was  partly responsible for the existence of an award for production design, so its incredibly fitting he picked up  Best Production Design for Alternative Film  for Sleep of Reason, a film he also directed. “Production design usually takes up a huge chunk of the budget and requires an extraordinary amount of work, talent, and time,” Fauteux said. “My colleagues and I felt that production designers are key crew members that are in many cases some of the first to be brought on board, working intensely during pre-production, driving themselves mad on set, and often staying with the production until the finished export– assisting with the choice of graphics, fonts, and even other post-production elements such as colour correction. They are integral part of the storytelling process– as much as any other role.”

The film itself was a project he wanted to bring to life for years. “I recreated nightmares I had as a kid so that others could see and feel what I experienced. The film relies on special effects, and so every shot was a challenge in itself. From hand-scratching onto 16mm film, to building a series of a dozen stop motion puppets, to painting 30 foot long murals for backdrops of full-sized sets, I could not have done it without a team of people who were as enthusiastic and hard working as myself.”

Post graduation Fauteux returned to his home town of Windsor where he’s been working during summers to teach a summer Film Camp for Kids and Youth. He is now the only full time staff of the Windsor Centre for Film, Digital Media, and the Creative Arts, the non-profit behind the camp. “While the Film Camp for Kids is still our biggest program, I’m responsible for planning and running all sorts of awesome programs throughout the year,” said Fauteux. “We teach kids ages 9-17 the basics of making their own short films. It is the first step of a much larger three year goal, which is to renovate a 28,000 square foot building in downtown Windsor and turn it into an all-encompassing media arts centre. We hope to bring a film industry to Windsor, which will really benefit the economy.

“What I’m doing now with the Film Camp, aside from the obvious connection with teaching filmmaking, is very different from what I did at York. I’m in more of a management and administrative position than I expected to be. While I may not be working on any films at the moment, I know that in the not-too-far-future, the people I will be working with will be the people I worked with at York.”

Props from the Jury: Fauteaux’s ambitious production design is as much of the story as the other elements. Both haunting and absurd, this painstakingly crafted production enters the rabbit hole to discover a world beyond one’s imagination.

Fourth year film student Kerim R. Banka received the award for Best Sound for North American Primates, a fiction film he also co-wrote and directed.

Kerim R. Banka

“ I feel appreciative to receive the award for best sound design, but I would like to congratulate all others who took the effort to pay close attention to audible details that ultimately made a world of difference,” Banka said. “With my co-writer Julia Galle, cinematographer J. Connor Bjornson and editor Lachlan Anderson, atmosphere and tone were things we considered at every stage of the production. You can never think too much about the sound design. Something as simple as the air in a room can say so much about how the characters feel and behave within that space. I respect and admire all of my collaborators on North American Primates and there would not have been a film without their exceptional work.

“My most educational experiences in the film production program have come from my failures. I’m working on my fourth year fiction film now and I am reflecting on the experience of shooting North American Primates, to learn from it and make my next film even better. York University’s film production program can be a fantastic asset to your film education, but it does not begin, or end there. What we get out of this program is directly in relation to what we put into it.

Props from the jury:  Kerim R. Banka showcases a great understanding that sound is half of audio-visual storytelling. Both off-camera and diegetic sound create a dense, but quiet soundscape creating tension to evoke a narrative of what could exist within the shadows.

A film still from Okay

Fourth year film student Katerina Zoumboulakis walked away from CineSiege with the award for Best Screenwriting for her short Okay, which she also directed.Katerina Zoumboulakis

“I’m glad all my bad experiences in high school could lead to something not so sad,” Zoumboulakis joked. “I’m so happy I came to York. Before coming here I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to have a crew of this size and even be able to share stories like Okay with a larger audience. Usually I try not to bother anyone and do all the roles for my own short films. But having to make something on a larger scale and work with key creatives in every role was amazing and I hope to work with them for the rest of our lives. Our amazing production designer Nicole Zimmer and cinematographer Sam Holling brought the film to life. Sam also story edited. Our post sound and editor Nicole Cedic literally brought the film together.”

Zoumboulakis just finished working on a York film. “I’m really excited for all the films from every class this year,” she said. “For the students directing their first film with a larger crew this year I highly suggest going on as many fourth year sets as you can! It’s great to help your fellow peers, get a feel for what you want and/or don’t want to happen on your set and to make connections!”

Props from the Jury: Katerina Zoumboulakis’s screenplay for Okay is a funny, ironic, heartfelt, warm and loving look at a slice of the slightly sad life of Athena. Sharply told, this script leads our protagonist through empty nestling, budgerigar undertaking, manic boss managing, therapist selecting, clitoris hunting and ultimately finding her true calling tele-selling duct cleaning.

CineSiege is made possible through the generous support  of Cinespace Film Studios