Matthew Shoalts was passionate about his family, friends, making beautiful movies and anything to do with Harry Potter. A gifted filmmaker, musician and singer, Matthew was halfway through his final year of studies in York’s film program when he died in his sleep on Friday, Nov. 29.
With his tragic death, York’s film program and the Canadian arts community has lost one of its rising stars. At the young age of 21, Matthew had already experienced a significant level of critical acclaim for his films. He was working professionally in the film industry and was just about to complete production of his fourth-year film Good News.
Matthew leaves his parents David and Yvonne Shoalts, sister Rebecca, an extended family and his York film family. In his memory and in recognition of his promise as a director, Matthew’s family has established the Matthew Shoalts Film Director’s Award to benefit future generations of young filmmakers at York University who are working towards completing their fourth-year film projects. “I know that Matthew would be delighted that this award will go to a fourth-year student to help with the significant costs they take on when they make their films,” said his father David Shoalts.
Matthew was first introduced to filmmaking one Christmas 11 years ago when his father gave him an HP computer and an early version of the program Movie Maker. “It was a fairly simple movie editing program that allowed him to download VHS movies onto the computer and edit them,” his father recalled. “From that moment on, Matthew started making movies. His first real movie was called the Bolton Fondue Fork Massacre with me playing the bad guy and Rebecca the heroine.”
In high school, Matthew continued to pursue his craft and won many awards for his films. When it came time to decide on a university, Matthew had only one goal and that was to get into York University’s film program. “The year he applied, there were 700 applications for 49 spots,” said his father.
At York, Matthew pursued his studies with passion and dedication. He was quick to volunteer to help out on other productions and used each experience to learn as much as he could about all aspects of filmmaking. The summer between his first and second year, Matthew was recruited to work on Battleground, a feature film produced by Dimeworth Films. He continued to work on feature films including the dark comedy Anything Goes and the soon to be released indie film To Our Bright White Hearts. By his third year of study, he had developed an extensive list of credits on numerous films, while continuing to write, direct and produce his own films.
“A really, really bright light has gone out of our lives, but not from our hearts,” said Film Professor Ali Kazimi at a memorial held at York University on Dec. 5. More than 100 students, faculty and staff from the University attended the service. “We will miss our wonderful, incredibly talented Matthew,” said Kazimi. “So many of you are here, this is Matthew’s gift to show us who we are.”
“Matthew was probably the only person on this earth who knew as much about Harry Potter, other than J.K. Rowling,” said his father. “He savoured each of the books and continued to read and reread them. One of the great thrills of his life was meeting J.K. Rowling.” After receiving a ticket for a sold-out event and book signing through what his father called a miracle of kindness, Matthew presented Rowling with a handmade ring he had created and in turn received a hug from the author, a gesture that delighted him.
Students recalled that Matthew had a seemingly unlimited amount of love and energy. He showed care and respect towards every person he encountered. Through tears and laughter, they spoke about his love for the Harry Potter series of books, how he liked to wear a trademark bow tie, Gryffindor scarf and carry a wand like Harry Potter.
His classmates, along with alumni from the program and film Professor Tereza Barta, are working to complete Good News in time for the program’s Finish Line festival. It is their gift to Matthew and a way of keeping his memory and love close to their hearts.
Perhaps as Matthew’s favourite Harry Potter character Luna Lovegood said, “The things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.”
There will be a memorial service for Matthew Shoalts on Saturday, Dec. 8 at 2pm at the Christ Church at 22 Nancy St. in Bolton, Ont. (near the intersection of Queen and King Streets in Bolton village). All are welcome. In lieu of flowers, Matthew’s family requests that donations be made online to the Matthew Shoalts Film Director’s Award, or by contacting the York University Division of Advancement at 416-650-8210. The University flags at the Keele and Glendon campuses will be lowered to half-mast in memory of Matthew.
By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor, and Adam Clark (BFA Spec. Hons. ’11)