York film & video students at The Finish Line


Electronic cinema is just around the corner, and it’s only a matter of time when filmmakers will be able to screen their work in cinemas digitally, as theatres download movies as computer files and store them on a high-capacity disk drive before screening via a digital projector.

York University’s film and video students are on the threshold of this exciting technological evolution, as they premiere their new productions in The Finish Line – the annual year-end screenings – combining digital video and computer-generated effects with more traditional 16mm and Super 8 film. The screenings run until April 29 in Curtis Lecture Hall L from 7pm nightly. Admission is free.

Upcoming screenings are:

  • April 15: second-year 16mm films
  • April 19: second-year productions by non-majors
  • April 20 & 21: third-year fiction, documentary and alternative
  • April 27, 28 & 29: fourth-year productions

Looking back, York film & video Professor Jim Fisher provided this account of the department’s technological history:

“Each year there are fewer works shot and screened on film. It was founded in 1969 as the ‘Film Department’, and the only video production going on there in the 1970s was traditional studio television, using the now defunct Stedman TV studio and a bit of half-inch ‘portapacking’ as it was known then.

“As undergrads in the film program in the 1970s, we had Arriflex 16mm film cameras and Steenbeck flat-bed editing tables. We also had black and white 1/2 inch video portapacks which everyone treated as toys. Since then, we have gone through Betamovie, Betacam, Hi8 and digital video – four generations of moving image cameras! – while the Arriflex film cameras and Steenbecks are still running.

“The 1980s saw the word ‘video’ added to the department’s name, as video replaced film for news and documentaries with the introduction of Betacam and Hi8 camcorders. Yet, at that time, most of our students were still shooting on film and finishing their productions on film for the year-end screenings.

“With digital video and computer editing in the 1990s, video has slowly become the medium of choice for students as video and film production costs have gone in opposite directions, and the quality and accessibility of video technology have risen.

“Today’s computer-savvy generation of students naturally gravitate to digital video, where editing changes and special effects are just a mouse click away. However, there are still some projects shot and shown on film at this year’s screenings.

Right: Second-year York student Matt Lloyd using a Bolex 16mm film camera

“Digital films, along with digital distribution, promises to make it easier for independent filmmakers to get their work in front of the movie-going public on the big screen. Digital opens up a whole new window for independent filmmakers who in the past had to sell an idea to raise the money to make a 35mm film. Now they can produce their work at low cost on digital video and then ‘pitch’ the feature-length film to distributors for cinematic release. This represents an exciting opportunity for today’s Film & Video Department graduates.”