York film student to document remembrance ceremonies for NFB

York University film student Ryan Knight (right) will serve as the official English-language cinematographer for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) at the Ceremony of Remembrance marking the 90th anniversary of the Battles of the Somme and Beaumont Hamel, which will be commemorated July 1 in France. 

Knight was awarded this honour when he won first prize in the Make Shorts Not War film competition co-sponsored by the NFB, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. His production, The Road of the World, was chosen from more than 280 entries across Canada. It can be seen at www.nfb.ca/faitesdescourtspaslaguerre/index.php

His award is a 12-day, all-expenses-paid trip to France and Belgium as part of VAC’s youth delegation. The itinerary includes participation in public and private remembrance ceremonies; visits to historical monuments, military cemeteries and battlefields; guided walking tours of cities and museums; and presentations, video screenings and public forums. 

Knight’s pilgrimage started June 23 in St. John’s, Nfld. There he joined the NFB’s French-language cinematographer and other youth delegates, as well as Canadian war veterans and politicians. They participated in educational, briefing and protocol sessions. The group then departed for Lille, France on June 27. 

The NFB has commissioned Knight to edit his raw footage from the July 1 remembrance ceremony for an educational module that will focus on Newfoundland’s contribution in World War I. (The opening day of the Battle of the Somme was a slaughter for the Allies, and the 1st Newfoundland Regiment was annihilated at the Battle of Beaumont Hamel. In Newfoundland and Labrador, July 1 is Memorial Day, commemorating Newfoundland’s heavy losses in the Battle of Beaumont Hamel.) 

Knight has a long-standing, avid interest in war movies. He attributes his passion to his family history. “My grandfather served in World War II as a pilot and his brother was a captain on a PT boat,” he said. “I didn’t know my grandfather very well because he passed away when I was six years old. Creating The Road of the World helped me fill in some of the blanks about him. Also, my father was a history major and there are many encyclopedia series about wars in our basement.” 

The Road of the World (2006, 6:59 min.) is a poignant story about a family man called to duty during World War I. When the fight for freedom calls, he leaves his loved ones. Powerless, all the family can do is pray for peace and his safe return home. 

Knight feels that relatively few war movies are made because they are judged more critically for content due to the sensitivity of the subject matter. “There are lots of people who lived the experience,” said Knight. “So, approaching war films is very tough.” 

A 20-year old from Toronto, Knight has just finished his third year of studies in York’s film department. In addition to The Road of the World, he has made more than a dozen other films,  including Norman, Challin’, Sticks and Stones, Berserk, March 32nd, The Halls of Sleep, Away from the Line and Patient. He has received numerous awards, honourable mentions and nominations for his productions. Most recently, Away from the Line was nominated for best editing, sound and special effects at the 2005 YoungCuts Festival. 

Currently, Knight is completing a short film commissioned by the Beatrice Watson-Acheson Foundation, an educational organization devoted to the welfare of animals. He teaches filmmaking at the Annex Children’s Theatre and is actively involved on the Toronto independent film scene. 

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena in the Faculty of Fine Arts.