Alumna’s acclaimed film follows Indian family’s fight for justice

Still from documentary film "To Kill a Tiger"

By Lindsay MacAdam, communications officer, YFile

It is often said that every action, no matter how small, has the potential to shift the trajectory of one’s life.

For York University alumna Cornelia Principe (BA ’91), a decision to participate in a for-credit internship program at media organization TVO in the final year of her undergraduate studies opened her eyes to a career in film and led her on a path to becoming an award-winning documentary producer – a profession that, as a communications and psychology double major, hadn’t previously been on her radar at all.

Cornelia Principe
Cornelia Principe

“If I hadn’t gone to York and done a fourth-year internship at TVO, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now,” she admits.

And that would be a shame, since her body of work – which includes producing 11 feature-length documentary films, two documentary short films and one television series – has since graced the screens of over 100 national and international film festivals and been broadcast all over the world, earning her global acclaim and recognition.

This past January, Principe was happily surprised to learn the film she had worked on as a producer for eight years, To Kill a Tiger, had earned a Best Documentary Feature Film nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences – the ultimate goal for many in the movie business.

“It’s really nice to say you’re an Oscar-nominated documentary producer,” says Principe, “but it’s not why I do what I do. It’s not what drives me.”

To Kill a Tiger follows the harrowing journey of a poor rice farmer in a small Indian village as he embarks on an unprecedented quest to demand justice after the assault of his 13-year-old daughter. It tackles themes of gender-based violence, toxic masculinity and allyship, and confronts – head-on – the culture of silence and complicity surrounding sexual assault in India, where a rape is reported every 20 minutes and conviction rates are less than 30 per cent.

“It’s giving voice to millions who have never had a voice before,” says York film Professor Manfred Becker, who served as a story editor on the project, “and that is why we make films.”

Although To Kill a Tiger did not take home the Oscar at the at the 96th Academy Awards in March, Principe believes the attention brought to the film – and its important message – through the nomination is worth much more than the award itself.

Nisha Pahuja, the film’s director, worked tirelessly after post-production wrapped to get the film into the hands of the right people who could help her expand its reach and, as a result, its impact. Hollywood A-listers Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Mindy Kaling and Dev Patel – all of Indian descent – were brought on board as executive producers after the film was completed as part of this strategic publicity approach, which resulted in much media buzz and the film’s high-profile acquisition by streaming service Netflix prior to the Academy Awards.

Principe had been friends with Pahuja for years before they began working together; they collaborated on two documentaries and then decided to raise money to make a film about masculinity and gender equality in India. The idea came about when Pahuja was touring around the country screening their previous documentary, The World Before Her, and the men’s reactions to it caught her attention.

“Many Indian men who saw it were surprised and saddened by what they realized was cultural, systemic gender discrimination,” says Principe. “It opened their eyes to something they had not really thought about before.”

After doing some research, Pahuja came across a non-governmental organization (NGO) called the Centre for Health & Social Justice that works with groups of men in rural India to help them reflect on their masculinity, their choices and their role in the oppression of women in hopes of creating a more just country. Pahuja mentioned this to Principe, who was instantly intrigued.

“When she started talking about this NGO, my eyes lit up,” says Principe. “So many films about issues around women’s rights focus on women, which is great. But at a certain point, you need to focus on where the problem is, which is usually men.”

As Pahuja began filming for this new project and working with the NGO, she pursued several narrative threads that explored the subject of masculinity in India. During the process, she stumbled upon Ranjit, who would eventually become the protagonist in To Kill a Tiger, after consultation with another York community member.

Manfred Becker
Manfred Becker

After about three and a half years of filming and two long years of editing, trying to blend the many storylines together to form a cohesive narrative, Pahuja and Principe were frustrated, realizing they couldn’t make the film they originally wanted to. They enlisted the help of two story editors, including Becker, who has been an editor, writer and director for many years, and whom the filmmakers had both worked with in the past.

Becker offered his expertise and viewed a dozen or so cuts of the film over about a year’s time, provided detailed comments and took part in Zoom sessions where the team mulled over possibilities of how to tell the story. Soon, they reached the conclusion that this film needed to focus on Ranjit and his fight for justice, and that the other stories should be saved for something else.

“It took us months to come to terms with that, because we had spent six years married to this idea of making this bigger film about masculinity,” explains Principe. “And in the end, it is about masculinity, but just through one story.”

Beyond securing a place on this year’s Oscars shortlist, To Kill a Tiger has been recognized widely for its cinematic excellence, winning the Ted Rogers Best Feature Length Documentary award at the 2023 Canadian Screen Awards; being named Best Documentary at the 2023 Palm Springs International Film Festival; and winning the Amplify Voices Award for Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

“It’s really a triumph of the persistence of its makers, and of documentary as an art for change,” says Becker, of the eight-year-long process to get this film made.

It was worth the wait.

AMPD professor receives prestigious Killam Prize

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York University Professor Janine Marchessault has been named one of the five recipients of the esteemed 2024 Killam Prize, recognized in the Humanities category, honouring her work in community-based and public art exhibitions, research creation and public outreach.

The Killam Prize celebrates the contributions of Canadian researchers across various disciplines. Each year, five eminent individuals are selected for their remarkable work in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, health sciences and engineering, with a prize of $100,000 awarded to each recipient. Previous York recipients of the Killam Prize have included Distinguished Research Professors Carl James, Stephen Gill and Ellen Bialystok.  

Janine Marchessault
Janine Marchessault

As a professor in the Department of Cinema & Media Arts and a Tier One Research Chair in Media Arts and Community Engagement, her expertise spans cinema studies, communications studies and contemporary art, positioning her as one of Canada’s foremost scholars in media and art activism.

As part of her ongoing work amplifying marginalized voices and fostering inclusive narratives, she serves as the principal investigator for Archive/Counter-Archive: Activating Moving Image Heritage. The collaborative research initiative, which received a $2.499 million partnership grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) in 2017, involves over 14 community and artist-run archives in Canada that is dedicated to preserving diverse histories from Indigenous, LGBTQ, immigrant and women’s experiences.

Marchessault was also the co-founder of Future Cinema Lab, which explores how new digital storytelling techniques can transform state-of-the-art screens, and the inaugural director of Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts & Technology Research, a creativity-rooted research centre at York University. In 2012, she was awarded a prestigious Trudeau Fellowship to pursue her curatorial and public art research around sustainable development.

“Dr. Marchessault is a prolific researcher and a recognized global leader in media arts and activism,” said School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design Dean Sarah Bay-Cheng. “The significance of her work is evident not only in her individual academic accomplishments, but also in Marchessault’s sustained commitment to community-engaged work through public art exhibitions, innovative approaches to moving image archives, and excellence in teaching and mentorship of students at the intersections of art, technology and society. She is an exemplary scholar and colleague from whom I continue to learn so much.”

For Marchessault, the prize isn’t so much an acknowledgement of her, as it is the significance of the type of work she does. “It is a recognition of the importance of public history, collective memories, and the need to find innovative voices and places for the exchange and creation of cultural knowledge in order to reimagine the future of the planet,” she says.

“The Killam has over the past several years recognized the role of public media culture (cultural festivals, film history, exhibitions, collective cultural experiences, performance) as vital forms of civic culture – recognizing the ways in which arts, digital media and new technologies have the potential to transform our material understanding of the world around us in an effort to enhance our cultural and civic engagement as Canadians and global citizens.

Read more about Marchessault’s work and achievements on her faculty profile page.

Dancing without borders: workshop teaches Chilean dance

National Dance of Chile BANNER

By Elaine Smith

It’s likely that only a small percentage of Toronto residents could show you the steps to the cueca, the national dance of Chile that is performed at festivals and social gatherings, but a group of York University undergraduate students has swelled those ranks.

Department of Dance students in Professor Bridget Cauthery’s Big Dance Small Space course are now familiar with the cueca, thanks to a globally networked learning (GNL) workshop they attended along with students from SUNY Buffalo State in New York this past summer. GNL is an approach to teaching and learning that enables people from different locations worldwide to participate in and collaborate on knowledge-making processes and concrete research projects. It provides cross-cultural opportunities for students who might not have the opportunity to study abroad, a benefit in today’s global economy.

“The GNL exercise grew out of a connection I made with Joy Guarino, a dance professor at SUNY Buffalo State,” said Cauthery. “We both taught similar courses for non-majors that focused on the globalization of dance and the recognition of cultural dance practices within our own diasporic families and communities.”

Guarino was a proponent of GNL, and the pair discussed bringing their students together online. They had a few brainstorming meetings and decided to offer their students a workshop in cueca, since Cauthery had a teaching assistant from Chile, Sebastián Oreamuno, who was versed in in the dance.

The course was developed during the pandemic and has been taught online, so the workshop this past year brought the York students together in the studio on campus for the first time, along with Oreamuno, a PhD candidate in dance. The students from SUNY gathered in the Student Union on the Buffalo campus and participated via Zoom.

“There was a bit of a learning curve,” said Oreamuno, who simplified the steps for the workshop. “The dance is performed in 6/8 time, which isn’t a musical signature that’s prevalent in western dance.”

First, he had them listen to the rhythm of the dance and asked them to clap it. Next came the steps, done to a pulse rhythm. He worked with the students on a 30-second sequence of seven steps based on the rhythm. At the end of the 45-minute session, everyone performed it together.

“It was fun,” said Oreamuno. “The students in the York studio definitely enjoyed it; I felt the energy coming from them. The professor in Buffalo sent me a message saying her students enjoyed it, too.”

Cauthery said, “Folk dances lend themselves well to community engagement and connection, and this was a good first attempt, given our reliance on the technology. Next time Joy and I run our courses, we hope to make this a cross-border experiential learning opportunity. We could also have a reciprocal exchange between our programs.”

She is also further considering integrating the collaboration with Guarino and SUNY Buffalo State into something more long-term and with a larger scale; for example, collaborating together on choreography and sharing dance knowledge.

The GNL project also reflected one of York’s dance program’s larger goals: to globalize its offerings by teaching beyond the western canon.

“We want to focus on making connections through dance and dances that represent some aspect of heritage and identity,” Cauthery said. “By sharing that, we can build a bridge of understanding and respect, and create an equitable ecosystem of dance. These may be bold goals, but dance can be a way to bring people and ideas together.”

The GNL team will be hosting an information session for York faculty members on Monday, Feb. 26 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Register here.

Prof’s book reimagines jazz education

Piano and flute with sheet music

One of the defining elements of jazz music is improvisation, when musicians spontaneously create new melodies as they play. It is a skill that comes naturally to some and requires years of practise for others. In an effort to help budding musicians develop that ability and more, Ron Westray, a professor in York University’s Department of Music and the Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance, has published a new book called Jazz Theory: Contemporary Improvisation, Transcription, and Composition (Anthem Press, 2024).

Ron Westray
Ron Westray

Highlighting the importance of an organized teaching method, Westray’s book outlines the obstacles and misunderstandings in jazz education and covers a wide range of theoretical topics to help prepare students of all abilities and learning styles for effective improvisation, composition and transcription (writing down music after it is played). 

“The incorporation of diverse tools and methods, like transcribing and analyzing chords and scales, illustrates a dedication to historical comprehension and real-world use,” explains Westray, who was a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in New York City before embarking on his career in academia. “This approach enables students to expedite their learning process and attain a thorough grasp of the topic.”

The stylistic considerations of jazz improvisation and composition, he says, require an extensive and working knowledge of jazz theory, which is why this book is an essential resource for both music students and teachers alike.

“My aim,” says Westray, “is to elucidate the fundamental principles that shape auditory perception and musical creativity.”

In the process, he hopes to help a whole new generation of jazz educators and musicians.

The book, released on Feb. 6, is now available for purchase at Indigo, on Amazon and other places books are sold.

Roll out the red carpet: York alum’s film premieres at festival

moving matter yellow banner

Moving Matter, a short film co-created by actor, director and York University alumnus Beau Han Bridge, will see its world premiere at the Dance on Camera Festival at the Film at Lincoln Center venue in New York City.

Beau Han Bridge
Beau Han Bridge

Five years ago, Bridge, who holds a master of fine arts in film production from York, was visiting New York City and decided to see a movie premiere – followed by a director Q-and-A – at the Film at Lincoln Center, one of the foremost cinematic institutions in the world. “The experience stuck with me in a way that I really admired and cherished,” says Bridge. As a filmmaker himself, his mind drifted to what-ifs, imagining if a movie of his might ever end up at the Lincoln Center. “I never saw myself premiering any work of my own there,” Bridge recalls thinking at the time.

He was – happily – wrong.

Moving Matter, a 12-minute short film that Bridge co-created, shot, edited, sound designed and directed, will receive a world premiere at the Lincoln Center in February as part of the Dance on Camera Festival, the longest running dance film festival in the world that celebrates choreographic storytelling in cinema.

The short film is a product of a unique interdisciplinary collaborative project with two movement artists and educators, Rob Kitsos and Meagan Woods from Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts. The conceptual goal of the project was to explore a form of dance choreography and costume design influenced by materials – not as objects, but as a kind of collaborator. As described in an academic article published in the journal Theatre, Dance and Performance Training to provide a template for others to pursue material-led artistic projects, “In a challenge to normative structures where costumery operates ‘in service’ of dance, the textile designs for Moving Matter do not support the complete autonomy and freedom of moving humans; the wearables have striking characteristics of their own that limit what the human body can do.”

Still from Moving Matter short film
A moment from Bridge’s short film, Moving Matter.

The project began with a study of old kitchen flooring about to be discarded and – with artists from the world of dance and costume design – explored ways that raw materials like linoleum, wool and plastic could be integrated into garments and choreography. “I was drawn to the idea of how we could harness compositional ideas from non-human material and translate it into choreographic works,” says Bridge, who hopes audiences who see his, Kitsos and Woods’ film will share that interest. “I also hope viewers appreciate and see our efforts in attempting to give the materials an equal voice and consider them equal collaborators in the creative process.”

The short film is the latest in Bridge’s body of work, which has included films screened at international film festivals, as well as acting performances in numerous theatre productions. This latest accomplishment, however, is something special, he says. “A film premiere at Lincoln Center means the world to me, as I honestly could not have imagined ever having a work premiering there in my life,” Bridge says. “To have Moving Matter be the first original work that brings me so close to it is quite surreal … I honestly owe it all to my co-collaborators, Rob Kitsos and Meagan Woods. If it wasn’t for them bringing me into this very exciting and beautiful process back in February 2023, and introducing me to new ways of filmmaking through interdisciplinary collaboration, then I wouldn’t be here.”

You can see the trailer for Moving Matter here:

Podcast series shakes up Shakespeare

pink headphones

Four York University community members have launched “Shaking up Shakespeare,” a 10-episode podcast series that looks to re-examine playwright William Shakespeare – and productions of his work – through a lens that considers issues like gender discrimination, racism, ableism and more.

The origins of the podcast begin, much like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with a ghost.

In 2021, Marlis Schweitzer, professor of theatre and performance studies – along with her York colleague Assistant Professor Jamie Robinson and PhD student Marilò Nuñez – held an online event that gathered Canadian professional actors, directors and playwrights to discuss how casting practices in Canada affected their work.

The event was part of a five-year project called “(Re)setting the Stage: The Past, Present, and Future of Casting Practices in Canada,” supported by funding from Schweitzer’s position as a York Research Chair (Tier II) in Theatre & Performance History, and aiming to situate debates about theatrical representation and the politics of casting in Canada within a broader historical context.

“Although the event’s primary focus was on contemporary theatre, one of the names that kept popping up was ‘Shakespeare,’” says Schweitzer. “He was like a ghost haunting the event. Some people spoke with reverence about him – others with revulsion.”

The conflicting feelings around Shakespeare led to the project team’s decision to host a followup symposium – supported by a Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council Connections Grant – to engage more directly with Shakespeare and examine the legacy of his work, specifically in the context of Canadian theatre culture and society more broadly.

The symposium – titled “(Re)casting Shakespeare in Canada” – was held in spring 2023 and became the foundation for the recently launched “Shaking up Shakespeare” podcast, which sees Schweitzer and two recently graduated York research assistants, Hope Van Der Merwe and Liam Lockhart-Rush, serve as hosts and interviewers, with dramaturgical support from recent master of fine arts graduate and current theatre instructor Jeff Ho.

The podcast features interviews with over 30 individuals, across a range of professions, who all have a connection to Shakespeare or have been impacted by his work in some way. And rather than celebrating Shakespeare, no questions asked, the series takes a critical perspective, acknowledging a host of issues, including gender discrimination, racism and ableism, both in Shakespeare’s plays and in productions of his plays. It does so by incorporating recent conversations throughout the arts about diversity and casting practices, colonial structures and accessibility – all in the hopes of cultivating in listeners a different perspective of the famous playwright.

“Our big hope is to engage listeners in thinking anew about the role Shakespeare plays in their own lives – whether that’s casually, when they go to the theatre or watch a movie or tv show with Shakespearean references, or when they drive through a town like Stratford or Shakespeare, Ontario,” says Schweitzer. “We want listeners to consider some of the deeper questions we ask about how the historical privileging of Shakespeare in Canada has helped to exclude the voices of racialized and other minoritized artists.”

The podcast series will also shine a light on the artists who are grappling with Shakespeare, reworking and adapting his plays to meet the needs of contemporary audiences, including those whose stories have existed in the margins. For example, one episode will feature interviews with the cast of theatre company Why Not Theatre’s remounting of their production Prince Hamlet, an intersectional adaptation in which the role of Horatio, Hamlet’s friend, is played by Dawn Jani Birley, a Deaf actor and American Sign Language (ASL) translator. (This also led to a collaboration that resulted in translating the entire podcast series into ASL and recorded videos of each episode with a team of Deaf interpreters).

In spotlighting creative efforts like these, the podcast series hopes to not just facilitate listeners rethinking Shakespeare, but imagining what creative – and more equitable – productions of the playwright’s work may be yet to come. “We hope listeners will be excited to learn about how such artists have adapted Shakespeare to tell their own stories and are offering new critical perspectives on what it means to perform and produce Shakespeare in 2024,” says Schweitzer.

“Shaking up Shakespeare” is currently available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. ASL videos of the series are available on YouTube and the project website, which contains additional information about the series.

York community key in new target to achieve net-zero emissions a decade early 

Net Zero 2040 Sustainability Announcement York University

Faculty, staff and students at York University will be part of a progressive next step to build a more sustainable future for all as outlined by a new aspirational target for the University to reach net-zero emissions a decade earlier than originally planned. 

Shared on Nov. 23 by President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton during a special event, the announcement highlights one of the most ambitious net-zero targets in the Canadian post-secondary sector.   

With bold ambition to become one of the most sustainable institutions in Canada, York University is accelerating its timeline and aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040 – a decade sooner than its previous commitment.  

The new aspirational target is part of York’s renewed sustainability policy, which includes a commitment to develop and implement a process to track, measure, evaluate and report progress toward net-zero emissions. 

To support this ambition, York recently released its own comprehensive emissions data and ecological footprint assessment from the Ecological Footprint Initiative – a group of York’s scholars, students, researchers and collaborating organizations working together to advance the measurement of ecological footprint and biocapacity – making it the first Canadian institution to do so. This new report provides York with information to identify opportunities to reduce its emissions and develop innovative solutions to support a more sustainable future. 

“The United Nations has stated that climate change is the defining issue of our time, and the world is at a pivotal moment requiring urgent action,” says Lenton. “As an internationally recognized leader in sustainability, York University has a responsibility to act on global challenges facing humanity, including ecological degradation, climate change and growing socio-economic inequality. The bold actions we are taking on our campuses, and in our local and global communities, will build on the strong foundation we have created and move us closer to our goal of becoming one of the most sustainable institutions in Canada.”

York’s ability to strive toward ambitious sustainable change is due in part to the expertise, experience and forward thinking that takes place across its campuses. The University draws on the strengths of its diverse community to approach sustainability through a holistic lens of collaboration, innovation and knowledge mobilization.  

As a core value of the institution, York has embedded sustainability in every aspect of University life – teaching, learning, research and operations. An example of this expertise in action can be found in projects supported through York’s Sustainability Innovation Fund, including a green career fair, a campus composting centre and more. 

To further advance the cutting-edge sustainability research done by the York community, the University announced a new $1-million allocation to the fund, which is currently accepting applications for projects that advance the University’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as contribute to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 13 (Climate Action).  

The power of community engagement to create positive change has long been part of York’s legacy in becoming a more sustainable university. Activities conducted through the Office of Sustainability and sustainability-focused student groups empower York students, faculty and staff to take part in events such as campus clean-ups, film screenings, learning opportunities and tree plantings. In the past two years, community members have planted over 1,000 trees on the Glendon and Keele campuses.  

The York community is also being engaged though consultations that are currently underway to update the Sustainability Strategy, with an aim of completion for spring 2024. York students, faculty, instructors and staff can provide their input in person or virtually to shape York’s sustainability priorities and help create a more sustainable future. 

“Sustainability starts with our own actions,” said Mike Layton, York’s chief sustainability officer. “We also have a responsibility to our communities – locally and beyond – to ensure we are all contributing to advancing environmental and social sustainability across society. This new announcement demonstrates York’s commitment to sustainability and I look forward to the many ways we will work with the community in service of our new target.” 

The Nov. 23 event included a panel about how York is using data and innovative solutions to shrink its footprint. Insights were also shared by York experts, including: Eric Miller, director of the Ecological Footprint Initiative in the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change; Pirathayini Srikantha, associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Reliable and Secure Power Grid Systems at York’s Lassonde School of Engineering; Usman Khan, associate professor at Lassonde; and Steve Prince, director, Energy Management, Facilities Services at York. 

The announcement also featured a short play with students from York’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design; a short video about sustainable travel by Burkard Eberlein, former provostial Fellow and professor from York’s Schulich School of Business; and samples of Las Nubes coffee for attendees to take home. After nearly a decade, Las Nubes coffee has made its way back to Canada and is available in select locations on York’s campuses, including Central Square and Glendon Marché. Part of the proceeds from the coffee sales will go toward supporting York’s Las Nubes Research and Conservation Program.

For more on the event, visit News@York.

Meet York U’s 2023 Royal Society of Canada Fellows 

Joshua Fogel, Sara Horowitz, Ali Kazimi and Debra Pepler

Four York University faculty members are part of this year’s new list of Fellows named to the Royal Society of Canada (RSC), one of the country’s highest honours in the arts, social sciences and sciences.  

The 2023 Fellows will be inducted at RSC’s Celebration of Excellence & Engagement from Nov. 15 to 18 at the University of Waterloo.  

In the videos below, the four York Fellows – Joshua Fogel, Sara Horowitz, Ali Kazimi and Debra Pepler – talk about their impactful research, their motivations and why their work is important to Canadians. 

York historian Joshua Fogel elected as a Fellow to the Royal Society of Canada 2023

Joshua Fogel, a professor in the Department of History in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, is a leading scholar in Asian studies. Fogel’s research focuses on the cultural, political and economic interactions between China and Japan, the importance of Japan in China’s modern development and the changing attitudes both countries have towards one another from the 14th to 19th centuries.

York literary scholar Sara Horowitz elected as a Fellow to the Royal Society of Canada 2023

Sara Horowitz, a professor in the Department of Humanities and the Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, is one of the world’s foremost experts in Jewish studies. Horowitz’s research and published works focus on Holocaust literature, women survivors, Jewish American fiction and Israeli cinema.

York filmmaker Ali Kazimi elected as a Fellow to the Royal Society of Canada 2023

Ali Kazimi, a professor in the Department of Cinema & Media Arts in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, is among Canada’s most acclaimed artists. His work explores issues of race, social justice, migration, history and memory, including documentaries that explore the diasporic South Asian relationship with indigeneity.

York psychologist Debra Pepler elected as a Fellow to the Royal Society of Canada 2023

Debra Pepler, a Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Health, has received international attention for her influential research on bullying, aggression and other forms of violence, particularly among marginalized youth. She is the co-founder of PREVNet, a national research and knowledge mobilization hub focused on youth interpersonal violence prevention.

York U Motion Media Studio a hub for future creative talent

YUMMS green screen studio

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

The York U Motion Media Studio (YUMMS), supported by Cinespace Studios, continues to see growth as it offers courses, workshops, talks and critical hands-on experiential education for those in the York University community looking to become the next generation of content creators across creative industries.

Originally gifted to York’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) and York University in 2016 by the Mirkopoulos Family, the York U Motion Media Studio was branded and relaunched in its current iteration post-pandemic in February 2021. Located within Cinespace’s expansive content production complex in Toronto, YUMMS’ interdisciplinary studio space features a student lounge, two studios, a standing set, a green screen stage and state-of-the-art equipment provided by MBS Equipment Co. Its offerings are geared towards providing opportunities to receive hands-on experience with industry tools.

Students enrolled in AMPD courses have access to the space, and various courses – including production design, cinematography, virtual production, motion capture, creative producing and film production – integrate the space into the curriculum.

Ingrid Veninger
Ingrid Veninger

“We’re really on the ground with experiential education,” says Ingrid Veninger, director of YUMMS and associate professor in the Department of Cinema & Media Arts.

Beyond developing hands-on familiarity and mastering of filmmaking equipment, YUMMS intends to help students build up a resume of experiential accomplishments that will assist them with their future content creation careers. “The first thing they’re going to be asking you when you sit across an interview table will be, ‘What is your experience? What have you done? What sets have you worked on?’ ” says Veninger.

YUMMS empowers them with answers. It also aims to assist students navigating the industry by connecting them with creative professionals through the facility.

One way is through being located within the Cinespace complex – a hub of international filmmaking activity. “Our students and folks in the greater York U community can just open the door and look down the hall and see the world of productions swirling,” says Veninger. “They’re just one step away from the creative industries they want to be a part of.”

Another way is through workshops, masterclasses and programming like the YUMMS Industry Talks Series, a monthly career development and networking event, hosted in partnership with Cinespace’s CineCares program and OYA Black Arts Coalition, creating further opportunities to learn and form industry relationships. “We’re trying to help facilitate that extra step to foster meaningful connections, so that AMPD students can gain greater access, insight and opportunity to engage with our ever-growing on-screen industries.”

York U Motion Media Studio Industry Talk event
Ingrid Veninger moderating a session of the YUMMS Industry Talks series.

Veninger stresses that YUMMS isn’t solely meant for undergraduate students, however. “It’s a teaching, learning and research space for undergrad and graduate students, alumni and faculty researchers to utilize this invaluable resource for courses, labs, workshops, master classes and production,” she says. “The space is multifaceted. Media arts research faculty are building a three-panel installation on-site, graduate students are shooting thesis projects, AMPD alumni are returning to workshop feature film screenplays with actors, award-winning cinema and media arts instructors are launching new interdisciplinary courses like Shooting the Set, and more. We are continually receptive to new initiatives, which help us maximize the opportunity of this gift, originally from the Mirkopoulos family and now with TPG Real Estate Partners.”

Still relatively new, the use and awareness of the studio’s multiple offerings requires outreach through a variety of channels. In addition to social media, building excitement happens with students. “I’m sometimes surprised when I go into first- and second-year classes. And I’ll ask if they know about the Motion Media Studio and there will be crickets,” she says. “But as soon as I mention we are located at Cinespace, where award-winning features and shows have been produced – like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ ‘The Umbrella Academy,’ Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water ­– their eyes light up.”

Awareness of YUMMS is changing quickly. As the University heads into the winter term, YUMMS currently has 13 student film productions booked back-to-back. “The space has never been more active. Our calendar is packed, which is a great problem to have,” says Veninger.

An ongoing $3.12-million investment of support, from 2022 by the Cinespace Film Studios, will continue to allow YUMMS to pursue its goals and build up momentum, not just to benefit those who use the studio but the industry as well.

“Our students are the next generation of original content creators. They’re the forward-thinking innovators,” says Veninger. “The industry wants to discover new talent? Well, here you go. Let us introduce you to the next wave of bold, new, fresh, original visionaries ready to ignite our creative industries across Canada and around the world.”

For more information about the York University Motion Media Studio, visit

Passings: David Rotenberg

A field of flowers at sunset

David Rotenberg, an award-winning author, former theatre professor and director of York University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Acting and Directing program, passed away on Nov. 9.

David Rotenberg
David Rotenberg

Over the course of his career, Rotenberg has been counted among Canada’s foremost acting teachers and coaches, whose former students include Tatiana Maslany, Rachel McAdams, Scott Speedman and Sarah Gadon.

After staging Broadway shows in New York City, Rotenberg began his career at York University in 1987, teaching MFA and bachelor of fine arts (BFA) acting and directing, going on to become director of the MFA program and then frequently supervising other MFA directors until his retirement from York in 2008.

“David had a profound impact on how acting was taught at York, and his approach to acting, recently documented in his book on the subject Act: The Modern Actor’s Handbook (ECW Press, 2021), influenced his students and many acting teachers who were graduates of our program,” says Eric Armstrong, professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre & Performance.

During his time at York, Rotenberg also directed several productions, including Threepenny Opera, The Idiots Karamazov and his own adaptation of The Great Gatsby. He also founded, as the artistic director in 2003, the Professional Actors Lab in Toronto, and has taught at a range of institutions, including the National Theatre School of Canada and Princeton University.

In 1994, Rotenberg travelled to Shanghai to teach at the Shanghai Theatre Academy, where he directed the first Canadian play produced in the People’s Republic of China. That experience inspired his career as a novelist, setting him on a path to writing a successful mystery series – known as the Zhong Fong mysteries – which are set in modern Shanghai, as well as a historical fiction novel titled Shanghai. He also has written several speculative thrillers set in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto, as well as a science fiction series.

Many people were struck by Rotenberg’s warmth, sympathy and genuine spirit. He had a way of adding light to any place he entered, his grin brightening even the darkest of days. Rotenberg leaves behind a legacy of generosity, connection and partnership.

He is survived by his wife, Susan Santiago, and his two children, Joe and Beth.