Canada film tour offers new perspectives for UC students
Faculty-led study abroad program crosses borders, disciplines to make new connections post-COVID
Students in degrees as varied as film and media studies, digital media, creative writing, urban planning and French traveled to Montreal and Quebec City this August as part of an interdisciplinary cinema course on place-based storytelling.
The summer study tour kicked off a fall course that is a dual offering of the University of Cincinnati’s new school of Communication, Film & Media Studies and the French program of the Department of Romance & Arabic Languages & Literatures, both part of the College of Arts & Sciences.
The tour was among the first faculty-led group study abroad programs to go out after the lifting last winter of COVID travel restrictions.
Faculty-led programs integrated into specific academic courses are the major study abroad model for UC, which offers real-world learning opportunities for every student.
For some of the students who went, the trip was also an exciting chance to connect with new people after seeing so much of life through a computer screen during their high school and college years.
An international collaboration
This interdisciplinary program, led by Michael Gott, director of Film & Media Studies, and Todd Herzog, director of the Niehoff Center for Film & Media Studies and the Digital Media Collaborative, is expected to become a signature study tour for the new school in Arts & Sciences. It exemplifies the school’s approach of pulling together scholars and practitioners from multiple disciplines to offer students creative academic and career paths.
It also adds an optional French language component to a study abroad program that Herzog founded in 2014 and that he and Gott have led annually to several cities in Europe.
“It’s not by accident we both come out of foreign language and literature backgrounds. This international part is vital,” said Herzog. He was hired in German Studies and Gott in French in the Romance & Arabic Language & Literatures department.
As the Digital Media Collaborative and Film Studies are both strongly interdisciplinary programs that involve students and faculty from across UC and beyond, international study organically became a component.
“Organizations and businesses that want to hire students are interested in global competency,” said Gott. “It's always been an important part of Film Studies. Nobody's going to get through the major without understanding how the film and media industries work in other places.”
The Canada incarnation of the cinema tour came about because Gott ran into Denis Chouinard at a conference in Scotland in 2018. Chouinard is a film director who leads the acclaimed cinema program at the Université du Québec à Montréal. UC had just announced a new strategic partnership with UQAM. One of the goals of these key institutional partnerships that UC forms around the world is to develop international opportunities for students in order to help prepare them for a global future.
The active film industries in Montreal, Quebec City and Cincinnati made the university partnership an even more natural fit. Gott regularly teaches a class on cinema from Quebec, and Chouinard visited to present a workshop; several directors visited classes virtually.
When Gott and Herzog began to think about restarting the cinema study tour post-COVID, the Canada version they had planned to offer in 2020 was a good starting point, with its comparatively low cost and simple logistics.
A sense of place
The tour included explorations of several neighborhoods in Montreal and Quebec City, as well as workshops with Chouinard and fellow directors Frédérick Pelletier and Bachir Bensaddek on storytelling and on the Canadian film industry. The students worked on photography and storytelling assignments that were designed to inspire both film and non-film majors, materials that students will develop into individual projects.
Olivia Hedges is one of the students who went on the tour, taking the course as part of her French minor. She is a fifth-year urban planning major in the College of Design, Architecture, Art, & Planning and is also completing an international human rights certificate from the School of Public & International Affairs—another of the new interdisciplinary schools in the College of Arts & Sciences.
She’s a seasoned traveler who was already pursuing her study abroad dreams on her own. An individual vetting procedure made long-term, solo travel possible for UC students earlier than group travel, though last-minute cancellations due to COVID repeatedly left Hedges juggling her schedule to finish her studies.
“The summer of 2021 was supposed to be in Cameroon. I did an internship with the State Department. I was supposed to be at their embassy — that ended up being remote. I was supposed to do the fall in Amsterdam for study abroad for Planning, and then I was going to do my spring as a co-op in France.” The Amsterdam semester exchange was rescheduled.
“I switched Amsterdam and France, and then Amsterdam got cancelled, so it was just France.”
She was finally able to do a co-op in tourism management near Poitiers, even under strict EU COVID protocols.
Fortunately, this fall’s cinema study tour fit her schedule, plugged credit hours into her French minor and matched her academic and personal interests.
Hedges said she was surprised by how much she enjoyed engaging with the film directors and touring a Montreal animation studio.
“I chose Planning because it’s interdisciplinary,” Hedges said. “I really like seeing what other people do, how other people work, how other people think. So this was a good trip for me.”
Hedges explained that as an urban planning major, “Every time I go somewhere, I’m mentally categorizing things for planning. I’m noting how systems are functioning, I’m noting good ideas, bad ideas, how something’s working, how something’s not working. And so it all gets added to a body of knowledge. It’s important data for the future.”
A chance to connect
Whitney Hendrix was a first-time international traveler. While she had always thought she might like to study abroad, she applied for the cinema tour spontaneously and didn’t think she’d be picked.
“I didn’t even tell my parents that I applied. It was honestly the description of the trip. Michael kept sending out emails, and I was like, ‘This actually sounds really cool.’
“Also, the scholarship opportunities were a big highlight for me, because I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it. And I liked that it was close to home.”
A double major in film studies and creative writing, Hendrix especially enjoyed the discussions with Chouinard, Pelletier and Bensaddek, since she hopes to continue to grad school and ultimately pursue a career in screenwriting.
On a personal level, she liked the connections she made as she explored the cities with the other students in the class.
“The highlight for me, just in general, was the people I met, because I didn’t know anybody going on this trip. And I came out with some close friends. The small community of people that went on the trip—I couldn’t have asked for anything better. It was amazing. I was scared that I was going to be lonely, but no, everyone was nice, and now I know more people on campus.”
Her suggestion to anyone thinking about study abroad is to talk to their support system. Her own friends and family encouraged her to go.
“I would just say apply for it. Just do it!”
Storytelling made personal
The chance to talk to industry experts was inspiring to Debi Kaur, too. A senior film and media studies major, Kaur said,
“They made filmmaking seem achievable. Sometimes when you're in classes, you don't understand, you don't feel like it's achievable, even, because it's just you, and making a movie is a team effort. It's harder to imagine when you're not actually, actively doing it. And COVID messed stuff up so much. I appreciated learning about the team effort of filmmaking.”
Kaur too mentioned the people from all around the world she met on the trip, and how important a part they were of the experience. But it was one particular kind of encounter that meant the most to her.
“This trip was very important to me on a cultural level because of the Indian population in Canada. I'm Punjabi, and my religion is Sikhism. So many people from my culture live in Canada as immigrants.
“In America, I'm not recognized as often. And when I tell people I'm a Sikh, they have no idea what that means. That’s just something I've dealt with my entire life.
“Religiously, we wear bracelets, steel bracelets. And one of the directors, Denis, he was like, ‘Oh, I see you have this, you're a Sikh.’ And I almost started crying.
“It was a very personal experience. Especially because we went to Parc-Extension [one of the neighborhoods the group explored in Montreal]. Parc-Ex used to be Algerian, but now it’s Punjabi. It was funny, funny and exciting and emotional. I got to see everybody, and, I don't know—It was like seeing a dual side of my own immigrant experience as a child of immigrants. That was really important to me.”
Applications for the August 2023 Canada Cinema Study Tour will open in February 2023.
The course will be offered through both Film & Media Studies (FILM 2092) and French (FREN 3033) in the Fall 2023 term, with approximate travel dates of August 5-15, 2023.
To be notified when the application period opens, add your name and email to the contact form in the study abroad program database.
Here are a few of the photographss from the place-based storytelling projects that students worked on during the 2022 Canada cinema study tour.
Ready to take your learning out into the real world?
- Explore study abroad opportunities, no matter your major or your budget
- Come to this year’s Study Abroad Fair! Wednesday October 5 from 11 to 2 on Mainstreet
- Drop in for virtual information sessions on Mondays and Thursdays 1-3 or in person on Wednesdays at 11 and 2 in Swift 709
- Email UC International at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
Featured photograph: The UC group explores Old Quebec with director Frédérick Pelletier | Photo provided by Michael Gott
Reporting includes student interview by Kathleen Hornstra