Reel boom in Lotus Land

Film schools in Vancouver are expanding faster than popcorn kernels in hot grease, though the film industry still hasn't completely recovered from its 2004 slump. Tonight (April 7), a swing orchestra will usher in the latest addition located in Burnaby: the Unreel Digital Film School. Poised to take in 36 students this school year and 60 per year after that, the brainchild of former Vancouver Film School instructor Bob Bernardelli promises a new approach.

"This is a real studio and we put students into it," Bernardelli told the Georgia Straight, explaining that he wanted to do things differently from VFS. "We're more towards training independent filmmakers. When students graduate, they'll become a member of the school and they can use our facilities. We supply everything. Students will direct, write, produce, edit-they'll do everything. We want them to be well-rounded filmmakers." The cost: $15,000 for the yearlong course.

New this July will be the Creative Actors' Studio's full-time, seven-month program geared to prepare actors for a film and TV career. With Kirsten Clarkson at the helm, the program will offer 10 students industry-specific training for $5,500. Clarkson has taught acting in Vancouver for years, and her part-time courses are ongoing though the new school.

Langara College's film program opened last year, under the experienced hands of Alyson Drysdale. The 20 students, who work closely with the theatre students at Studio 58, are currently shooting their first major shorts. The $2,200, two-term program evolved because Studio 58 students were asking for more film training. The program can handle 39 students per year.

BCIT will add another 24 students to its FilmFLEX program this year, which will come in the form of a second yearly intake. The program also prepares students for the independent-film industry. A press release from the announcement of the new spots described B.C.'s indigenous film industry as "burgeoning".

At Emily Carr, the film program that started in 1968 will see another update this year. In 2006, the 160-plus students in the Media Arts department will get access to a new $3.4-million studio. The film, video, performance, and installation program will also see small increases in student spaces over the next couple of years.

A spokesperson for the B.C. Film Commission confirmed that the movie industry is looking up in Hollywood North, but shooting is not what it was a few years ago due to a strong Canadian dollar and global competition. The head of the union that represents film actors in B.C, the UBCP, also said about 2,000 trained film workers are underemployed right now.

Bernardelli, who has high hopes for his new school, said there's always going to be a need for good training for filmmakers.

"Young people all want to be filmmakers, so there will always be a need for schools," he said. "I wish the government would fund more [indigenous] projects. That's why we have the facilities here, though, to make filmmaking affordable."