Secondary students from Forest Heights Collegiate Institute and Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute brought their passion for film-making to the big screen last week as they concluded the Open Gate Filmmaker Lab.

Over four days, students received hands-on experience thanks to Kyle Sawyer and Katie Billo of Digital Sabbath Film Company. The City of Kitchener, Zehr Group and Christie sponsored the pilot program.

To enhance the learning experience, Digital Sabbath provided students with professional-grade equipment, including cameras, lighting rigs and sound equipment. In addition, the presence of industry experts from companies like Netflix ensured the students received guidance from conceptualization and scriptwriting to shooting, editing and post-production.

Director of Education, jeewan chanicka with Digital Sabbath Film Company Director, Kyle Sawyer and Producer, Katie Billo

“We wanted to create an environment where students could explore their creativity and discover the art of filmmaking firsthand,” said Billo, producer at Digital Sabbath. “By bringing in professional equipment and mentors, we wanted to bridge the gap between the classroom and the industry, giving students a taste of what it’s like to work in the field.”

Throughout the program, students gained hours toward their Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM). The SHSM program allows students to graduate with skills, knowledge and certifications in their chosen industry.

The Open Gate Filmmaker Lab was made possible thanks to the support and collaboration of teachers and administrators at both schools.

Teachers Robert Waldeck, Jeff Brall, Conan Stark and Reed McCammon, Katie Billo, Kyle Sawyer and Bob Egan, Film and Music Officer, City of Kitchener.

Robert Waldeck, a teacher at Forst Heights, emphasized the significance of such programs in nurturing talent and promoting diversity within the film industry.

“By exposing students to the entire filmmaking process, we hope to inspire them to pursue their dreams and break down barriers that may exist within the industry,” said Waldeck. “Our goal is to create opportunities for all aspiring filmmakers, regardless of their background or resources.”

“I’ve always had an interest in filmmaking. The Open Gate Filmmaker Lab has taken my excitement to a whole new level,” expressed Ben Watson, a student from Forest Heights. “Thanks to this program, I feel even more excited for the next stage in my career. I can’t wait to bring what I’ve learned to York University in September and continue to pursue my dreams.”

Lean Elyas, a student from Cameron Heights, explained her journey. “Open Gate Filmmaker Lab has been incredible. Being part of this program was like stepping into the Hollywood lifestyle. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of filmmaking and ignited a passion I want to continue investing in.”

jeewan chanicka, student filmmakers from Forest Heights and Robert Waldeck.

The program concluded with a private screening hosted at Apollo Cinema in downtown Kitchener. Each of the final films ranged from 30 seconds to just over four minutes in length.

With the success of the first pilot program, the Open Gate Filmmaker Lab hopes to expand its reach, working with more schools to empower more young filmmakers.

Learn more about the program and watch this year’s student films on the Open Gate Filmmaker Lab website.

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