Ten years ago I was a film student at the University of Regina in Regina, Saskatchewan. At that point in my education I'd become a bit apathetic towards my production classes. With the added stress of feeling like I might not find meaningful work when all was said and done, I began looking for validation in the "real world". For me, I found this in film festivals.
In the months preceding the arrival of this letter I had participated in a handful of high-profile film festivals and competitions. I had a short film screen at the Youngcuts International Film Festival in Toronto. I beat out 280 other global entries and was officially selected to screen at Budi2006 (an international digital media festival) in Busan, South Korea. I also participated in a National Film Board of Canada competition where I was selected into the English Top 10. Following weeks of public voting I finished 2nd in the popular vote.
All of these experiences in the span of a few months completely changed my outlook. I still felt I had a lot to prove, but getting some attention on the back of doing what I loved was hugely motivating. I remember doing a little bit of press, sharing stories for different publications relating to the festivals, and making lots of new contacts in the process. That was the point everything shifted. I wasn't just a film student after that, I'd become a film maker.
In retrospect this all seems crazier because of how limited the platforms for personal promotion were at the time. Facebook wasn't a big thing yet, Instagram didn't exist, and YouTube was just emerging as a place to post short videos. It wasn't until the following year that I even started Editing Luke. In a way it was a great learning experience, because having to apply and submit my work to festivals forced me to be even more critical just to get it seen in the first place.
In the several months following these festivals things died down again, and in the summer of 2006 I was driving a forklift and counting the days before I went back to film school in the fall. Then out of the blue this letter came in the mail, forwarded by the university to my home in Medicine Hat, Alberta. It read:
On behalf of the Government of Saskatchewan, I am pleased to congratulate you on your recent success with your student film.
Through your studies, you have demonstrated outstanding dedication and commitment to media production and studies. This is a significant and well-deserved honour, and you must feel a great sense of pride in seeing your work recognized in such a way. Saskatchewan has a vibrant, exceptionally active TV and film industry, and young achievers such as you will be among the leaders who help grow the industry to even greater heights.
Once again, congratulations, and best wishes in all your future endeavours.
Hand-signed and typed on the official letterhead of the Premier of Saskatchewan, it was pretty humbling for someone like myself who was just starting out to get a letter like that. I had received a lot of congratulations and messages surrounding those projects, but none had seemed this formal or succinct. The student film he was referring to was the short I had created for the National Film Board of Canada, and I guess someone picked up on the small bit of national attention I received following the competition. This was also around the same time that Corner Gas was thriving, so the industry in Saskatchewan was booming.
In the end, I've kept this letter on my wall because it felt symbolic from the moment I received it. Proof that you never know who might be paying attention, and validation that the rewards for pursuing your passions can not only be great, but unexpected in the best ways.
I'm now running my own media production company in Alberta and have come a long way in the last decade. I've also been so fortunate to work on a number of incredible projects with some amazing people. The growth never stops. Curious to know more about what I'm up to now? Explore more here.