Making the most of the summer


Many students will tell you that university is about more than just going to class. To the casual observer strolling past Starbucks in the CCIT building, where fashionable students gather for hours to chat and sip lattes, or past the glass panes of the Blind Duck Pub, where others gulp down beer while perfecting their billiard skills, that would indeed seem to be the case. But aside from such casual activities, there are also more practical and rewarding extracurriculars.

The Summer Generator program is one such activity. Born only two years ago, it constitutes part of the Media Generator, an organization that loans out video and electronic equipment to students and hosts workshops, collaborative projects, and media events. It’s composed of students, faculty, librarians and other staff members, and has the noble goal of fostering student production and distribution of digital media. The Media Generator is supported by the Provosts Student Experience Fund and has initially targeted CCIT students but now seeks to address the entire UTM student community.

A movie still from Watched, one of the recipients of the Summer Generator grant.

The Summer Generator is a funding opportunity that takes place through the Media Generator during the summer. Any student can participate. All they have to do is submit a proposal and a budget for a project involving new media. It need not relate to UTM. The format can vary from video (short or long) to a website to a podcast. If their project is chosen, students receive roughly half of the grant money at the beginning of the summer and they can begin using Media Generator equipment with assistance from a trained facilitator. The second half of the grant is delivered in August upon submission of the final work.

“We want students to branch out into new directions and expand the curriculum,” says Professor Marc Dryer, faculty chair of the Media Generator executive committee. “Traditionally, there have always been student-run newspapers and student-run radio stations. We wanted to set up something so that students could do the same through new media. In other words, it’s about students producing new media for other students. Plus, they can make some money in the summer without having to take a job unrelated to their studies.”

So far, it has proved a popular idea. Seven projects were granted funding in the first year; they include the ambitious Vivid Campus, sort of a Twitter-like University of Toronto-wide micro-blogging service, and a digital topography site. As for the latest Summer Generator in 2008, a total of six projects were funded, three of which were led by student members of Media Generator. The remaining three were open-call projects: one documentary, one mockumentary, and a trailer for a full-length horror film that eventually became an actual full-length feature film. All three videos premiered on January 14.

“I’m very excited,” says Cathy Chen, fourth-year VCC student and writer/director of Dystrophyn, a documentary about a 13-year-old boy named Michael who suffers from muscular dystrophy. “Michael is my teammate’s cousin,” explains Cathy, referring to Andrew Hilts, fellow student, producer and camera operator. “We wanted to tell his story.”

The second film, Becoming…a Yaoi Fan by Anielyn Banasa and Ann Liao, explores the process of becoming a fan of Yaoi, a Japanese manga genre that focuses on homosexual male relationships even though it’s generally created by and for females.

Mark Quintos, Melissa Goncalves, and Andrew Belram meanwhile are very enthusiastic about their project, Watched. It was supposed to be a trailer for a horror movie, but they have since shot enough material to make a feature-length film. “I’m a Biology student,” says Andrew, “but I really loved the experience of making a movie. It’s incredible.”

An enhanced portfolio, cash, public recognition, and free equipment rentals. What’s not to like about the Summer Generator?