University of Washington

Canadian Studies Center October 2009 Report

June 2010 Report

Undergraduate News


Québec Has a Film Industry? Mais Oui!

By Natalie Debray

Natalie Debray is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington.

Students from Natalie Debray's course; from left, back row: Carrie Dulisse, Eileen Schoener, Irina Safaryan, Bryden McGrath, and Ashika Chand (front)
Students from Natalie Debray's course; from left, back row: Carrie Dulisse, Eileen Schoener, Irina Safaryan, Bryden McGrath, and Ashika Chand (front)

Although the Québec film, Barbarians Invasions, won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2004, few Americans have seen it. In fact, many are unaware that a thriving film industry exists north of the border in the 6 million strong francophone province of Québec.

When given the opportunity to develop a special topics course I did not have to look far for inspiration. Creating COM 495 (Film, Culture, and Society) was a risky proposition. In the class description I left out the fact that all films we would view would be in French—and from Québec. Most students have very little knowledge of Canada and even less of the French-speaking province of Québec. Since the class is not listed as a film class or a language class per se, it would have scared off quite a number of students.

“I sure am glad I stuck around because this class turned out to be a real gem in my university experience.” —(comment from COM 495 message board)

As it turns out there were a few skeptical faces in the crowd on the first day of class this quarter. “But, I don’t speak French’! “A foreign film?” I am confident that quite a few of the 41 students in the class wanted out after week one. But I urged them to stay and embark on this journey—reassured them that they would be fine. And they were better than fine. Their enthusiasm and passion for the topic blossomed over the ten week course and surpassed even my own lofty expectations.

This class introduced the students to Québec and its unique, critically acclaimed, and prolific film industry. Along the way they learned even more about themselves. As a contextual course we focused on what makes Québec society distinct by examining the themes inherent in Québec film that shed light on our understanding of the people, history, and culture.

Each Monday a different topical area was discussed through lecture and readings including French and English language issues, aboriginal peoples, the decline of religion, and the sovereignty movement. On Wednesdays we watched a film which explored these various issues. After each viewing the students had to post a 2-3 page reflection on the course message board and comment on at least two of their classmate’s postings.

This exercise was intimidating at first due to its public nature. However, with each passing week the students opened up a little bit more and began looking forward to the opinions and musings of their colleagues. At times spirited debates ensued revealing the subjective nature of the film viewing experience. It was truly exciting to witness the learning, growth and camaraderie taking place in this forum.

“I feel like I got on a ride that seemed like a good time from afar, but I wasn't really sure, and by the end I had become more aware of my peers, of myself, and, of course, of the history of Québec and its incomparable cinematic contributions. We were all smashed up against one another, and, frankly, I didn't mind it.”—Josh Williams

Our first film, Le Chat dans le Sac (1964) is an artistic and probing look at a nascent Québec in the throes of the Quiet Revolution. Shot in black and white, this film gave insight into 1960s Montreal and for many in the class was the first foreign film experience! Some had difficulty watching this film without comparing it to the fast-paced Hollywood fare to which we are accustomed.

Students honed their film analysis skills over the course of the quarter becoming less ethnocentric with each passing week. We moved through the decades watching films by renowned directors, Denys Arcand, Robert Lepage, and Claude Jutra. A highlight of the course was watching the hockey biopic Maurice Richard: the Rocket (2005). Although a film showcasing the talents of one of the greatest hockey players of all time, it also revealed the linguistic discrimination faced by many French Canadians better than any textbook or lecture could. Coincidentally we watched this film on the same day that the Montreal Canadiens played in the NHL finals. The excitement was palpable on the message board as the students robustly cheered on their newly adopted team!

“I knew very little about Canada prior to taking this course, and it has been amazing to learn and appreciate reflections of Québec history and identity through the medium of film. I developed greater critical thinking skills and understanding for not just Canadian films, but the cultural expression through films overall.”—Kate Clements

Although the course focused on Québec as a case study, many of the topics including minority culture, post-colonialism, and globalization can be broadly applied. For their final project student teams explored a national film industry and presented their findings to the class. Some of the industries showcase included the films of India (Bollywood), Nollywood (Nigeria), Hong Kong and (English) Canada. The diverse projects showcased the student’s ability to critically analyze and discuss foreign films in their unique historical and cultural context.

Students came away from this course not only more aware of their neighbors to the north, but also newly minted foreign film aficionados, keenly interested in learning about other cultures. So, while for many Hollywood reigns supreme in the global marketplace, the students in COM 495 learned that a rival is in their own backyard.

Student Comments:

Students in Natalie Debray's class; from left, Cammy Yu, Elizabeth Simmons, Nadia Gunduc, Josh Lackey, Rowdy Sargent
Students in Natalie Debray's class; from left, Cammy Yu, Elizabeth Simmons, Nadia Gunduc, Josh Lackey, Rowdy Sargent

“Now I have the satisfaction of knowing a bit about the history and culture of this diverse region of Canada and I have already been able to apply this knowledge outside of class in different social settings. I have to admit that I am now whole heartedly intrigued with Québec and hope to someday visit and see for myself the culture of the Québécois.”

“I have learned so much by being open and putting myself in another culture’s shoes. What a gift!”

“I have come out of this class as a changed person. It is not only in the way I now watch movies, identifying themes and such, but also in the way I see people. There is so much to be learned from other cultures or backgrounds that having an open eye and mind to different experiences, ways of life, and beliefs/opinions are now a part of me like a gift or blessing that I am truly grateful for.”


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UW Design Students Visit the Emily Carr University of Art and Design

By Christopher Ozubko

Christopher Ozubko is the Director of the School of Art and Professor of Design. He recently took six students in the School of Art's Design Studies program, accompanied by Assistant Professor Sang-gyeun Ahn, to visit the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The students at Rivera Design Group LTD, the firm that designed the emblem for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Elena (center) gave us a presentation on Saturday morning which was a great opportunity to learn a little more about the art of branding.
The students at Rivera Design Group LTD, the firm that designed the emblem for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Elena (center) gave us a presentation on Saturday morning which was a great opportunity to learn a little more about the art of branding.

On Friday 07 May 2010, our group of six students and two faculty left early from the University of Washington and headed north to Vancouver, British Columbia, for our arranged appointment with faculty and students of Emily Carr University of Art + Design on Granville Island. Luckily, we passed through the border without any problems, had no traffic issues, and arrived around 11:30 am, having one hour to peruse the famous Granville Market, get a snack, and visit a number of shops on the island before our meeting at 1:00 pm.

We were happily greeted at Emily Carr by students and lead to the conference room where students enjoyed a wonderful lunch, arranged by Professor Louise St. Pierre. For the first two hours, students discussed their academic experiences, some of the projects they were working on, and their concerns of what is to come after graduation with job pursuits and graduate school applications. Following this discussion, we then proceeded to the extensive Graduation Exhibition, where students from Emily Carr gave individual presentations about the projects that were installed in the thesis show. There was clearly great interest of both parties in discussing the projects, as well as suggestions and further opportunities that students might explore. Students from the Univeristy of Washington were taking copious notes and with the final summation, invited their Canadian counterparts to the Design Exposition at the University of Washington opening on Tuesday 08 June 2010.

We then proceeded to the industrial design firm, White Box Design, where founder Greg Corrigan took two hours of his time to discuss his circuitous route to becoming an industrial designer, and surviving as an industrial designer in a city possessing little manufacturing. Students were very impressed with the firm’s work, which specialized primarily with telephonics, and especially the recently designed WiFi router for Sprint USA, which we were able to test. He gave students tips on preparation for getting into the industrial design career, as well as being adaptable and flexible in this particular job climate. All in all, it was a great way to end our first professional part of the day.

The UW group on Granville Island
"The design field trip to Vancouver was incredibly enriching and informative. We were able to visit our Canadian counterparts and form partnerships for future interactions. I believe that these relationships and communications will be beneficial for all parties involved."—Naomi Tsukuda-Doering, senior, Industrial Design

We then went back to the hotel and checked in. We then walked from the Granville Bridge to Robson Street, where we found a nice Japanese restaurant, had some snacks, then walked over to the Olympic Flame site, took a lot of pictures, re-enacted some Olympic feats, and walked into Gas Town, where we avoided the crowds that were intently watching the Vancouver Canuck game in every bar in the city. This was an eye-opener for many of the American students on how passionate Canadians are about their hockey. One remarked, “It’s even scarier than the Italians and their soccer!” We then walked back to the hotel and called it a night.

The next morning we headed over to visit the office of Elena Rivera, only a few blocks away, where she kindly met us on Saturday morning and took two hours of her time to relay her story about how her design was accepted as the Olympic logo. It was a fascinating story to hear about the selection process and how it effected her business and professional life when propelled into a world showcase, and all the pros and cons that entailed.

I want to thank you for working to get the grant for us to visit Vancouver. I thought it was a great experience; learning the similarities and difference between the different design worlds, and even the differences between the design education at Emily Carr vs. UW. Seeing their show really sparked a few ideas of my own for our show!—Kelsey Boyce, senior, Design Studies

By this time, we were quite hungry, so we headed back to the hotel, checked out, did some sight-seeing through the downtown area and Stanley Park. We stopped at Vista Point and checked out the Lion’s Gate Bridge and the spectacular view.

At the suggestion of Professor Ahn, we went to a wonderful Korean restaurant where we ate traditional Korean food. The students remarked on how internationally diverse Vancouver is. Numerous languages were being spoken everywhere. After lunch, we proceeded to Point Grey and University of British Columbia, where students discovered and explored the wonders of Arthur Erickson’s Museum of Anthropology. That was a terrific way to end our trip as we headed back to Seattle, and got back into town around 8:30 pm.

This project was supported, in part, by funding from the Center’s Program Enhancement Grant, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Government of Canada.


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La Culture québécoise contemporaine

By Lisa Connell

In the Spring 2010 quarter, The Canadian Studies Center and the Division of French and Italian studies worked together to create a 2-credit advanced conversation course, La Culture québécoise contemporaine. Sponsored by the Center’s Québec Initiative, this course introduced students to some key historical moments in Québécois society, such as the passage of la loi 101 and the Independence Movement, as well as contributors to Québec’s literary, political, and cinematic worlds.

The course material had an interdisciplinary aspect in order to accommodate the range of interests of French language students, which includes International Studies, literature, and cultural studies. In particular, literary texts from different genres, such as autobiography, short-story, and science-fiction, movies by iconic filmmakers such as Denys Arcand, and the rhetoric and theories of political activists such as Pierre Vallières helped structure the course discussions. Moreover, every week course participants found newspaper articles on-line and shared them with a partner.

By researching and presenting current events, students had the chance to learn not only about different social issues shaping Québec, but also the cultural links between Québec and the United States as well as France. Ultimately, in addition to providing a general point of departure for learning about this vibrant region of the French-speaking world, this course enabled students from across disciplines to come together in an intimate classroom environment to develop their conversation abilities.


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