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Documentary Filmmaker Xiaoyu Chen Finds Structure to Storytelling at Toronto Film School

After years of working as a successful documentary filmmaker in China, Xiaoyu Chen decided he wanted to learn more about filmmaking and to enhance his skills, so he and his wife packed up his life and moved to Toronto to study Film Production at Toronto Film School. 

“I have always wanted to tell my own stories,” Chen said. “Ever since I was a child I was into storytelling; I wrote novels in elementary school.”

At Toronto Film School, the Film Production Diploma culminates in a final thesis film. These films screen on the last day of term to a public audience.  It was during his first three terms that Xiaoyu started to plan his capstone project, which he worked on throughout his fifth and sixth term of the 18-month Film Production Diploma 

“Before [coming to Toronto Film School] I always ran into trouble because I didn’t plan enough,” he explained. “But now I know, the more you can fix in preproduction the smoother the production will be.” 

Chen said wanted to write a story that was meaningful to him, so he decided to write about a couple going through a rough stage in their relationship and a moment that brought them closer together. This mirrored his relationship with his wife. He brought on fellow Toronto Film School student Ben Bigalow as his Cinematographer, Cayley Hanson as his Assistant Director and Kuang Sun as his producer. With his crew assembled, and his pitch approved by his program faculty, Xiaoyu was ready to create his film, “Back To Reality.”  

The actual shooting only took two days, but finishing the shoot was just the beginning for Xiaoyu. “Back To Reality” would combine live action with animation, a feat rarely seen by Toronto Film School students.  

Xiaoyu entered his final term; this is where he began to learn the process of the post-production workflow. This is where his film came together because, for the first time, he was able to see the live action and animation mixed. Under the tutorage of Dusty Mancinelli, Xiaoyu cut and recut his film, slowly perfecting it with each edit. While this was a long and at times arduous process, the film came out of it stronger than ever thought possible.  


Finally, the moment of truth arrived, the final screening.  The room was packed, there weren’t enough chairs, so people were cramming themselves into the back of the place to stand and watch. The film was received with thunderous applause, indeed an audience favourite.   

“Storytelling is my passion, and I don’t want to be doing anything else. ” 

Since graduation Xiaoyu has returned to China to implement everything he learnt while at the Toronto Film School. His film “Back To Reality” is currently entering the festival circuit there.