“Every so often I’ll feel his hand come on my shoulder. He was a big boy; he played football, massive hands, strong like a horse. And I can just feel him squeezing my shoulder saying,
Relax dad, it’s going to be alright. I got you.”
This feeling has brought Film Production student Kevin Huhn comfort since his son, Kurt, passed away on Nov. 6, 2021, after a car accident. The father and son had a close relationship, and they shared an uncommon bond; both were students at Toronto Film School.
Kevin had built a successful career in the corporate world, as an award-winning business growth strategist who produced and hosted a TV and radio show, produced two podcasts, wrote a column in The Canadian Business Journal, and authored two books. He spent more than 30 years working at Fortune 500 and private companies and then transitioned to professional hockey, where he was Director of Business Development of the Central Hockey League.
But, he felt there was something else he needed to accomplish. And when the pandemic hit, Kevin says he started thinking about what else was out there – and he credits his son with putting him on a path where he’s pursuing his “calling”.
“Around June of 2021, Kurt suggested that I go back to school,” recounted Kevin. “I thought that was crazy because I was 57 years old. Like, am I really going back to school? But he said, ‘Well, just give it a thought!’, and next thing I know I’m starting school a month later in July 2021!”
The initial seed was actually planted a few years earlier, when Kevin saw the impact that school had on Kurt.
“I watched TFS transform my son,” he stated. “You know, he was cutting grass, a security guard, career not going anywhere. And he came into TFS and joined the Video Game Development program. And it just changed his life.”
Kevin vividly remembers watching Kurt present one of his school projects.
“I happened to have my phone with me, and I recorded his presentation of the video game demo he had to do,” the proud father reminisced. “He was so happy, like, ‘Woohoo! We did this!’ and everyone in his class loved it. I was in the audience like, ‘Way to go, son!’ Just so proud of him.”
After Kurt graduated, he returned to TFS as an employee in Enrolment Services. Though the number of classes Kevin had on campus were reduced due to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, there were times when he and Kurt would bump into one another at school, and for Kevin these moments have become special memories.
When Kurt passed, Kevin found a deeper motivation to push forward in filmmaking.
“Yeah, I could sit in black and be in mourning, and woe-is-me, because I do feel that some days. But that’s not what I’m about,” he explained. “Even his name and everything he’s done; how do I make it shine?”
“Because without him, I don’t get to do what I’m doing.”
Now in his fifth term, Kevin has been surprised not only by how much he is loving the work, but he says also by the close-knit group of collaborators he’s made at TFS.
Shortly after beginning film school, he and fellow classmates Matt Worthington, Alex Belke and Rob Smith recognized in one another a shared passion and ambition. They combined their skills to create a “full-service” production company, MARKD Productions, and have already been hired for professional work.
Additionally, they submitted their third term documentary project, Teen Across Canada, to several film festivals, where it became an award-winner.
Initially, Kevin admits he wasn’t sure how Kurt’s passing would impact the relationship he was developing with these other students.
“The pain of losing my son is indescribable from an emotional perspective,” he described. “And I initially thought that there would be a distancing that would happen between myself and the guys, because here’s this old guy who lost his kid, you know, how is he going to relate to us? Especially Alex and Matt who are 20.”
But the distancing never happened; rather, the opposite.
“I watched these guys, and their maturity level is insane. And the respect and appreciation. And so, what I found is that even though there is deep sadness in losing my son, there are other parts of myself that are blossoming.”
Through this process of going through school and losing his son, Kevin reflects that his MARKD collaborators have become close friends and friends of the family.
Family is the thread that weaves itself through each moment of Kevin’s time at TFS.
“My wife was such a big supporter,” he says admiringly. “She encouraged me to go to school, but not just to do it. Go to school to enhance yourself and maybe find something you didn’t know you wanted. She’s my best friend and biggest supporter. Amazing woman. I don’t know how to find the words.”
Recently, his daughter helped with production design for his thesis film, Hope for Christmas. Working once again with the MARKD crew, this short film was an ambitious endeavour, and the students knew they would need a substantial budget to bring their vision to life.
Kevin recalled a class assignment where they had to do a comparative analysis of different crowd-funding resources.
“We put it up on Seed & Spark,” Kevin explained, “and we hit 109 per cent of our goal in two weeks. And here’s the thing, the only reason why we even knew about that site is because of class.”
“We are where we are because of TFS; the learning here has been astronomical.”
All of that learning culminated in the Hope for Christmas shoot. The idea grew out of an assignment where students were tasked with turning to page 43 in a random book, reading it and then coming up with 10 log lines for a story.
Kevin remembers his daughter picking up the book and reading the page, “and we started spawning this idea of what if Santa lost his memory, and there’s this guy in town, and it’s this remote town, and we just started throwing all these ideas around of what this story could be.”
Once he completed a beat sheet, Kevin noticed the story was starting to take shape.
“And a teacher said, ‘You really have something here, you should pitch it for your thesis film.’ And so I did,” he laughed.
“So, this movie has just kept falling into place, and I keep going with the journey.”
Kevin and the MARKD crew hope to have a final cut of the film completed by Thanksgiving, and then plan to submit it to festivals in the fall and winter. He’s excited to complete the Film Production program and build a reputation in the industry.
And he thinks he’s in pretty great company at TFS.
“I think our term has probably 20 A+ filmmakers in it,” he beamed, “from excellent editors, audio, all of it. They are all so, so good. Being with them and saying, ‘We did this’ and went on the journey together, it’s amazing. Look at what we’ve accomplished in these 18 months!”
When filming wrapped on Hope for Christmas, Kevin admits that at first he felt kind of numb, asking himself, “did this just happen?” But then he asked everyone to gather for some final words and the moment was quite emotional.
“I realized that all of this happened because of what my son had done for me; helping me get into TFS. One small act of kindness had now created so many friendships, a quality production, and provided people an opportunity to advance their careers.”
And in the end, Kevin says, what he has is an answer to a question he long asked of himself; why?
“You know, they say the power of why is stronger than the power of what. It’s the driver of what success is all about.”
“For me, it’s about doing good for my kid.”