East recently met West during Toronto Film School’s inaugural Master Class with Chinese film and television star Vivian Wei.
More than 50 TFS acting and film production students crowded into Studio 2 at 10 Dundas on Aug. 7 to take part in the three-hour guest lecture, which marked the school’s historic, first-ever collaboration with Beijing Film Academy (BFA).
“We’re building a relationship between the two schools and trying different ways to collaborate,” Hart Massey, director of the Acting for Film, TV & Theatre program, said of TFS’s burgeoning partnership with BFA, which boasts a nearly 70-year reputation as the top film academy in China.
“This was our first attempt at collaboration…and it was awesome.”
Under a memorandum of understanding signed by TFS and BFA in November 2018, both schools resolved to collaborate on student and faculty exchanges, visits, and workshops, as well as to discuss future program opportunities – all with an eye to enriching the learning experiences of students at both schools.
And that’s something Massey said will especially benefit TFS students, as the Chinese film industry continues to boom.
“It’s really important right now to know what the Chinese film industry is like, because all of a sudden you have a country that has a middle class, and that has money to go to the movie theatres…and has a lot of money and investment going into their film industry,” he said.
“…It’s hugely important to develop international relations with anyone in any country, because that’s the world we live in today. We live in a world where everything is globalized and our students themselves are from all over the world, so it’s important to understand other cultures and for them to understand us.”
To those ends, Wei spent took time out of her three-hour guest lecture to engage TFS students in a Q&A session, where the topics of conversation ranged from Chinese pay rates and co-productions, to cultural differences and censorship.
“I loved the question and answer period, because it went through the different cultural differences between North American/Canadian culture and Chinese culture, and how that affects their film industries, respectively,” said Matthew McDonald, a TFS Acting graduate who took part in the Master Class.
“Also, how the censorship laws really affect the film industry (in China) as to what creative expression the writers, directors and actors can portray compared to what we can do here. It was really eye opening.”
For Wei – whose vast experience in the Chinese entertainment industry includes appearances in films and TV series such as The Bronze Teeth, Love You Lifetime, Secret of Marriage and Defender – the experience of teaching the Master Class was likewise enlightening.
In a translated interview following her lecture, Wei – who also acts as BFA’s Associate Professor of Performing Arts – lauded TFS students for their thirst for knowledge and enthusiasm – especially during the impromptu improv exercises at the end of the class.
“Today was a very special day. We had students from different countries, different ethnicities, and they all have different backgrounds. I believe the most difference between Chinese students and students here is that Canadian students make me feel more enthusiastic and open minded,” she said.
“We had lots of students who are not from the Acting program today – these students also showed their willingness to learn more. Yes, especially their eagerness to try to understand the entertainment industry in China. I also think that they are very curious about China and wish to know more about the entertainment industry in China, and I feel really good to know that.”
Wei also expressed her excitement for TFS instructor John Tench’s upcoming, 10-day trip to China in mid-September to teach acting at BFA.
“We feel great to have John Tench to visit Beijing Film Academy and to have two weeks’ class (with him) for students,” she said, noting that BFA has hosted similar Master Classes with visiting instructors from schools in Italy, Russia, Switzerland and the U.S., among others.
“China is a very open country nowadays…We would like to get in touch with more cultures from different countries. Although we have different backgrounds and cultures, we strongly believe globalization is very important for us.
“Today, I am very glad I have brought Chinese culture here, and also the culture from Beijing Film Academy to Toronto Film School.”
Meanwhile, Tench – whose own major feature film appearances include roles in Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain, Antoine Fuqua’s Shooter, and Zac Snyder’s Watchmen, to name just a few – is equally excited to work with BFA’s top graduating students.
“One thing that I love about acting is it’s a global, international sensibility. We have so many stories from so many different countries, and…much to our surprise and delight, they’re often the same kind of stories, the same kind of television shows, the same kind of feature films. The basic stories of mankind don’t really change that much,” Tench said.
“So, I think any kind of meeting ground between two countries…any kind of liaison between a Canadian film community and an Asian film community…it just strengthens our resolve and our artistic abilities.”