University of Toronto

Innis Alumni & Friends

Michael Zryd

Class of 1986 – HBA, Innis, CSI

Tell us about your current work.

I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in Cinema and Media Studies at York University, and I am currently the Graduate Program Director of the Cinema and Media Studies MA and PhD programs, which keeps me busy with program administration and policy. Both the undergraduate and graduate programs are the oldest in Canada—the Department of Film just celebrated its 40th anniversary—which means that I’m cognizant of being part of an established tradition—a somewhat counter-intuitive position given that York is a young university and Cinema Studies is still classified by some as an “emerging discipline.” Perhaps the most distinctive thing about the film program at York is that cinema and media studies scholars are constantly interacting with filmmakers and screenwriters. There are frustrations occasionally, but in general it’s stimulating, especially since new breakthroughs in high quality consumer digital video and sound technology are, once again, breaking down the boundaries between creators and critics.

What is your background in cinema and where do your research interests lie?

I received an incredible background in cinema studies during my honours BA at Innis College. I didn’t realize how good my training at U of T was until I started my MA at New York University and discovered that most of my classmates there were learning anew what I had already encountered in my classes with Bart Testa, Kay Armatage, and Julian Patrick (Victoria). But an important part of my cinema training came from extra-curricular activities like the Innis Film Society, where I discovered my fascination with experimental film, which remains my major research area today. Although I continue to enjoy narrative cinema, and wrote my PhD dissertation on documentary film, experimental film was most interesting to me because it’s always a challenge. Experimental film, in the words of one of its major artists, Stan Brakhage, invites an “adventure in perception,” not only of what is on screen, but of how we see the world. It keeps you on your toes—something that university teaching also does as students constantly bring new ideas and perspectives into critical discussion.

What do you remember most about Innis College and Cinema Studies?

When I was admitted to U of T, I chose Innis because it was the smallest college on campus and seemed modern and funky. What I wanted was the possibility of joining a progressive community and that is what the College provided. Being able to play on intramural sports teams, edit the Innis Herald, participate in the ICSS and Innis College Council—all of these things seemed possible because Innis works on a human scale. Meanwhile, my classes in Cinema Studies were rigorous and demanding—partly because Cinema Studies has to work harder to appear legitimate against more established disciplines. For example, I was also taking a lot of English courses. They were great and I learned how to read closely—but I barely did any secondary critical or theoretical reading for them. In Cinema Studies courses, we read widely and learned not only how to look closely but also how to contextualize films historically, and to approach them through a variety of conceptual frameworks. Finally, Innis College was just full of great people—John Browne, Audrey Perry, David King, Fuzz, Peter Allen, Roger Riendeau, and Cinema Studies faculty like Bart Testa who were very accessible to students—and they set the tone for the community they led.

What advice would you offer students today?

The advice I always give to students is to take advantage of the “college experience” as much as possible. University is a special—and increasingly rare—period in one’s life when one has time and opportunity to explore, reflect, read, and ‘go deep’ as they say. Participate fully in the college community. Volunteer. Rather than work three part-time jobs, learn to live poor and take advantage of the many free experiences university offers. Worry about jobs and career later—the employment rate for university graduates is around 97% anyway—but don’t let short term demands keep you from taking four years to think about and experience new and unfamiliar ideas and art. In short, have your own adventure in perception.

 

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