Filmmaker Joel George has taken on the dual role of visionary and impresario when it comes to working to help create and promote the wonderfully talented film, video and TV individuals who comprise the nascent film industry within the Bay of Quinte region.
George has owned Prime Focus Productions in Trenton since 2012 and has carved out a niche in the region for the exceptional quality and professionalism of the mostly corporate videos he creates, produces and directs for a wide array of clients. But George also has a highly artistic itch that he needs to scratch, and decided to create a group whereby anyone interested in film could meet up and collaborate on non-commercial films.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, in 2013, George also developed what was then called the Movie Years Today Film Festival, which focused on promoting and highlighting the local film scene. After taking a year off in 2016 the festival was rebranded as the Quinte Canadian Film Festival for 2017 and reconstituted as a non-profit organization run by a board of directors. It’s mandate has also expanded to focus not just on excellence in local filmmaking, but also to bring light to bear on the best of Canadian cinema.
It may be interesting to note that being a filmmaker was not something George really aspired to until his late teens.
“I had always enjoyed watching movies but really I feel in love with the whole process and started thinking of it as a career when my friends and I started making short films at Quinte Secondary School. We were assigned to create these three minute video pieces – although I can’t remember what the topic was – but we went ahead and actually made a ½ hour short film and spent a lot of time and energy to make it. We invested a lot of ourselves and came out at the end of the process with something we were really proud of and that was when I fell in love with film,” he said.
George then went to Toronto in 2008, eventually graduating with honours from the Film and Television Production program at Toronto’s Humber College. He moved back to the Bay of Quinte Region to begin his career in 2011.
“While at Humber I made a real point of doing as much on the side as I could. I volunteered for as many shoots as I could, did a lot of freelancing and interned at a couple of places. I really tried my best to maximize the whole learning experience. But even when I moved back if you said I would own and run my own production company I would have thought it was a crazy idea. My goals were to be a camera tech and maybe work towards being a cinematographer after a few years,” he said.
But because there really wasn’t a film and television ‘scene’ per se, let alone an actual film sector, George struggled to find work. Thanks to Trenval Business Development Corporation, he was able to get involved in an entrepreneurship program that allowed him to start that production company he never anticipated he would own – Prime Focus Productions.
“I gave it a shot and jumped right in with both feet and now five years later, here we are with an office in downtown Trenton. I entered the Trenval program really out of necessity because how else was I going to provide for my family apart from doing something that wasn’t within my training,” he said, as he spoke of what Prime Focus does as a filmmaking firm.
“We specialize in communication through video. So whether it’s marketing and communications, corporate training, commercial or documentary work – whatever way you are trying to communicate – we can do it with video and make it really compelling. Most of my clients want videos for their websites that have impact, and that includes videos of who they are, what they do and they value they offer to their own customers. We also do stuff highlight products and specific services as well as accompanying photography.”
Not long after opening Prime Focus, George realized he still wanted an outlet for his artistic, auteur side, and started Cinema Quinte.
“I definitely needed to do more than just the corporate work. That’s all great and it pays the bills but it’s not creatively fulfilling to help someone tell the story of why you should buy their widgets. A lot of my passion lies in fictional narrative. I love work by Christopher Nolan and Sam Mendes – really creative directors who are able to tell these deep emotional stories. That’s my real passion in film, to create a fictional narrative that will help people, hopefully, think deeper about the choices they are making and the lives they’re living,” he said.
“Cinema Quinte is a group of people who are interested in film. They don’t have to be someone who has gone through film school or anything like that. Sometimes they have, but they aren’t working in the industry. But sometimes it’s just someone who is passionate about one aspect or another related to making films. The mandate is hey, let’s make movies together. I know there is a lot of talent in the area, so let’s get it all together in the same place.
“Once a month we meet and write scripts. We have some coffee, some snacks, read our scripts together and talk about what we’re interested in and critique each other’s work. We have been doing this for about three years now. We have some people who have story ideas but no expertise on the technical side, and then we have people are good with the technical stuff but want to try their hand and writing. We actually made a short film together called ’177’ in 2015 and it was an amazing experience to have everyone working together.”
The first Quinte Canadian Film Festival was a big success, and has been a great vehicle for not only bringing the film community of the Bay of Quinte region together, but also trumpeting the fact there is a burgeoning film sector to the rest of the country. And, it must be pointed out; it also helps remind folks far and wide that Trenton itself was once truly Hollywood North and housed the first film studios in Canada, running from 1917 to 1934.
The first festival in 2013 featured eight short films run over an afternoon, with five of those films being George’s. But 100 people paid to come watch them – a solid omen for future festivals. By 2015, a week’s worth of evenings were dedicated to dozens of films, including features that saw well over 500 patrons attend.
“With the new format and new focus we’re showing stuff from across the country but we’re still highlighting local filmmakers. I would say for this year it was about a half and half mix of local and national content. Making it a Canadian festival just gives us that trajectory which means we have great opportunities for growth,” he said.
Film is in George’s blood. He loves the fact that so many creative and artisanal disciplines come to play when making a film and that as a director he can use everything from lighting to sound to set design to the cast and more as a way to express his ideas.
“It’s about telling a human story. Whatever you do is part of a human story, it’s relevant and there is a place for you. In this business we need arts of all kinds; we need painters, sculptors, musicians. We even need dentists, lawyers and accountants. Anything people specialize in, there is a place for them in the film industry. And one of my big dreams with all of these ventures is to see a studio re-established in some capacity – to have the industry coming here again. It makes so much sense to re-open our doors to the Canadian film industry. People from production companies around the world would come to shoot here if we had a fully functioning sound stage and state-of-the-art facilities outside of the big, expensive urban areas. I think there is really great potential for this industry to grow here. It’s pretty exciting to be a part of it,” said George.
For more information on Prime Focus Productions, visit www.primefocus.ca.
For more information on Cinema Quinte, visit its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CinemaQuinte.
For more information on the Quinte Canadian Film Festival visit http://quintefilmfest.ca.