Tuesday, February 7, 2023

A star comes to CNA

Award-winning filmmaker goes back to school

From the big screen to dean, College of the North Atlantic’s (CNA) newest employee brings a lot of star power to her role.

Mary Lewis, Associate Dean of the Television and Film suite of programs at CNA’s Prince Philip Drive campus, joined the college in March 2022, joining Davida Smith, Dean of Academics, Applied Arts and Tourism to enhance CNA’s support of the growing entertainment industry in the province.

Her primary role is overseeing the design and delivery of the college’s TV and film programs – two at Bay St. George campus in Stephenville and five new ones in St. John’s.

Three of the five programs in St. John’s are currently being delivered at PPD campus until its new home at 40 Strawberry Marsh Road (once known as Brinton Memorial School) sees its renovations completed. The remaining two programs have been added to the list for next fall 2023 delivery.  

“I’ve also been working on a number of operational things with the programs in St. John’s – in concert with an excellent team of staff and faculty at CNA,” said Lewis, who is no stranger to the film and arts community.

Before coming to CNA, Lewis’s background was diverse. She was born in Kampala, Uganda and was raised in St. John’s from the age of five. She studied French at the CEGEP (College of General and Professional Teaching) in Quebec and is bilingual, something her parents wished for all six of their children. She later studied at the National Theatre School of Canada, Memorial University of Newfoundland, the Canadian Film Centre and York University.

“I have also had substantive and meaningful informal training and workplace apprenticeships throughout my career, and a big chunk of this happened at NIFCO (Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Co-operative) and at RCA (Resource Centre for the Arts),” she said. “Important mentors and collaborators at NIFCO have included Mike Jones, the late Paul Pope, Anne MacLeod, Steve Cook, and Jennice Ripley. And at RCA, they have included well-known artists like Andy Jones, Janice Spence, and Mike Wade.”

Over the years, Lewis says she has worn many hats. Her professional life has mostly fallen into three categories: acting (on stage, screen, radio and audiobooks), film and TV production (including the specialized skills of film and TV directing in all genres and sizes of crews, producing, screenwriting and animating), as well as teaching and coaching.

Lewis has won more than a dozen national and international awards for her work, including a Genie Award for Best Short Film and a Gemini Award for Best Short Canadian TV Drama.

“The award I am most proud of is the Newfoundland and Labrador Artist of the Year award,” she said. “It means so much to be recognized by your peers on your home turf, not to mention being included with such humbling company. As I list them in the order I pursued them, I realize each of these pursuits makes way for the next and none of them happen in isolation.”

Much the same could be said of her current role as associate dean.

“It’s a fortuitous confluence that my current role at the college draws on all those work experiences. In that respect, I feel very lucky and only hope that any work I may do in the area of acting, directing, producing, and writing will be seen to enrich my contribution to my work with our programs.”

The future

Moving forward, Lewis said she will be focused on quality assurance, program development, collaborations with other institutions, and completing the staffing.

“Any school is only as good as its teachers, and I am extremely proud of the calibre of faculty and staff we’ve attracted to the school so far,” she said. “The symbiotic relationship with industry partners is key to the success of our school and the enthusiastic response from the experts in the field has been astounding.”

One of her favourite parts of her job has been working with industry.

“I’ve particularly enjoyed engaging with a long list of industry partners and advisors (many of whom I have worked with before) on countless issues that could be summed up in the following categories: advice, counsel, and exciting collaborations,” she said. “I’ve also relished in lining up an inspiring list of industry guests/artists to present to the students this fall and in the future – producers, cinematographers, productions designers, actors, screenwriters, directors – and I look forward to more of that.”

In addition to designing and delivering excellent hands-on training, Lewis says her goal is to contribute to the expansion of the domestic NL film industry by building the talent base in the workforce.

“I want to see it grow in a meaningful way that enhances not just the future prospects of our students, but also contributes positively to our province’s society, culture and quality of life,” she said. “If we can achieve all these goals, our students will contribute culturally to our future. They will be able to find engaging, well-paying work and ongoing learning opportunities anywhere in the world. At the same time, they will have the option of a promising and lucrative career right here in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

To learn more about Lewis’s career, visit: www.marylewis.ca

For more information about television and film programs, or any of CNA’s programs, visit www.cna.nl.ca.

Ryanne McIsaac
Ryanne McIsaac
Born and raised in Stephenville, NL, Ryanne recently moved back to Newfoundland after spending 16 years in Calgary, Alberta. Ryanne has a Journalism Diploma from College of the North Atlantic and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Cape Breton University. She worked for many years as a reporter and freelance writer. She is happy to be back in her hometown and working for CNA.

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