Cap U film alum James Brown produced Never Steady, Never Still

He doesn’t enjoy equal status to the Godfather of Soul, but Capilano University’s James Brown continues to make a name for himself in the film industry alongside other graduates of the University’s Motion Picture Arts program (MOPA).

Brown is one of four Capilano University alumni to be honoured at two respected film festivals within two months.

Producers Diana Donaldson and Peter Harvey were two of 15 filmmakers featured at the 15th annual Whistler Film Festival in December. Short films produced by Brown and fellow alumni Matt Drake are to be featured at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Canada’s Top 10 Film Festival, with screenings across the country, including at Vancouver’s Cinematheque, January 8 to 17.

James’s film, Never Steady, Never Still, written and directed by Kathleen Hepburn, screened at TIFF in September and then at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Brown called the selection of the short film for the Top 10 Film Festival an honour.

“It’s huge,” Brown says of the recognition for the short that probes themes of struggle and solace.

Hands-on filmmaking

Before he studied at Capilano University, Brown earned a “more academic” Film Studies degree at Carleton University in Ottawa. Prior to a move West, he looked at film programs at Vancouver Film School, SFU, UBC and Capilano University.

James Brown_620
School of Motion Picture Arts alum, James Brown

The combination of technical training backed by history and theory drew Brown to MOPA. A friend had just completed the program, and Brown sat in on a class taught by Seanna McPherson.

“She’s a legend,” Brown says.

McPherson handed out two- to three-minute strips of exposed 8-mm film to the students and asked them to write on, scratch, and alter the individual frames to create an experimental image when played back at 24 frames per second—a task that Brown welcomed.

“It was easy to get on board with what she was selling,” he says, noting that he appreciated both the practical and creative nature of the assignment.

Brown found his niche while at Capilano University. He tried his hand at directing but discovered he excelled at building relationships, collaboration and budgeting.

Hitting the upper echelons

The first film he produced after he left MOPA was Carl Bessai’s 2011 movie, Sisters & Brothers, which screened at TIFF.

Brown won a Leo Award for Best Dramatic Feature Film for that movie and for Ben Ratner’s 2013 feature Down River, which was inspired by the late, beloved Vancouver actor of stage and screen, Babz Chula.

For that film, Brown and other members of the production team stood out front of Fifth Avenue Cinemas in Vancouver for the better part of a month in order to get the word out about the film and invite people to see it. Their efforts were featured in The Globe and Mail.

“I wouldn’t want to do that for every one of my films to get people in seats,” he says.

That’s why seeing Never Steady, Never Still on a Top 10 list is so sweet.

Murray Stiller, Interim Director of the BOSA Centre for Film and Animation, isn’t surprised by the accolades for Cap U MOPA grads.

“It was inevitable that some of our top grads would make it to the top echelons of Canadian cinema,” he says.

He’s proud that MOPA turns out well-rounded filmmakers who are prepared to step into a high-pressure industry and perform high-quality work, and Stiller expects to see more great things from these alumni.

While Brown works on an animated series for YTV and develops new projects, he also devotes time to an advisory council that works to keep MOPA as relevant to the film industry as possible.

“I love the connection with Capilano. They helped me out with a lot of film projects. It’s a way to give back,” he says. “It was really foundational to launch my career from there. Without Cap, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.”

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Submitted by Communications & Marketing

Never Steady, Never Still and the film Matt Drake produced, Balmoral Hotel, screen at The Cinematheque, 1131 Howe St., on January 13 at 7 p.m. For more information about the festival, see For its touchdown in Vancouver, see

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