New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network

Dr. Scott Preston

ENG Member of the Month1) What is your official current position and title?

I am Assistant Professor in the Department of Culture and Media Studies, in the Faculty of Arts at UNB Fredericton. I am the Advisor for the undergraduate major in Media Arts & Cultures, which is a BA program that allows students to combine film and media production with critical, theoretical, and historical studies of media.

2) What is your educational background?

I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master of Arts in Film Studies from Concordia University in Montreal. My PhD is from the Joint Program in Communication and Culture at York University and Ryerson University in Toronto.

3) Talk a little about your career path?  Where did your passion for the research/work that you do originate and how did it develop?

My career path has been a bit of a long and winding road. I had big dreams of being a filmmaker in high school. I applied to several film production programs at Canadian universities but didn’t get in. Instead, I began volunteering at the local community television station in Saint John, where I grew up. Fundy Cable Channel 10 (as it was called then) eventually hired me on full time and I spent three years working there, producing all different kinds of television programming. I made my own shows, too. A film review program I created called The 7th Art aired about 100 episodes. I made other videos and short films on this side and took film production workshops when I could.

When I did decide to give university another try, I was four years older and discovered I was interested in a lot of other areas besides film production. I took courses in anthropology, comparative religions, art history, philosophy, you name it. I eventually gravitated to the film studies program at Concordia and began my path to becoming an academic, combining my original passion for film and media with my new interest in the humanities and social sciences.

All through graduate school, but especially during my PhD in Toronto, I was surrounded by talented, creative people who were making art, writing, and working in the media. The Communication and Culture program at York/Ryerson also emphasised the important relationship between theory and practice. So when I was hired at UNB, I brought that perspective with me, into the classroom in the Media Arts & Cultures program, and into my research.

4) Tell us about one or two of your current projects?

I’m currently working on two projects. Both involve questions of local/regional identity and media industries.

Over the past few years, I have been conducting archival research on the history of film in New Brunswick. This work was funded by a UNB research fund grant I received when I took up my position in the Faculty of Arts. While there is very little mainstream feature filmmaking in New Brunswick’s past, there is a long history of promotional films, travel films, industrial films, and documentaries that depict the province – what media scholars Charles Acland and Haidee Wasson call “useful cinema.” I am currently writing an article about the very first film made in New Brunswick, which was a travel film about a moose hunting vacation made in 1905. Reconstructing the context in which this film was made allows me to examine how different stakeholders in the province at that time (government, entrepreneurs, the business community, the railways, etc) worked together to use media (film was “new media” in 1905!) to generate and disseminate an image of New Brunswick that circulated around the world.

Another way to study the history of film in New Brunswick is to approach it from the perspective of moviegoing as a social activity. We may not have made popular cinema in the province, but we certainly consumed it. What we watch has an important impact on who we are, on our sense of local identity, and our feeling of being connected to the rest of the world. I am preparing a new study that will look at the changes to the landscape of public entertainment upon the arrival of cinema in cities such as Fredericton and Saint John at the beginning of the 20th century. There have been some very successful microhistories of moviegoing like this by American researchers but nothing quite like it has been done in Canada.

5) How do you see your research/work in terms of possibly contributing to evidence-based public policy?

There are two key areas where this work would contribute. First, by documenting and interpreting this history, by bringing it out of the archive and into dialogue with the present, it could help contextualize specific policies related to the support of the creative or cultural industries in New Brunswick. Second, it can enrich our understanding of the history of, and the relationship between, media, representation, and identity – concepts that are all foundational to current cultural policy making.

6) Describe in a couple of sentences your involvement with NBSPRN and how your relationship with the Network has contributed to your research/work and/or to social/economic policy?

My participation on the Board of Directors of DOCTalks is what lead to my involvement with NBSPRN. DOCTalks is a not-for-profit organization made up media producers, researchers, and other community members that promotes cross-sector collaborations to create and share documentary media. Last year, I was awarded a $15,000 grant from Springboard Atlantic as principal investigator to study the potential of such partnerships to stimulate the media industries here in Atlantic Canada. DOCTalks held a symposium in Fredericton in the summer that brought together a wide array of stakeholders to discuss the challenges and opportunities for documentary in Canada. Since then, I have been working closely with other board members and other researchers I have met through NBSPRN to connect my historical research, my passion for my home province, and my role as a teacher of media students, with industry and community leaders and policymakers. I am so grateful that an organization like NBSPRN exists and works so hard to make these connections happen.

Copyright 2013
A Ginger Design