Theatre Arts professor finds fresh inspiration in filmmaking

January 7, 2019 | Arts & Culture
Secrets. We’ve all kept one, let one slip, confessed one. They can be inconsequential or life-shattering — and they can also inspire an award-winning film.

Leigh Rivenbark, an assistant professor in MacEwan University’s Theatre Arts program, wrote and directed Breathing Through a Straw, a short film that showed at nearly a dozen festivals over the last year, from the Cambridge Film Festival in England to the Los Angeles Lift-Off Festival. Inspired by a true story, the film is about a hookup that goes horribly wrong, ending in a homicide.

“I wanted to explore the question, ‘What are the consequences of keeping secrets?’” says Leigh. “It’s the story of a man who is living a lie, but eventually learns to speak his truth.”

And though the film is about secrets, it’s no secret that Leigh has found a calling in film directing.

Breathing Through a Straw collected a half dozen awards this year, including the Jury Award for a Short Film at the Canadian Film Fest in Toronto, the Best Film Award at the LGBT Toronto Film Festival and the Best Alberta Short award at the Calgary International Film Festival. Leigh also signed a deal with the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, the largest distributor of LGBT films in the country, to represent the film.

“After directing theatre for 25 years, discovering the film world totally recharged my batteries. It was humbling to start from square one again, but it offered me a fresh artistic vision,” says Leigh.

Embracing that uncertainty and optimism not only offered inspiration for Leigh’s work, but his teaching at MacEwan as well.

“Every time I step onto a film set, I feel like I’m 21 again. I feel like anything is possible. And that helps me relate to my students. In a way, we’re in the same shoes — excited and hopeful about starting a new adventure.”

Leigh’s foray into film also offered him new, practical skills to pass on to his students. To be a successful actor today, one must be able to adapt to a number of different styles — from theatre to TV, and Leigh’s experience allows him to help students modify their acting choices to fit those different media.

As he celebrates the success of his film, and continues to share his fresh ideas, Leigh says his ultimate goal is to not only help students improve their acting skills, but to encourage them to trust their instincts.

“I often ask myself, ‘How can I empower my students to unleash their creative potential?’ Teaching is more than a job, it’s a calling. I have a responsibility to lift people up.” 

TEDxMacEwanU: Truth Told

Join Leigh as he hosts MacEwan’s 2019 TEDx event on January 23, where individuals from our university community will explore the theme of Truth Told. It’s an evening to share our collective truths and declare our personal truths — the scars, successes and stories that form our ways of facing the world.

Learn more


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