Olena puts theory to practice and takes it on the road.
Olga Wirsta Award in Communications, Journalism, and Media Studies, 2011
Olena Decock is the first graduate of the University of Ottawa to use film as the medium for her Master’s thesis. Her thesis began as an examination of cultural identity as portrayed in Canadian and Quebecois films. She soon understood that film offered a good way to explore her ideas, and also a good way to present them. Combining original and archival footage, Olena delivered her final thesis, with a focus on Ukrainian identity in Canada, in the form of a short film.
Growing up in a Dutch-Ukrainian family in Toronto, Olena didn’t spend much time thinking about cultural identity. Hers was an openly multicultural home in a vibrantly multicultural city. Only upon enrolling at the University of Ottawa to study French literature did she begin to examine the concept of cultural identity. As one of the few non-francophone students in her classes, she observed that her francophone classmates were not only aware of being culturally French, but further identified with the French Canadian subsets such as Quebecois, Acadian, Fransaskois and Franco-Ontarian.
“The two cultural identity constructs in my family are very different.”
While both sets of Olena’s grandparents left their homelands out of necessity, it was her Ukrainian grandparents who suffered the greatest sense of exile. For this reason, she kept her thesis focused on the Ukrainian immigrant experience in Canada.
The cost involved in making a film as opposed to writing a thesis made the winning of the Olga Wistra Award in Communications, Journalism and Media Studies (create hyperlink as the site is built) a welcome event for Olena. The funding has provided her with the means to rent camera equipment, pay the artist’s licensing fee for original music and interview a greater number of Ukrainian Canadians for the film. It has also allowed her to make multiple copies of the finished film that she, in turn, gave back to the community. In addition to giving a copy to the University of Ottawa, she has provided copies to St. Vladimir Institute and CFUS itself.
“Winning the award meant I was able to make a much deeper, richer film.”
The CFUS foundation did not only provide Olena with financial support; it helped her find subjects for her film and introduced her to other resources, including the Canadian Ukrainian Research and Document Centre and the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies.
“When you start to ask the big questions about who you are and where you belong, you realize that you need organizations like CFUS.”
Through the process of making the film, and with the guidance of CFUS, Olena has become more knowledgeable and more engaged with the Ukrainian Canadian community. She feels that the completion of her film is not an end, but a beginning. Even while working full time administrating the Cronenberg Project at Toronto International Film Festival, Olena has taken the time to give an artist’s presentation of her film at St. Vladimir Institute and has interest from other organizations. Because she was able to donate copies of her film, students and others can show the film and continue the discussion provoked by Olena’s work.