Credit: Shelby Tay / Pull Focus Film School

Non-profit Pull Focus Film School offers filmmaking courses and social justice media campaigns on the cheap


Thanks to the wide availability of digital cameras and open-source editing software, anyone can be a filmmaker these days. But for non-profit social justice organizations, making a short doc to promote your cause can take up time and money you don't have—not to mention require skills people spend as much as $40,000 a year at film school to acquire.


Pull Focus Film School


306 Abbott St, Vancouver

Email | 604-767-4306

Facebook | Twitter


NEW! Political animation course starts February 16, 2011.

Sign up

But Pull Focus Film School, a non-profit film school in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, is trying to change that by offering filmmaking courses for a fraction of the price, with a mandate to contribute media support to non-profit organizations with social justice campaigns. In operation for just over a year, the school has trained more than 50 people in courses like documentary filmmaking, therapeutic storytelling and intro to Final Cut Pro, ranging in price from $300-$1,300 for a six- to eight-week course.

"We often say that in the future video and editing are going to be skills as important as reading and writing, and in a lot of ways they’re more universal because with images a lot of times you don't have that language barrier," says Tara Mahoney, a Pull Focus alumni and the school's community outreach coordinator.


Pull Focus film school student

Video and editing may be skills as important as reading and writing in the future. (Image: courtesy Pull Focus Film School)


Pull Focus expands, launches new political animation course

Previous students were paired with organizations like the BC Farmers Market Association, YWCA Vancouver and Amnesty International; by the end the course, students had training and a quality piece of media they could use to get into a formal film school or start a career, while the partner organization gained an inexpensive marketing tool for their cause.

And the school is expanding: a new political animation course starts this month where students learn how to turn clip art into short animations for OpenMedia.ca, the David Suzuki Foundation and AIDS Vancouver.

"A lot of non-profits and organizations are kind of using this method to get the name out about their cause," says Mahoney. "Because it's engaging, it's kind of a fun way to talk about your message that's visual."

Pull Focus and OpenMedia.ca, located just across the street from the school, have talked about collaborating for some time. But it wasn't until Pull Focus mentioned the animation course that OpenMedia.ca founder Steve Anderson saw a fit with his organization's media democracy campaigns.

"The idea of doing a short animation seemed like a really good idea for the kind of work that we're doing with the Stop the Meter campaign because it's a little bit a of a complex, almost wonky issue and doing a short, entertaining video with animation seems like the perfect thing," says Anderson.


Pull Focus Film School - film students

Pull Focus students learn filmmaking skills while creating media for cash- and time-strapped social justice organizations. (Image: courtesy Pull Focus Film School)


Vancouver's alternative film school looks ahead

Pull Focus doesn't issue degrees or diplomas, but they have bigger dreams than becoming a formalized film school—like following in the footsteps of other non-profit film schools, like New York City's Barefoot Productions, and going international.

"[Barefoot Productions has] the same model except they build in trips, so they’ll go to Egypt and do some sort of piece there with an international organization that can be used to help expose their cause," says Mahoney.

"But right now we're happy just to be working in the community here."