Independent filmmaker awarded Vanier scholarship

August 18, 2014
Sarah Abbott l Photo credit: Aidan Morgan

An award-winning independent filmmaker is the first Royal Roads University student to be awarded a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. 

Sarah Abbott, a Doctor of Social Sciences researcher at Royal Roads, will receive $50,000 a year for three years as part of the prestigious scholarship for academic excellence, research potential and leadership.

“Hearing the news that my application had been successful was incredible, exciting and a little surreal! It’s a deeply wonderful honour,” she says. “It feels great to be able to recognize that and give back by sharing my learning and research in a public way through film.”

During her doctorate studies, Abbott intends to combine her experience with previous film, media literacy and empowerment projects with social science approaches to make a film that examines factors associated with high rates of suicide among Indigenous people.

Abbott has produced and directed 16 films and videos, including one feature documentary and two half-hour dramas. Her work includes Out in the Cold, a film inspired by the freezing deaths of Indigenous men allegedly at the hands of Saskatoon police, and This Time Last Winter, which includes a talking circle, a traditional First Nations approach to solving conflicts.

In 2012, Abbott received the Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Award for Arts and Learning in recognition of her work, and has received numerous other awards. She is an associate professor at the University of Regina, where she has taught film production for a decade.

Prof. Phillip Vannini, Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning at Royal Roads’ School of Communication and Culture, is Abbott’s doctoral supervisor. He says researchers usually collaborate with filmmakers to present ethnographic research findings on film. But Abbott will be able to draw on both skill sets.

“Sarah's research potential as an accomplished filmmaker is something to be truly excited about,” Vannini says. “By being able to speak two different but related languages, ethnography and film, Sarah can quite possibly take ethnographic filmmaking to the next level." 

Abbott, who started her doctorate in February, says she was drawn to Royal Roads’ unique doctoral program for a number of reasons.

“I love that the cohort is composed of people working in very different disciplines and job types,” she says. “We bring a diverse set of perspectives to each other to learn from as we go through the work.  I also love that the program insists on applied research, so our research directly affects parts of society and the world in positive, helpful ways.”

The Doctor of Social Sciences is Canada's first applied research doctorate designed exclusively for working professionals. Three of the program’s first students graduated in May.

Photo credit: Aidan Morgan