Concordia University

50 years of success

We profile graduates from each of the Department of Communication Studies’ five decades
December 16, 2015
By Leslie Schachter

Nearly 5,000 students have passed through the halls of Concordia’s Department of Communication Studies since it was founded in 1965 by the late Fr. John O’Brien, S.J., BA 45.

Many of the department’s alumni have gone on to highly successful and prominent careers, including journalist Hana Gartner, BA 70 (the fifth estate), former CNN news anchor Brian Nelson, BA 70, La Presse columnist Nathalie Petrowski, BA 76, TV producer René Balcer, BA 78 (Law & Order), movie producer Kevin Tierney, GrDip 79 (Bon Cop, Bad Cop), journalist and author Maziar Bahari, BA 93 (Then They Came for Me), Virgin Radio 96 host Isabelle Racicot, BA 95, Radio-Canada reporter Davide Gentile, BA 96, and Arcade Fire’s Regine Chassagne, BA 98.

To help celebrate its 50th anniversary year, we profile alumni representing each of the department’s five decades.

1965-1974: Don Carmody, BA 72

Movie producer Don Carmody with Hilary Swank Movie producer Don Carmody with Hilary Swank on the set of Amelia, 2009.

While attending Loyola High School in Montreal, award-winning film producer Don Carmody, BA 72, had been leaning towards studying fine arts. Yet artist Charles Gagnon, who had recently become an instructor at Loyola College, one of Concordia’s founding institutions, convinced him to consider studying film.

“I met Father Jack O’Brien at Charles’s introduction, and it was really he who convinced me that I should give it a try,” says Carmody. “Once in the program, I became a student teaching assistant to Father Marc Gervais — mainly because I knew how to run a projector, I suppose! I became quite taken with film history as well as theory.”

His final student film won an award at the Montreal World Film Festival, which led to a summer job at the National Film Board of Canada. There, he happened onto the set of an American television movie and quickly became enamoured with narrative filmmaking.

Since then, Carmody has been involved in the production of more than 100 feature films, including Chicago (2002), Good Will Hunting (1997), 54 (1998) and the Canadian classics Meatballs (1979) and Porky’s (1981). He has collaborated with Canadian film legends David Cronenberg and Ivan Reitman and, more recently, Denis Villeneuve on Polytechnique (2009), which won nine Genie Awards and five Jutras.

“Communication studies ignited my spark for film and storytelling,” says Carmody. “It’s a fire that continues to burn brightly with me even after all these years.”

1975-1984: Caroline Van Vlaardingen, BA 84

Caroline Van Vlaardingen CTV Montreal News reporter Caroline Van Vlaardingen

Veteran CTV Montreal journalist Caroline Van Vlaardingen, BA 84, has been working in television news in Montreal for the past three decades. The multiple-award-winning reporter and anchor has covered major stories such as the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989, the Oka Crisis in 1990, the 1995 Quebec referendum, the events of 9/11 and the 2008 Obama inauguration in Washington, D.C.

She credits Concordia for helping her get her start all those years ago. “Communication studies was a dynamic, creative environment where we learned film and television production and sound editing,” recalls van Vlaardingen, who completed her degree with a specialization in broadcast journalism.

“We spliced audio tape with razors back then!”

The production skills she learned and contacts she made at Concordia helped her land a summer job with a Concordia-CFCF TV co-production, which led to her first position as a researcher at CFCF-12 for Pulse News (now CTV Montreal) upon graduating.

“Thirty years later, the technology has changed drastically — no more razor blades — but I’m still working in TV and still friends with people I met in the department,” she says.

Van Vlaardingen also teaches journalism at Concordia and adds that she now has the pleasure of working with some of her former students.

“It’s really been a full circle experience for me — and it’s all thanks to Concordia.”

1985-1994: Barry Julien, BA 94

Barry Julien TV writer Barry Julien

While his might not yet be a household name, Barry Julien, BA 94, is behind some of the most successful comedy shows in Canada as well as south of the border. After graduating from Concordia, Julien began writing for CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, earning several of Gemini nominations in the process.

He went on to write for the satirical newspaper The Onion and then became a staff writer for Fox’s Talkshow with Spike Feresten. In 2007, he became a staff writer for The Colbert Report before being promoted to head writer the following year, a position he held until 2012 when he was made co-executive producer.

Aside from the multitude of prizes the show itself has received, Julien won four Writer’s Guild Awards, two Peabody Awards and six Emmy Awards for his contributions. He is now a co-executive producer and writer on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

“I think the thing I got the most out of during my time in comms was the emphasis on practical production,” says Julien.

“Nothing teaches you how to make things quite like making things,” he says. “So it was great that the program demanded that I pick up a camera or sit in an edit bay and get something done, start to finish.”

1995-2004: Anne-Marie Withenshaw, BA 02

Anne-Marie Withenshaw TV producer and host Anne-Marie Withenshaw on the set of C’est Juste de la TV.

A Gemini-nominated TV producer and host, Anne-Marie Withenshaw, BA 02, has been the face of several of Montreal’s top English and French TV and radio shows over the last 17 years.

She started as a VJ on MusiquePlus while still completing her degree at Concordia in 1998. Four years later, she became a reporter, and later host, for Flash, Quebec’s longest-running entertainment show, with red carpet appearances at the Oscars, the Grammys and the Cannes Film Festival.

Since then, Withenshaw has been in front of or behind the camera on more than a few food-themed programs as the host of Pressure Cooker, a Jamie Oliver original series, co-producer of Chuck’s Day Off, with Montreal celebrity chef Chuck Hughes, co-host of À Couteaux Tirés, another Hughes collaboration, and the host of six seasons of Guide Restos Voir.

Withenshaw has also co-hosted ARTV’s C’est juste de la TV for the past seven seasons. Montrealers might also recognize her as the former voice behind 92.5 The Beat’s All Access Weekend, as well as over a decade as host on CKOI, NRJ, Radio-Canada Première Chaîne and CBC Radio One.

“I learned a lot about the theory behind communications in general,” says Withenshaw of her time as a communication studies student. “I had many great teachers who taught me lessons that I still follow to this day.”

2005-2015: Elan Mastai, MA 05

Elan Mastai Screenwriter and producer Elan Mastai | Photo credit: Caitlin Cronenberg

An award-winning screenwriter and producer, Elan Mastai, MA 05, credits his experience in the Department of Communication Studies as a formative time in his development as a writer.

His screenplay for 2014’s The F Word, starring Daniel Radcliffe, earned him a Canadian Screen Award and a Writer’s Guild of Canada Award. Mastai also wrote The Samaritan (2012) and has written screenplays for the major Hollywood studios including Warner Brothers, Paramount, Sony, Fox and Dreamworks.

His film adaptation of a true story from the Peabody-winning radio show This American Life is slated to start shooting in 2016. Mastai recently sold his first novel, already being development into a movie by Paramount, which was directly inspired by the ideas he explored as a student at Concordia.

“The communication studies department was such an intellectually open-minded environment, where I was allowed to explore my academic interests in eclectic ways,” says Mastai.

“It wasn’t academia on one side of the divide and media production on the other. There was this continuity between them that could give the theory some soul and the art some brains.”

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