Graduate hooked on reel life

by Connie Bagshaw
Staff writer

Bruce Sweeney likes mustard on meat sandwiches. So does Trevor, the
overeducated, underemployed lead character in Sweeney’s film, Live Bait.
The similarities end there.

“I’m often asked if the film is autobiographical; it’s not,” is his unequivocal

Unlike his main character (played by Tom Scholte) who doesn’t quite know what
he wants to do, Sweeney, who graduates on Nov. 28 with a Master of Fine Arts
degree, has been focused on a film-making career since switching six years ago
from art courses at SFU to film studies at UBC.

Written as his graduate thesis, Live Bait netted the Best Canadian
Feature Film Award at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where it
competed against big budget features by veteran Canadian film-makers.

Since then, the black and white, 16-millimetre film shot for $85,000 has been
screened at film festivals in The Netherlands, Australia, Washington State and
New Mexico.

“It wasn’t apparent to me during the making of the film that it was going to be
a little gem,” Sweeney recalls, “but I wouldn’t feel any differently about the
content of the movie if it wasn’t a success. I accomplished the task at hand —
to create a natural realism achieved by developing an okay look, not a great

A native of Sarnia, Ont. who has made B.C. his home for the past 12 years,
Sweeney isn’t tempted to pack up and head for the Hollywood hills where the
prevailing blockbuster style of movie-making is not to his taste. He prefers to
parlay his talents into more modest projects that allow him creative control.

Staying close to his roots is important to Sweeney who trumpets Live
as a Canadian film, exemplified mostly by Trevor’s parents (Babz Chula
and Kevin McNulty) whose marriage slowly unravels during the film.

“The marriage disintegrates quietly,” Sweeney explains. “Quiet is the Canadian

Apart from having artistic control, Sweeney’s desire to remain an independent
film-maker stems from a need to create work for himself and to speak through

He credits his thesis supervisors John Wright, head of the Theatre, Film and
Creative Writing Dept., and Film Prof. Ray Hall, for helping him find his own

In addition to film-making, Sweeney doesn’t discount a future career in
teaching which he sees as another opportunity to reach young students with
strong artistic beliefs and skills.

A teaching assistant for an undergraduate course in film history while earning
his master’s degree, Sweeney’s message to students who aspire to a career in
film is clear.

“Make the film you want to make; don’t just talk about doing it. A degree in
liberal arts prepares you to talk and write and engage in abstract thought.
It’s a great thing to have, but in terms of a job, it’s the skills, not the

Sweeney gained much of his own experience while enrolled in UBC’s two-year film
studies diploma program, apprenticing on several films, including John Pozer’s
The Grocer’s Wife, and writing, producing and directing his first movie,
Betty and Vera Go Lawnbowling, a17-minute short about two grandmothers
on a road trip.

For the most part, he used a student crew for Live Bait to provide
others with the same training opportunity he received.

Since completing his thesis, Sweeney has triumphed over a large blood clot in
the brain and is busy developing his next film, leaving behind Trevor who
forever remains someone dangling in the modern world, trying to make a go of
it–Live Bait.

More than 5,000 students graduated from UBC during the four-day Spring
Congregation ceremony last May. This fall’s graduate list is expected to top
last year’s mark of 1,957 grads.

Fall Congregation ceremonies on Nov. 28 begin at 9:30 a.m. in War Memorial Gym
with the installation of Dr. William Sauder as UBC’s 15th chancellor. Writer
Carol Shields receives an honorary degree during the morning ceremony while
biologist Norman Pace receives his degree during the afternoon ceremony at 2:30