Arthur Hiller Award is launched

November 4, 2022 by James Cahill

On Thursday, October 27, the Cinema Studies Institute community gathered for the launch of the Arthur Hiller Award for Admission to the Cinema Studies Institute at Innis College, and to celebrate the first cohort of Hiller scholars: Corinne Abouem, Zaria Nelson, and Emma Robins, in the presence of Arthur Hiller's children, Henryk and Erica. This award has been in works for at least three years and many contributed to the process. 

In his visit to Cinema Studies in 1995 for a screening of his film Hospital, Arthur Hiller said the key message was "it's not enough to realize there's a problem, you have to do something about it. Don't just think about it. Don't just understand it. Do something." This ethos seems to have pervaded Arthur Hiller’s career and is the same ethos that has inspired the CSI to establish this award.

Arthur Hiller gained a reputation in the film industry as a congenial and caring director. As a member of the Director's Guild of America, he helped initiate a program for racialized and women filmmakers, and for his commitment to creating opportunities for others, as well as his participation with over 40 philanthropic organizations and efforts, he was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 2002. In his very moving acceptance speech, he admitted, “It’s embarrassing to receive an award for doing what you should be doing.”

It is in this spirit, while keeping up with the CSI educational mission, and with generous support from Henryk and Erica and their families, that the funds Arthur Hiller gave to U of T in the 1980s have been transformed into the Arthur Hiller Award, to be given to extraordinary Black and Indigenous students entering the Cinema Studies program. The intention behind this award is to foster diversity at the Institute, to make sure every student feels not just welcome but wanted in Cinema Studies classrooms and the community. The CSI hopes that this is but the first of such important initiatives.

The awards committee was impressed by every application CSI received, and were particularly excited by this year’s recipients, Corinne Abouem, Zaria Nelson, and Emma Robins, who wrote so intelligently and passionately about their interest in cinema, how it has helped them understand themselves better, forge connections with family, community, and strangers, to explore and analyze their worlds and articulate their future aspirations.

Corinne Abouem, Cinema Studies program student and 2022 Arthur Hiller Award winner:

Through films, I came to discover myself; movies introduced me to new points of view, unknown ideas and concepts that were completely foreign to me. Cinema opened a whole new world for me and has strongly impacted my ideas, my belief and overall my personality. Films hold great influential power, and when used progressively this power can bring positive social and political change. I want to study cinema to learn about that power and how to master it.

Zaria Nelson, Cinema Studies program student and 2022 Arthur Hiller Award winner:

To me, film is about learning, whether that be about history, how to escape a masked villain, or learning about the lives of the characters on screen, our minds grow with each film we watch. To have this type of recognition for young people entering this realm, who are so often overlooked, provides a real sense of belonging to a space where our stories are rarely told. As someone who has never seen Afro-Indigenous representation on screen, I hope to take this fact and work towards teaching about the lives of people like me through film and shed light on my community, our struggles, and how resilient we have become. 

Emma Robins, Cinema Studies program student and 2022 Arthur Hiller Award winner:

The Arthur Hiller Scholarship has given my parents and I such support and aid in continuing my studies. I am fortunate enough to have two hardworking parents who work assiduously to provide education to not only me, but my younger brother as well. This scholarship gives me the chance to give back to my parents, giving them greater financial freedom and less pressure. I am incredibly grateful for the assistance this award provided my family. To give other students in similar or different situations a chance at a scholarship would be an amazing aid and encouragement to continue working hard for what they want, even when circumstances are against or limiting to them.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the award process including:

  • The Hiller Family
  • Charlie Keil, Principal, Innis College
  • Karen Reid, Acting Principal, Innis College
  • Cinema Studies Institute Faculty, notably Bart Testa 
  • Denise Ing and Tony Pi, CSI staff
  • Andrea Blackler, Shayla Anderson and Ennis Blentic, Innis Advancement team