Awards season is in full swing and Ryerson’s radio and television arts program is getting in on the spotlight.

The first annual RTA Top Docs film festival will screen the top five documentaries this Tuesday, with entries produced by third-year RTA undergraduate students from David Tucker’s documentary production class.

“With documentary you really get to reflect and follow a story over a period of time,” says Tucker, a Gemini award-winning documentarian. “It’s a different, yet very rewarding, experience because you’re dealing with real people at some heightened point in their life.”

The course, which is broken up into two sections, saw a variety of stories within each documentary. Angela Alimi, one of the festival’s student organizers, says stories varied from “medical, social justice, and political documentaries.”

“Each year the docs keep getting better and better,” says Tucker. “However, I’ve been extremely impressed with this (year’s) group. There’s such a wealth of range with the projects they’ve undertaken.”

Four jurors will select three of the five finalists. First place receives $1,000 and second place receives a professional workshop from the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC). Third place, as well as first and second place, will receive DOC memberships.

All jurors are award-winning Canadian filmmakers. They include Cornelia Principe, Nadine Pequeneza, Karen Shopsowitz, and David Oppenheim.

“It was interesting to see that every juror for this festival each had different first choices, second choices, third choices, and so on,” says Tucker. “There really wasn’t a unanimous decision.”

Tucker, who initially pitched the festival to his classes, says his students were enthusiastic about the idea. According to Alimi, prior to this year’s festival, students would either submit their documentary to RTA’s Tara Awards or (as Tucker puts it) “kind of forget about it.”

“It is one thing to have an in-class screening and have your peers and your professor see it and critique it,” says Vicky Liu, a finalist at this year’s festival. “To have a greater audience watch and enjoy it opens up more opportunities for students.”

The course teaches students different documentary filming techniques and gives them many chances to critically analyze published documentaries in class. While all of this is important, there’s one thing Tucker hopes students take away from the course.

“Sometimes in documentary it’s easy to think about it as a topic and a topic isn’t a story,” Tucker says. “Part of the challenge is to get students thinking beyond the news format. Documentary is much more complex and reflective.”

Aaron graduated from the Ryerson School of Journalism in 2015.