What’s behind the creative mind: Vann Rugge Thomson

By Hannah Polinski

Despite being the owner of his own video production company, Van Rugge Interactive Media, Van Rugge Thomson is reluctant to call himself an artist. The Knowlton-based producer has always worked behind the camera in media production, from shooting to editing to directing and more. Whether real or imagined, there is often a disconnect between filmmakers who ground themselves in arthouse work and filmmakers who work on commercial projects. While both require high levels of creativity, there is a different output and reaction once each form of video art has been released into the world.

Yet Thomson is not just a commercial filmmaker; he has also written, directed, and produced narrative projects as well. His initiation to media arts came at the age of 12, when he first picked up a camera to try photography. Its lens became his way of seeing the world, and he worked with still images for years, both at school and through commercial work. Thomson’s transition into moving images seemed only natural, and soon began working in the cruise ship industry doing live and television production and photography.

While he has extensive experience in video production, Thomson’s current goal as a creator is to expand more into writing. During the pandemic, he cranked out an entire script for a drama about Russian-Ukrainian relations that follows a man leaving his job in Moscow to move back to Ukraine with his high school sweetheart. The screenplay explores the everyday dramas and realities of living in post-Soviet Ukraine. While its a film set far from the Eastern Townships, Thomson’s inspiration stems from hearing stories from Ukrainians living in Russian-occupied territories that seemed too crazy to be made up, authentic lived experiences that went quickly from hilarious to tragic and back again.

He acknowledges that producing this film will be difficult, as the narrative may be skewed depending on political views of the studio the script is given to. Its subject matter can be polarizing, and leaves room for possible misinterpretation. According to Thomson, Western media don’t have a clear idea of what actually happens on the ground in Eastern Europe, and lots of narratives miss the nuance of tensions within Ukraine itself. His film aims to shed light upon this, weaving a narrative together that only true stories could have inspired.
Despite storytelling being his driving creative force, Thomson’s writing stays true to his background behind the camera.

“I don’t write a lot of dialogue,” he explains. “If I can use it to drive the story forward I will, but it’s become such a habit to just expose everything through dialogue.”

As a visual writer, he is most concerned with having a solid story that can carry itself without having to rely on speech, or worse, a voice-over.

“When I was learning to edit, my friend who had a lot more experience than me said, when you finish the first cut [of a film] turn the sound off. If it makes sense and you get the story, then you’ve got a good cut. If you have to insert dialogue, then you don’t have a good cut. If it can’t make sense without words, then words won’t make it any better.”

While dialogue has its place, weaving together stories using images is his specialty. Going forward as a filmmaker with specific stories to tell, Thomson is faced with a problem that plagues most creators in the media arts: not finding inspiration, but rather the funds to produce your projects. Working as an anglophone filmmaker in Quebec has its challenges, and access to funding is one of them.

“Anglophone culture is always struggling in the Eastern Townships. There’s so much support for Francophone arts, which isn’t slander, because we’re in Quebec, but [Anglo arts] have a vibrant scene too.”

Thomson sees lots of local film initiatives in different towns like Sherbrooke, Stanstead, and Knowlton, where he grew up, yet feels that the English arts community in Townships is missing a unifying factor. That’s one of the reasons he’s looking forward to the return of the Eastern Townships FIlm Festival in 2022, which took a break during the pandemic. He hopes to turn his passion for supporting Anglophone artists in the Townships into a podcast interviewing English-speaking artists working in Quebec, sharing their work and views as a minority community of creators.

To follow along with more of Rugge’s work, some of his videos can be found at vimeo.com/vanrugge.

This project has been made possible by the Community Media Strategic Support Fund offered jointly by the Official Language Minority Community Media Consortium and the Government of Canada.

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