Inaugural winners of the Arthur Hiller Award at the Cinema Studies Institute celebrate with Hiller family

November 23, 2022 by Coby Zucker - A&S News

The new Arthur Hiller Award for Admission to the Cinema Studies Institute at Innis College ushers in a welcomed opportunity for Black and Indigenous students to tell the stories that have been silenced for too long, inaugural recipients say.

In late October, Corinne Abouem, Zaria Nelson and Emma Robins met with the Hiller family for lunch, a screening of Hiller’s Man of La Mancha — and to thank them for the generous support of more than $3,500 each in funding. Henryk Hiller and Erica Hiller Carpenter established the award in the name of their late father Arthur Hiller, who was a Canadian-American filmmaker, alum and generous supporter of the Cinema Studies Institute. Together, their contributions — along with the original fund begun by their father — amount to a $290,000 endowment.

“I just think he would be really pleased to know this was happening,” Erica says. 

The Hiller Award goes to racialized undergraduate students with a preference for those who are Black, Indigenous or both. 

“The opportunity to contribute to and help develop a fund that would help provide broader access to the study of film and filmmaking was really exciting to us,” Henryk says.

“We're hoping the new perspectives and the different lived experiences are a source of enhancement for the study of film and the types of movies that end up getting made.”

Henryk Hiller, Corinne Abouem, Zaria Nelson, Emma Robins and Erica Carpenter.
From left to right: Henryk Hiller, Corinne Abouem, Zaria Nelson, Emma Robins and Erica Carpenter. Credit: Shayla Anderson.

Growing up Jewish in the 1920s and ‘30s in Edmonton, Arthur Hiller witnessed discrimination, his own family barred from certain opportunities. According to Henryk, that experience gave his father a strong awareness of civil rights issues and a desire to combat prejudice wherever he saw it.

Arthur Hiller, who graduated from U of T with a bachelor of arts at University College in 1947, followed by a master of arts and an honorary doctor of laws, stayed connected to U of T and the Cinema Studies Institute throughout his life. 

“I spent a lot of time at Hart House Theatre, which was on campus and had a first-rate director, Robert Gill,” Hiller wrote in an excerpt provided from his unpublished memoir. 

“It was fun to realize there had been this connection we didn't know much about and to learn more about it,” Henryk says.

Henryk and Erica say the opportunity to create an award for deserving film students at their father’s alma mater was the perfect way to celebrate his legacy.

Arthur Hiller’s integrity stood out amid a long career in film and television. Even at the height of his career in Hollywood, Hiller was always generous with his time and respectful of those he worked with, Erica says. 

“He was very loyal to his crews,” she says. “And it was very important that the people around him participated and had a say in the project.” 

“He always attributed that to his master's program at the University of Toronto: his ability to understand how to work with people better,” Henryk says.

Recipients of the Arthur Hiller Award 

Zaria Nelson.
Zaria Nelson

Zaria Nelson, a second-year student at University College, was shocked to find out she was one of the inaugural recipients of the Hiller Award. Both Black and Indigenous, Nelson says the award encouraged her to continue sharing her perspective and the story of others with similar lived experiences.

“Our stories have been silenced for so long, and I think it’s so important to tell these stories and really live in that truth,” Nelson says. “We're taking steps toward having a more equal perspective in cinema, but I don't think we're there yet.”

Emma Robins.
Emma Robins

Emma Robins, a third-year English major at Woodsworth College, grew up watching movies with her father, who used film to connect with distant family members. For Robins, the Hiller Award means giving back to her parents, who have been helping her pay her school tuition.

“To be able to give back to them by getting the scholarship, I think I have freed up their financial burden a little bit,” Robins says.

Corinne Abouem.
Corinne Abouem

When Corinne Abouem graduates, she’d like to become a screenwriter. A second-year student at New College, Abouem says she was thrilled to see an award specifically for Black and Indigenous students.

“This is such an honour being the first ones to receive this,” Abouem says. “I feel like I can make a change for future students that are Black and Indigenous and create a tighter network for Indigenous and Black students inside the Cinema Studies Institute.”