Three students win Best Canadian Film at annual Toronto Smartphone Film Festival

A man with a scared look on his face holding up a red broom while standing in the doorway of a home

A still from the short film, The Pigeon, featuring lead actor and McMaster student Luca Bernardini

When is a pigeon not just a pigeon? When does it become a symbol of chaos and disorder? 

To find that out, you’ll have to watch The Pigeon, a short film by McMaster students Nikos Papadakis, Giuliano Serafino and Luca Bernardini that just won “Best Canadian Film” in the annual Toronto Smartphone Film Festival. 

The three produced the five-minute film — shot entirely on a smartphone — as their final project in Visual Storytelling (THTRFLM/IARTS 3VS3), a third-year course in the School of the Arts taught by associate professor Joseph Sokalski. 

We chatted with co-director Giuliano Serafino about the experience. 

Can you tell me a little about yourselves? 

I’m Giuliano, from Stoney Creek, Ontario. I’ve just graduated from the Honours Life Sciences program and I’m about to start my first year of medical school at the University of Limerick.  

Luca, who’s from Toronto, has also graduated from the Honours Life Sciences program and will be doing his master’s in Global Health at McMaster University next year.  

Niko, also from Toronto, has graduated from the Honours Bachelor of Commerce program and is taking a gap year to work prior to doing a master’s degree.  

Together, we co-founded Seradiniakis Films, combining our names and our passion for innovative storytelling! 

What’s The Pigeon about? 

The Pigeon is a psychological drama short about Jonathan Noel, a man with an obsessive need for order. His morning routine is thrown into disarray by the sudden appearance of a pigeon on his front porch. The film explores themes of chaos and control, delving into Jonathan’s struggle to maintain his meticulously structured world. 

Watch The Pigeon on the Seradiniakis Films YouTube channel  

What was the inspiration for the film? 

The inspiration came from a blend of personal experiences and a fascination with the unpredictable nature of life. We wanted to explore how a seemingly trivial event could disrupt someone’s entire sense of order. The pigeon symbolizes chaos, an uncontrollable force that Jonathan has to confront, reflecting our own experiences with unexpected challenges.  

Additionally, we were loosely inspired by the short story The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind. While the plot of our film is entirely different, we borrowed the character of Jonathan and his fear of pigeons.  

Dr. Joseph Sokalski, our film professor, was another major source of inspiration. He encouraged us to submit the film to festivals and was an outstanding mentor to us throughout the process. 

What are some of the challenges and benefits to producing a film on a smartphone? 

The process was both challenging and rewarding. Filming with a smartphone offered incredible flexibility and allowed us to shoot in locations that would have been difficult with traditional equipment.  

However, working on a phone had its drawbacks. We had to keep our hands steady, which was tough without proper stabilization equipment. The quality wasn’t always the best, and we couldn’t use high-quality lenses.  

The editing process, especially color grading, was particularly challenging. Niko and I spent all night figuring out the color grading to ensure it matched our vision for the film. At times, it felt like the pigeon in our film had pecked at our patience too! 

What did you learn in Dr. Sokalski’s class that you were able to apply to the making of the film? 

Dr. Sokalski’s class was instrumental in shaping our approach to storytelling. We learned the importance of narrative structure, character development, and visual symbolism. These lessons were crucial in creating The Pigeon 

Dr. Sokalski has a unique ability to inspire and challenge his students, pushing us to think deeply about our narratives and characters. His insights into the subtleties of visual storytelling and his emphasis on the emotional arc of characters helped us craft a more compelling and nuanced film.  

His guidance and encouragement were invaluable, and his passion for filmmaking truly motivated us to strive for excellence!  

How did it feel to win Best Canadian Film? 

Winning the Best Canadian Film award at the Toronto Smartphone Film Festival was an incredible honor and a huge surprise. We were thrilled and humbled by the recognition. It validated all the hard work and creative effort we put into the film.  

The announcement was a surreal moment, and it has inspired us to continue pursuing our passion for filmmaking. The festival featured outstanding films from all over the world, including the USA, Australia, Colombia, and Uruguay. We were particularly impressed by Idiot-Proof from Australian actor and director Jonathan Lagudi, which was our favourite film of the festival. 

What’s next? 

We’re thrilled to share that we’re already working on our next short film! This time, we’re aiming for a longer project with a higher budget so we can use professional equipment and really take our storytelling to the next level.  

While we can’t reveal too many details just yet, we can say that the entire film takes place in a diner and is inspired by Edward Hopper’s iconic painting, Nighthawks, one of our favourites. With another film festival on the horizon, we’re excited to explore new cinematic techniques and create an even more immersive experience for our audience! 

Anything you’d like to add? 

We’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks to McMaster University for providing such a supportive environment that nurtures creativity and innovation. The resources and mentorship we’ve received here have been invaluable.  

A special shoutout goes to Dr. Joseph Sokalski, whose passion for filmmaking and dedication to his students has been truly inspiring. His guidance on narrative structure, character development, and visual storytelling was instrumental in creating The Pigeon 

We’re also grateful to our peers and professors who have been part of this journey. Stay tuned to Seradiniakis Films for more exciting projects! 

Interested in the class that inspired The Pigeon? THTRFLM/IARTS 3VS3: Visual Storytelling runs again in Spring 2025, and is open to students in any program in Level II or above. 

Related Stories