When award-winning filmmaker David Mewa walked into Mustang Lounge to produce Western Stories and Songs – an evening of performances and interviews for Homecoming 2020 – his mind wandered back to his student days when the space was a huge gym.
Memories of playing hoops with buddies. Of working out with weights and then grabbing a quick bite in Centrespot.
“My head was spinning – walking into places I remembered but were so different,” said Mewa, BA’02 (King’s, Film Studies), whose work directing for film, television and music videos has drawn international acclaim.
This day, Mewa returned to campus as the creative mind charged with bringing the Alumni Relations team’s vision to life in a two-hour, online video showpiece that will cap this year’s virtual Homecoming on October 17.
Together they share their music and their stories – including important conversations about Indigenous identity, representation and anti-black racism – in a program that, by turns, is thought-provoking, upbeat, nostalgic and high-energy.
“It’s more than just a concert, and part of the purpose of this program was to create a story arc,” Mewa said. “There’s some social commentary that I’m hoping to address, because we have a bigger audience and bigger ideas than we would have had if there was just one venue.”
While COVID-19 has meant there will be no on-campus Homecoming events, alumni will have access to a wide range of interactive programming that includes online class reunions, virtual campus tours, faculty conversations, coffeehouses, webinars and lectures.
“It’s Western’s 71stHomecoming and one of the taglines has always been that it’s Canada’s best homecoming so there was no way we were going to let the occasion go unnoticed,” said Tyler Forkes, executive director of Western’s Alumni Relations.
“Our goal right from the beginning was to capture the idea that this is not just any virtual event. It’s a Homecoming event. That’s why we’re calling this ‘virtually Canada’s best Homecoming.’”
The program: Yes, there’s even a (virtual) Mustang football game
The day will start with a moving acknowledgement that Western sits on traditional Indigenous lands and honours its original peoples.
President Alan Shepard and Chancellor Linda Hasenfratz will each address alumni, and Shepard will speak at a virtual brunch to Western’s golden alumni, Mustangs who graduated 50 or more years ago.
There’s even a rebroadcast of the 2019 Homecoming football game against the Ottawa Gee-Gees (spoiler alert: Western wins) and highlights of women’s athletics, complete with tailgate party recipes, marching band, cheer team and half-time interviews.
Many faculties and affiliate university college have their own programs and breakout groups for class reunions.
And then will come the grand finale, the Western Stories and Songs program led by hosts CTV’s etalk Los Angeles correspondent Liz Trinnear BA’10 and Homecoming chair David Simmonds, BA’07.
With the use of more than a dozen cameras, professional lighting and top-end sound, Mewa was able to create an experience that, for the viewer, will be better than being front-row-centre.
“It was a bustling set but we were very careful to adhere to health and safety protocols,” Forkes said of the full day of activity to prepare and record the evening program. He commended the professionalism and creativity of the artists, crew and staff of the USC Production Team.
Global, and local, outreach
Forkes said one unexpected advantage of this year’s Homecoming is that virtual events aren’t limited by geography: alumni living out of country, or others who might not have been able to travel to London, can still participate and connect with old friends.
Another benefit to organizing virtual events is that more members of the community – students and potential students, staff, faculty, friends and family – can join in to help celebrate.
“If there’s a silver lining to going virtual this year, it’s that we have a great opportunity for global engagement. When the time comes that we can safely get together in person, our plan is to maintain some virtual components so that we can continue to have that reach.
“The new way of doing things will not be exactly like the old way of doing things – alumni engagement has evolved.”
Homecoming 2020 takes place October 16-18, with the bulk of the activity taking place on Saturday, Oct. 17. Events are free.
Game Day streaming will begin at 2 p.m. ET
The Stories and Songs event will be livestreamed starting at 8 p.m. ET (and will remain on the page for at least 24 hours so that alumni around the world can also watch at a time convenient to them).
Other events, lectures and class reunions are open to everyone, but require registration. Registrants will be emailed links that will connect them to their events. Click on the right side of each events profile page to reserve a spot.
Alumni may also call the Homecoming hotline at 519-661-2199 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Bonus footage from David Mewa’s highlight reel
Sometimes it’s only in the rear-view mirror that you notice the roads that led you here weren’t so random after all.
For David Mewa, who studied film at Western almost two decades ago, it’s important to reflect now on the path that seemed far less relevant then.
“I had moments when I was in school when I thought, ‘why am I doing this? I just want to make films.’ I was so anxious to get out there and I just thought I’d never return.”
Since graduating, Mewa has produced, directed and photographed projects across several genres of film and video. He has worked with broadcasters such as CBC, HGTV and HBO and major brands such as Scion and L’Oréal Paris.
He has directed music videos with a creativity that has won him international awards for artistry.
And now, as he returned to London to craft a memorable Homecoming show for 2020, he reflected on how his own homecoming had offered new perspective on his studies.
“All the continuous hours of screening, deep writing and commentary on the lives of filmmakers gave me this deep library of references that I use today.
“The work I did at Western taught me how to be a leader, taught me how to be a creator, gave me a rich library of references to draw upon … It’s been kind of a trip I hadn’t pictured at all.”
A sneak peek behind the scenes of Western Stories and Songs