The great reinvention of Layton Burton

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Regina film stalwart turned professor continues to support local/ Heidi Atter

Satisfying the need for change

By Adeoluwa Atayero

A quick Google search will show you that Millenials and members of Generation Z are reportedly prone to sky-high levels of anxiety and depression. While there are a plethora of reasons responsible for this haunting reality, at the very top of the list is a daunting feeling of failure. Unlike the generations that came before them, Millenials and “Gen Zers” seem to be very in their own heads about what success truly means. This obsession with figuring things out and being successful at a young age has created a world filled with ticking time bombs. What the “kids” do not seem to realize is that though sometimes success comes early, many times it does not. However, as you grow older, your definition of having it “figured out” changes often and drastically. You do not have to take my word for it. Just ask Layton Burton.

If you met Layton on any given day at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism, you would find it hard to believe that he is the vibrant age of 58. Whether it is the cheerful hue of his colourful laughter bouncing through the walls of the school’s studio or the passion that seeps through his intense glare when his eyes are focusing on a subject, Layton radiates youthfulness and a specific genre of warmth.

However, years before he was sharing his light at the University as a lab instructor, Layton was a successful filmmaker who had it “all figured out.” He has worked on everything from news photography (CBC-TV) to working as lighting cameraman (Utopia Café and Sesame Street) and then going on to become a Director of Photography and Director on television shows, feature films, and documentaries (Patient 62, April Doesn’t Hurt Her, Basic Human Needs and Separate Beds). With over 35 years of working in the industry, Layton was able to lead an adventurous and comfortable life for himself and his family. Until he was not.

On March 21, 2012, Saskatchewan’s provincial government made a decision to cancel the film tax credit. It was a decision met with much opposition because of the implications it would have for the province’s film industry. Many of Layton’s colleagues and friends, heartbroken and faced with a tough new reality, opted to leave the place they had come to know as home. Layton, instead, chose the road less travelled.

“I decided to go back to school because I had an interest in teaching. I got my film degree and began my master’s degree”, says Layton. “I was lucky enough to be asked to come and work for the Journalism School at the university to teach broadcast news, which is where I started, and documentary production, which I loved and was a real training ground for me.” Layton recalls making a decision to go back to school and naturally, feeling anxious about taking classes with “young people”.

“I wondered if I was going to measure up, wondered if I was going to be successful and wondered whether or not I had made the right decision.”  A humbling experience by every standard, Layton chose to take it all in stride and that has made all the difference.

Reflecting on changing career paths in his early fifties, Layton had this to say, “my reinvention of myself is surprising to me because I never thought I would find a career that I loved as much as making films and television in Saskatchewan until now.” It is noteworthy to mention that Layton is no stranger to resilience or adjusting realities. In fact, his journey with adapting and thriving can be traced back to the moment he officially joined the human race. Layton was adopted as a baby which made him always feel like something was different in his life. “I loved my adopted parents, they were my parents, but as I got older I needed to find out why I had been given up.”

This need turned into a two-year search to find his biological birth parents. Unfortunately, his biological father had passed away by the time he began his search but his biological mother was still alive. At the age of 39, Layton describes his reunion with his mother as a “watershed moment”. Layton also believes that having children of his own (a son and a daughter) inspired the search and helped him process, understand, and appreciate that moment even more. In his own words, Layton says, “being a father accelerated my want and desire to find those people and find out who I really was”.

The journey of self-discovery and reinvention continues for Layton who admits that he is understandably now “boring” these days.

“My typical day starts by waking up and looking forward to getting to school and seeing my students. I love imparting knowledge whilst trying to learn from them. Then I come home and reunite with the light of my life, my wife.”

Layton admits that while he does miss working on a set, he does not miss the hard work.

“At my age, I do not know if I could have kept up with that lifestyle. This is why I love being a mentor. In my new role, I am able to inspire passion for people to become cinematographers, journalists, writers or painters. That desire to push boundaries and go places you would never have gone but your art takes you to. That is my new passion.”

African-American novelist, Toni Morrison, famously wrote “if you surrendered to the air, you can ride it.” This is not a school of thought that is popular with the youth of today and it is not hard to see why. In this age of instant gratification and “overnight successes,” it becomes increasingly easier to feel a need for planning out every second of every day and to hold yourself to impossible standards. With Layton’s story, however, it is evident that even after years of success and flying, life happens. And then what?

What would you do if a career you’ve loved for over two decades was suddenly taken away from you? When life happens, what matters is how you respond. Will you cave in and retreat? Will you keep fighting with the wind? Or will you surrender to the air? Layton has obviously chosen the latter and from where this writer stands, surrendering seems pretty fly.

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