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Meet the filmmakers of Talent Lab, the festival's cinematic think tank

Meet the filmmakers of Talent Lab, the festival's cinematic think tank. Each year, 20 emerging international directors and producers come to Toronto to experience five days of master classes from the world’s best directors, producers and actors.
Talent Lab filmmakers (left to right): Ricky Rijneke, Alexis Van Stratum, Amin Dora and Joey Klein. (Pascal Chiarello)

It's a Toronto International Film Festival event that's the definition of intimate and exclusive, but VIP sections and red carpets have nothing to do with it. Instead, it's all about what really brings the festival together: the movies. It's called Talent Lab. A think tank for new talent, 20 emerging international filmmakers, or "Labbers," come to Toronto to experience five days of master classes from the world's best directors, producers and actors. Think Atom Egoyan, Steve McQueen, Tilda Swinton, Brian DePalma — they've all been guests.

Guiding them are four governors, cinema idols and pros who moderate the hourly Q&As from nine to five, while mentoring the Labbers one-on-one. This year's are directors Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) and Malgorzata Szumowska (Body) and producers Jim Stark (Coffee and Cigarettes) and Christine Vachon (Boys Don't Cry).

Extra-curricular discussion. 2015 Talent Lab participants, fresh from a day of master classes with some of film's greatest minds, hang out at Toronto's CN Tower. (Pascal Chiarello)

"The access to speakers is extraordinary," says Helen du Toit, an independent producer and artistic director of the Palm Springs Film Festival who's produced Talent Lab for four years. The speakers, who sit with the Labbers for hour-long conversations, reflect the "whole range" of experience, from star veterans to mid-career filmmakers and even first-timers. "I try to find a programme that covers a broad range of subjects and nationalities," she explains, drawing from TIFF's and her own top-tier connections. "Piers Handling (TIFF's director and CEO) created this 12 years ago," she says. "If I say 'Piers, I would love to have Stephen Frears, he writes to Stephen.'"

Imagine being able to ask your film heroes anything — and you're meeting a new one every hour, for five days straight. CBC Arts photographed a few of this year's Talent Lab participants after a day of sessions, and asked them what it's like on the inside.

Helen du Toit, Producer TIFF Talent Lab

"We've had people who've gone through the Lab who go to other events like this around the world, but it's very small here. There are only 20 people who participate so it's very intimate. Every day you can ask your film heroes very specific questions that will help you enhance your own craft when you go back to the set."

Joey Klein, Talent Lab filmmaker

"I'm so excited about tomorrow," says Klein, a Toronto actor turned filmmaker. "There's this cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, who did a lot of movies like Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love. Just because of a shortage of interviewers, I'm going to be the one who gets to be the moderator and ask questions.

"My big question I want to ask? I am totally more than inspired by him. I've absolutely stolen from him. He works with this process called step printing. … When you do it, you get this beautiful streaky quality in your image. I've just completely taken that for my first two shorts and my first feature, The Other Half, which I just shot. I'm really interested in asking him what came first between style and story. And I don't care what the answer is."

Christine Vachon, producer and Talent Lab governor

"The Talent Labbers just want practical information," says Vachon, producer of some of the most acclaimed indie films of the last 20 years, including Kids and Far From Heaven.  

"Some of them want to know, How do I have my movie seen in America? Some of them want to know, How do I tell an international story? When we're interviewing other directors, a lot of their questions are very technical. You know, how did you shoot that, what did you say to that actor?

"I've spoken at the Talent Lab many times, but this is the first time I've been a governor. So, being able to spend five or six days with these people participating, getting to know them, getting to understand their projects. And they all do come from a variety of different places where it's easier to make films than others. Most of them are telling deeply personal stories."

Marina Person, Talent Lab filmmaker

"I'm meeting people who are doing the same thing," says Person. In Toronto from Brazil, she's completing her first feature, a coming-of-age story set in 1980s Sao Paulo called California.

"They have the same anxieties and questions and when you're dealing with creativity you always question yourself. Am I doing the right thing? Am I going in the right direction? Am I asking myself the right questions? And then you hear from Stephen Frears and Jean-Marc Vallee and Wim Wenders and they ask themselves the same questions, they worry about the same issues."

Malgorzata Szumowska, director and Talent Lab governor

Polish director Szumowska's new feature, Body, just won the Silver Berlin Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. It's currently playing at TIFF, where she's mentoring at Talent Lab, moderating discussions with its guests. "The people who are coming to the Lab, even if they're big stars as directors, I can see they feel responsibility for these young filmmakers. It's very emotional. And you can see that they're also nervous," she says. "Can you imagine? They're coming to see these filmmakers and they're nervous because they really want to give them something. I think it's a really unique experience."

Follow CBC Arts on Instagram for more of the people and places of TIFF.

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