Breaking out: Emerging Canadian filmmakers at TIFF
By Jon Hembrey, CBC News
Posted: Aug 24, 2011 1:41 PM ET
Last Updated: Aug 24, 2011 3:00 PM ET
Among the hundreds of thousands of people attending the Toronto International Film Festival this year — including A-list celebrities, auteurs of global repute and screaming fans — will be a handful of emerging Canadian filmmakers looking to cut their teeth at the global film fete.
For some, it will be the first time they've shown any work at the festival; for others who have screened short films in past years, it will be the debut of feature-length films.
At the very least, it ought to be a confidence booster, said Steven Gravestock, associate director of Canadian programming at TIFF.
"It's a very large, public festival, which has a major, major industry component," he said. "I think it introduces the films to the world."
TIFF is often ranked as one of the most important international festivals and is an ideal launching pad for emerging filmmakers.
Getting into the festival is no small feat either.
Only 10 per cent of the more than 3,400 features and short films submitted were selected for TIFF 2011.
Canada First! program focuses on newcomers
There are seven films in the Canada First! program, which spotlights filmmakers showing features at TIFF for the first time.
Among that group are Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas, who co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed Amy George, a film about a 13-year-old who searches for adventure beyond the confines of his middle class Toronto upbringing in his journey to become an artist.
'It's the biggest thing that has happened to us, for sure.'—Calvin Thomas, filmmaker
The two only graduated from Sheridan College's media arts program in 2008, and Amy George is their first feature production.
Although the film already screened at the Brooklyn Film Festival this summer, where it won a "Spirit" award (given to films that embody the spirit of the festival), the two said they were excited for its Toronto premiere.
"It's the biggest thing that has happened to us, for sure," Thomas said.
Lewis and Thomas raised $50,000 from family and friends to make the movie and said they would like to find someone at TIFF willing to distribute it (either in theatres or through video-on-demand services).
"Really, it would just be nice to release the film publicly," Thomas said.
TIFF screening adds credibility
The same goes for TIFF first-timer Christian Sparkes.
"It's just about getting a large group of people to see your work and all the kind of prestige that comes along with TIFF," said Sparkes.
Sparkes will be debuting A River in the Woods, a short film about a group of feral children who befriend a monster.
"I think a lot of people as soon as you put that TIFF laurel on the DVD box, they assume, rightly or wrongly, that you are making a film of a certain standard," he said.Zoe Bell stars as Alice in A River in the Woods from Canadian filmmaker Christian Sparkes. Courtesy A. A. Scott McClellan/Away Films
Sparkes, who recently moved to Toronto from St. John's to attend the Canadian Film Centre film school, said when he submitted it, he wasn't sure his short would get into the prestigious festival at all.
"It's hard to know who is going to watch it," he said. "Do they get a stack of 1,000 DVDs and is mine the 850th they're going to watch that day?"
The filmmaker has directed several shorts that have shown at other festivals, but A River in the Woods was his first try for TIFF.
"I'm one for one," Sparkes said with a laugh.
Tips for festival first-timers
Organizers held a filmmakers' boot camp in Toronto leading up to this year's festival geared at helping first-timers get the most out of TIFF.
Attendees heard from industry professionals about how to attract press attention, how best to distribute their work and how to leverage the success of short films into larger, feature-length projects.
According to Simon Davidson, whose film The Odds is showing as part of the Canada First! roster, it is common for emerging filmmakers to get some exposure with shorts before moving up to features.
"It's a great way to start building your expertise or generating the stories you want to tell," he said from Vancouver.Tyler Johnston(right) stars as Desson in The Odds, a murder myster set in the world of illegal teenage gambling. Courtesy VKYR
Davidson has screened three shorts at TIFF over the last six years, but The Odds, a murder mystery centred around illegal teenage gambling, is his first feature to play in Toronto. It will also have its international debut at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea this October.
The film will be released in Canada through Kinosmith Inc., an independent distribution and marketing company based in Toronto.
Davidson is also hoping to find someone to bring his film to international markets, which is why he plans to take his fourth TIFF experience a little more seriously than past visits.
"We have not just a goal but a responsibility, because we have investors," he said.
In previous years, Davidson said, he didn't have a plan; he simply showed up and had a good time.
Audience reaction a thrill
Davidson said he planned to use the buzz generated from his TIFF screening to promote himself and his film.
"You just want to take advantage of having everyone in one place and while your name is out there a bit," he said.
Having a good time — and ensuring those who come to see his film do so as well — is still part of the plan, Davidson said.
"Another goal for Toronto is to fill up our screening and to get people to come out and enjoy the movie," he said. "I mean, I can't wait to see the reaction of, hopefully, 250 people who have no vested interest in the movie."
Davidson admitted he was both thrilled and nervous at the prospect of showing his film to the world.
"You don't really know what the reaction is going to be until you're there," he said.
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