TIFF 2014: Young Canadian filmmakers to watch

Emerging Canadian filmmakers describe what it means to be invited to one of the world's most prestigious film events.

Emerging Canadian filmmakers make the cut at one of world's most important festivals

Slater Jewell-Kemker's psychological thriller Still makes its world premiere at TIFF 2014. (Grace Glowicki)

Slater Jewell-Kemker dropped out of high-school when she was 16 to become a filmmaker. Now, at just 22-years old she is making her debut at The Toronto International Film Festival with her psychological thriller Still.

The 16-minute dramatic short centres on a young woman who meets multiples of herself after a walk with her abusive boyfriend turns deadly. 

A graduate of the Canadian Film Centre's director's lab, it's not Kemker's first film festival. But, she says, being accepted into TIFF provides open access to a community of people that shape and influence movies on a global scale.

It’s a key that opens doors and confidence that you actually belong there.- Slater Jewell-Kemker, director, Still

"As a young filmmaker you get this magical filmmakers' pass that gets you into events, parties and films. It’s a key that opens doors and confidence that you actually belong there."

"You can go up to someone that you’ve been admiring for years, feel you can converse with them and won’t be taken as a stalker fan."

Besides the feeling of accomplishment that comes from TIFF’s acceptance, Kemker is happy to be a role model for other youth interested in filmmaking. "I definitely have a lot of younger girls come up to me that are excited about the idea that there's someone not that much older than themselves, a woman, being a filmmaker."

TIFF 'the gold standard'

It’s also Sol Friedman’s debut at TIFF. Friedman is the animator behind Day 40, an anti-creationist dark comedy about the story of Noah’s Ark told from the perspective of the animals.

Sol Friedman’s short animated film Day 40 is an anti-creationist dark comedy about the story of Noah’s Ark told from the perspective of the animals. (Juan Manuel Garcia)
"It’s the gold standard," he says.  "If you get approval from TIFF, people at the very least will watch your film. It gets your foot in the door and that’s hugely important if you want to get play at important festivals."

Beyond the prestige that comes from having his short film at TIFF, Friedman is looking forward to hearing the reaction from the audience.

"It’s a divisive film so I’m particularly excited to see how people react to it at an acclaimed festival and get feedback right away,” says Friedman. 

The 'goosebumps' moment

Growing up in Calgary and living in Vancouver, Randall Okita felt TIFF was far away and surrounded by a cloud of "elite awesomeness."

Now, with The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer, his fourth screening at the festival, he says having TIFF’s stamp of approval has allowed him to strengthen his clout as a filmmaker.

Randall Okita's The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer is his fourth film at TIFF. He says the exposure has strengthened his clout as a filmmaker. (Joyce Wong)
"People know and approve that stamp. I’ve been a part of festivals that people aren’t aware of but I’ve also played at TIFF. Therefore, people know there must be some level of quality in the work that’s being done here."

There's also the magic that comes with watching one's film with an audience.

"When the film starts I take a tiny peek back and see all the faces light up. That’s the goosebumps, that’s the moment you dream about,” he said.  

It scrambles your brain

After winning the award for best Canadian first feature film at TIFF 2013 for Asphalt Watches, filmmakers Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver have been around the world screening their debut film. 

With a schedule jam packed with parties and meetings ​Ehman and Scriver say they were too busy to have expectations during last year’s festival. 

"Now we’re catching a ride with the movie," said Ehman. "It feels like once you’re on a festival like TIFF it’s a total springboard to showing it around the world because we don’t even apply to festivals and they just ask us."

Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver won Best Canadian First Feature Film at TIFF 2013 for Asphault Watches. (CBC News)
Now, the filmmakers are working on a storyboard for their next movie thanks to a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

But Scriver says they got the biggest big boost from meeting with fellow filmmakers: "Other people really wanted to help us and give us advice. There were lots of warnings. It scrambles your brain and makes you paranoid and nervous but it’s still quite sweet."

The Toronto International Film Festival runs Sept. 4-14.

Follow CBC Arts coverage of the festival here.