TIFF 2016: Television goes beyond film's boundaries

TIFF's Primetime program offers sneak peaks of popular television shows for a second year, but the co-creator of the new series Nirvanna the band the show says he's having a different experience at the festival than his fellow filmmakers.

TV series in this year's Primetime Program are experiencing TIFF differently

Jay McCarrol (left) and Matt Johnson (right) are co-creators of Viceland's new series, Nirvanna the band the show and are screening episodes from their revamped cult-hit web series about a Toronto band who will do anything to play a show at The Rivoli. (Courtesy of TIFF)

Television is back at the Toronto International Film Festival for its sophomore year and while TIFF is shining a big screen spotlight on "episodic storytelling" — one local TV director says he's not feeling the heat that he normally does when showcasing a movie.

Matt Johnson is no stranger to film festivals. The co-creator and director of the TV series Nirvanna the band the show attended Sundance earlier this year for the premiere of his conspiracy thriller film, Operation Avalanche and three years ago his award-winning independent film, The Dirties stole Slamdance Film Festival. 

Now back on the red carpet — this time in his hometown for a TV series — the 31-year-old says he isn't "trying to garner the same type of attention because television doesn't need to live up to the same sort of commercial standards that films do."

Nirvanna the band the show is filmed in Toronto and is the only Canadian television show in the Primetime program. (Courtesy of TIFF)

The difference is distribution

Nirvanna the band the show is airing on Viceland in January and was picked up by Vice Media prior to the festival. The show is a revamped version of Johnson's cult-hit web series about a Toronto band who will do anything to play a show at The Rivoli.

Other series in this year's program like Shomi's comedy Transparent, Channel 4's British sci-fi series Black Mirror premiering on Netflix next month, Wajibu Wetu programme's Tuko Macho a web series produced by the Nest Collective and set in Nairobi, Kenya, and HBO's mini series, Wasteland all have distributors too.

Tuko Macho is a web series set in Nairobi, Kenya that challenges the crime and corruption of the city. (Courtesy of TIFF)

Distribution makes all the difference according to Johnson. Many films at TIFF are feeling the pressure to find distributors, while shows like newcomer Nirvanna the band the show don't have to worry about that.

"It's actually more fun because there's no stress. We aren't trying to sell this TV show," said Johnson.

Despite the security that comes with going into TIFF with a distributor, creators say having the opportunity to showcase their series at the festival is still important. 

"TIFF is doing a good job at representing the culture of television," said Jay McCarrol, co-creator of Nirvanna the band the show. "TV is such a huge thing right now in the world. TV does, I think for a lot of people, a lot more than what movies can do these days."

While the lines continue to blur between the television and film worlds, TIFF's CEO and director, Piers Handling says some of the most interesting work he's seen is being done in long-form television. 

"We saw that trend and wanted to follow the filmmakers, traditional filmmakers when they start to move in different directions," he told CBC News about the inclusion of TV through the festival's Primetime program.

"I think it allows filmmakers a freedom, and a form, a length, an extension where you can actually take on big subjects. 10 hours, 20 hours, 30 hours of long form television. So it allows you to tackle subjects that are very different from a feature film." 

Bryce Dallas Howard stars in the third season of the TV series Black Mirror that is premiering at TIFF. (Courtesy of TIFF)

Movie stars like Bryce Dallas Howard have started to follow filmmakers to the small screen as well.

"I have never done any television and this is a remarkable experience because it feels very movie-like because it's an anthology," said Howard, who stars in the third season of Black Mirror.

"Each episode in the series stands alone. So we felt like we were making a movie the whole time." 

The five television series showcased in this year's Primetime program cross many different genres of television.

Johnson says his "feels like the television that happens when all the parents are asleep and the young people go in, take the equipment and make the show." So the director says having a spot in this year's lineup was a big deal. 

"This is our hometown and we're showing this very Toronto-centric show to a Toronto audience for the first time, and that I think is really cushioning it," he said about his comedic "mockumentary."

"One of the big dreams for Jay (McCarrol) and I ever since we started working together was to be able to present content about Toronto to people from Toronto and see what they thought and its blown away our expectations and TIFF has been a big part of that." 

With files from Ali Chiasson