Thursday, July 3, 2014

Toronto DIY Filmmakers (Summer 2014)

There's a Canadian Open Vault screening of The Strip and Drying up the Streets on Sunday, July 6th at 6:15PM at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in conjunction with the launch of the World Film Locations book on Toronto (Intellect Books) and some of its contributors, including the programmer Steve Gravestock (whose spotlights in the book are one of its many highlights), will be there for a signing.  The book is great for locals or tourist that want to better know Toronto through its cinema as it includes some of the city’s canonized films and where they are on a map with stills and contemporary pictures. It’s surprising to discover how many American films were actually filmed in these streets due to the city’s generous tax credits. Like who knew Fever Pitch or Good Will Hunting were shot in Toronto?

On the subject of the actualities of Toronto filmmaking it's worth bringing up some of its more interesting young directors. Still early on in their careers they can really benefit from extra media attention. I’ve labeled this small group the Toronto DIY filmmakers as they are representative of a new model of resourceful economic filmmaking and are telling very specific Toronto stories in formally interesting ways. (A New Toronto Formalism, perhaps?) These directors include Kazik Radwanski, Calvin Thomas and Yonah and Lev Lewis, Simon Ennis, Igor Drljaca, Matt Johnson, Daniel Cockburn, Blake Williams, Cabot McNenly and Steve McKay, Sofia Bohdanowicz and Joanna Durkalec, Pavan Moondi, and Meelad Moaphi. It’s not that there’s one thing connecting this diverse group of filmmakers. They aren’t homogenous or even a “movement.” In Krivina a refugee from the Bosnian war living in Toronto goes back to his home country to find his lost brother, and Poopsie Dries Out is a Larry David-like comedy about a recovering alcoholic. Every Monday has a young Iranian-Canadian boy trying to please both his mother and grandfather, and Everyday is Like Sunday is a typical romantic comedy about awkward twentysomething year olds. The diversity is huge but what is shared is a life-affirming ethos. The title of one of these first full-length features Simon Ennis’ You Might as Well Live perfectly captures this live your life to the fullest attitude. In Tower Derek takes a bath in ice, and in The Oxbow Cure a young women goes to a winter cottage to confront her illness. These directors are young and a lot of them have only started making films after recently graduating from production programs at either Ryerson, York or U of T in the last ten years. Their films capture something youthful, raw and poetic about the city. The filmmakers are cinephiles too and they read Cinema Scope (some of them have even been featured or write for them) and regularly attend the Cinematheque or the MDFF screenings, which are great events for the discovery of unique American independent films. They are featured on interviews at The Seventh Art and the movement’s figurehead film-critic Adam Nayman recently shouted them out on The Cinephiliacs. Some of their debt to film history includes: Radwanski and Antoine Bourges (also from MDFF) speak of an Allan King influence; the film by Nadia Litz, who acted in several prominent Canadian films (Monkey Warfare, You Are Here), Hotel Congress owes a lot to Bruce McDonald’s Highway 61; Simon Ennis is part of the Ron Mann school; Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis and Matt Johnson have all acknowledged a Steven Spielberg affinity; and Blake Williams and Daniel Cockburn are very much part of an experimental cinema tradition.

The works of these Toronto DIY filmmakers are more like artisanal products than the typical independent film: they are carefully conceptualized, directed with care, and finely edited. Many of these directors have new projects in the works and which would greatly benefit from and enhance any film festival or special film screening series. Just watch the difficulty Matt has to get a show at The Rivoli in Nirvana The Band as an equivalent of what it’s like being a young filmmaker. Hotel Congress was made as part of the 1K Wave which means that it only cost one-thousand dollars to make and it's also set in Tucson! And directors like Sofia Bohdanowicz, Sofia Rosenkranz, Fantavious Fritz, Meelad Moaphi, Michal Labik, Erik Anderson and Nicole Dorsey have to make a name for themselves in short-films before they can get the attention they deserve to be able to move up to the longer form. These are resourceful and poignant films.

Cinema is an expensive medium and its distribution is now harder to navigate than ever. These Toronto DIY Filmmakers are doing something important: they are the voice of our generation

Toronto DIY Cinema
·   The MDF Trilogy: Assault, Princess Margaret Blvd, Out In That Deep Blue Sea (Kazik Radwanski, 2009)
·      You Might as Well Live (Simon Ennis, 2009)
·      Nirvana The Band (Matt Johnson, 2009)
·      You Are Here (Daniel Cockburn, 2010)
·      Amy George (Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis, 2011)
·      Coorow-Latham Road (Blake Williams, 2011)
·      Tower (Kazik Radwanski, 2012)
·      Krivina (Igor Drljaca, 2012)
·      Poopsie Dries Out (Cabot McNenly and Steve McKay, 2012)
·      Dundas Street (Sofia Bohdanowicz and Joanna Durkalec, 2012
·      The Oxbow Cure (Calvin Thomas and Yonah and Lev Lewis, 2013)
·      The Dirties (Matt Johnson, 2013)
·      Everyday is Like Sunday (Pavan Moondi, 2013)
·      Hotel Congress (Nadia Litz, 2014)
·      Every Monday (Meelad Moaphi, 2014)

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