Monday, January 5, 2015

Where They're At: Toronto DIY Filmmakers

Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival is now going on from January 2nd to the 11th, and as the program highlights some of last year’s best Canadian films, it’s great to see that it include works by some of the prominent emerging Toronto directors like Kazik Radwanski, Albert Shin and Andrew Cividino.
Radwanski’s Cutaway and Cividino’s Sleeping Giant, which are both in the Shorts program that are screening Friday, January 9th at 9PM, are exceptional works that demonstrate the richness, ambition and creativity of the short-film format in the Canadian film landscape.
Cutaway tells the story of a construction worker who’s confronted with his girlfriend’s aborted pregnancy. It’s minimal style of being shot entirely in close-ups of the young man’s hands (who is played by Radwanski himself), with its conciseness and spirituality, recalls the Robert Bresson of L’Argent and Lancelot du Lac, and its tragic premise and brief running time of seven minutes recalls the Ernest Hemingway’s famous flash fiction story, ‘For Sale: baby shoes, never worn’.
While in Sleeping Giant three boys spend their summer near Lake Superior having fun and causing trouble. It climaxes with a dare between two of them to jump off a very high cliff into the water. Cividino, who is coming from a zombie film We Ate the Children Last (2011), is planning to expand Sleeping Giant into a feature. The short is most affective when it’s capturing coming of age experiences of these youth and its lead’s bourgeoning feelings towards the young girl that’s around.
In Her Place, which is playing on January 6th at 8:45PM and the 8th at 3PM, is Albert Shin’s second feature after Point Traverse (2010). The film tells the story of an affluent couple from Seoul who goes to a South Korean countryside farm, and where the wife will stay, as their expecting to adopt a paid for baby from a mother and her pregnant teenage daughter. The filming style of In Her Place recalls the poetic-realism of Lee Chang-dong and the social criticism and (at times) dream-like nature of Luis Buñuel. It’s polished and accomplished. 

On the subject of these young independent Toronto directors, with the start of 2015 here, it’s worth checking up on them to see where they are. Since my last survey (cf. Toronto DIY Cinema) the bulk of these directors have had major screenings and are in the process of making new works. There has also been a great essay on the subject at Toronto Film Scene by Trista Devries who in the piece The New Toronto New Wave, with the help of interviewee Steve Gravestock, provides an impressive lists of the major directors and trends of this movement, especially in regards to the opportunities that arose due to the accessibility of digital video.
MDFF seems to be at the forefront of this movement. The production company, which are now also running one of the city’s best independent film series, includes Radwanski, Dan Montgomery and Antoine Bourges. They closed 2014 with a special screening of Cutaway paired with Denis Côté’s Joy of Man’s Desiring in one of their most attended event at the AGO’s Jackman Hall. Radwanski in an interview with Angelo Muredda for the Torontoist speaks about Côté that, “Denis is a hero to us. Carcasses is one of our favorite Canadian films.” On the Toronto filmmaking scene, Radwanski talks about how Olivier Père called them the ‘Canadian cousins’ of the new generation of American independent filmmakers. And New York City is also taking notice. The Museum of the Moving Image, coming up in mid-January, will have one of the first programs that will be featuring this group in their First Look series. They’ll be spotlighting Radwanski (Cutaway, Green Crayons), Bourges (Woman Waiting, and the exciting new William in White Shirt), and Sofia Bohdanowicz (the trilogy of Modlitwa, Wieczór and Dalsza Modlitwa). The directors will be in attendance for a question and answer period, which will be moderated by Adam Nayman. A must for anyone in that city.
The announcement of Bourges’s William in White Shirt is the big discovery of the series. Since East Hastings Pharmacy in 2012, and with Bourges move from Vancouver to Toronto, everyone was wondering what Bourges would do next? How will he evolve artistically? Apparently he’s now working on a new script and project. But just the fact that he had a short film that has never been screened and that it’s now becoming available is a real revelation. William in White Shirt continues Bourges’s project of Woman Waiting and East Hastings of that of a humanizing social ethnography. What Bourges brings to his portrait of those that are outcasted in society is a mise en égalité without any stereotyping whether they are poor and homeless, criminals or drug addicts. As he says to Ezra Winton in A Conceptual Intervention in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside: An Interview with Antoine Bourges (Screening Truth to Power), “I am always more attracted to films where characters are not treated in a negative way, where you try to see people as they are and not keep them marginalized.

The other current projects by these directors are vast. Some of the following are confirmed, and others are hearsay, things that I gleaned from conversation with some of the directors or acquaintances. If there are any mistakes or wrong facts, it's all my fault (and please correct me).
The director Pavan Moondi and his producer Brian Robertson will have their new film Diamond Tongues, which stars Leah Fay from the band July Talk, premiere at Slamdance. While Christopher Heron, also from The Seventh Art, made a new video-essay, The Style of Xavier Dolan, which will screen before Mommy as part of CTT. Calvin Thomas, Yonah and Lev Lewis are still in post-production on their new film, whose title I think is, Spice It Up!, which is about a young group of women who have a crazy summer after high school before they join the military. As well I hear their getting ready for a new project. Matt Johnson and his crew are making a period film set in the Fifties in the same way they made The Dirties. I hear the trailer for it is supposed really cool. Igor Drljača, at Time Lapse Pictures with Shin, is following up on Krivina with Tabija, a project that was awarded support from the Hubert Bals Fund, and The Waiting Room which will now follow Drago (Jasmin Geljo), but in a more fantasy dark-humor direction, which seems like it hawks back to his The Battery-Powered Duckling. Nadia Litz is working on a new project The People Garden with the help of Telefilm and with the actresses Liane Balaban and Pamela Anderson. And she also just starred in Jefferson Moneo’s Big Muddy. Lina Rodriguez is back in Columbia to make her second film after the successful Señoritas. On Blake Williams, Darren Hughes's consideration at Senses of Cinema is especially insightful, “Many a Swan, which screened at Wavelengths in 2012, treats the found, two-dimensional images as pieces of paper, folding and bending them like origami. In Baby Blue (2013), he experiments – in the true sense of the word – with parallax, exploring the 3D effects that result when objects move horizontally through the frame at various speeds and at various depths of field. Red Capriccio continues this inquiry into the fundamental components of anaglyph 3D by focusing on blue-red separation.” I think Simon Ennis is working on a new project (something Noir related?) after having shot some of the footage in Ron Mann's great new Altman documentary. Daniel Cockburn is finishing a new screenplay, and with its intellectual puzzles it seems like it will be similar to You Are Here. Leslie Supnet is working on a found-footage apocalypse film. And Meelad Moaphi is trying to get more screenings for his great new short-film Every Monday.

Our voices are growing.

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