Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Toronto DIY Filmmakers in Cinema Scope 2015

Cinema Scope, perhaps the best film magazine, has had a good year in 2015. Four issues, four covers: Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room, Miguel Gomes for the Arabian Nights trilogy, a portrait of Hong Sang-soo after Right Now, Wrong won the Pardo d’oro at Locarno, and a portrait of a young Chantal Akerman in response to the news of her tragic death. A familiarity with at least these four figures provides a good base for an understanding of contemporary cinema, which can only be enriched by exploring some of the other titles and reviews throughout the magazine.

Cinema Scope is typically ahead of film reviewing trends as it publishes its critiques of new films straight from their festival premieres whether it is Berlin, Cannes, Locarno or Toronto. Throughout their yearly output several narratives can be traced: New directors that emerged, aesthetic trends in world cinema, new works by major directors, experimental films and video art, a reflection on film history, and the year’s release of DVDs and film books.

The year 2015 was interesting at Cinema Scope for their coverage of the Toronto DIY filmmakers. It’s a broad label to describe young filmmakers from the Greater Toronto Area who are making more independent and artisanal films. The films are mostly shot digitally and most of the directors are from one of Toronto’s film production schools, such as York University and Ryerson. The young directors offer a new perspective on the Canadian experience, which typically are more raw and melancholic, vital and full of life than some of the nation’s more ‘official’ media output. It’s origins can be traced back to 2009 with Kazik Radwanski’s MDF Trilogy: Assault, Princess Margaret Blvd, Out In That Deep Blue Sea, Simon Ennis’ You Might as Well Live and Matt Johnson’s Nirvana The Band.  

In the spring issue of Cinema Scope (N.62) Shelly Kraicer has a feature essay on Luo Li, Of Time and the River: Mapping the Cinema of Luo Li, to promote Li’s newest film Li Wen at East Lake. In Toronto it premiered at the Images Festival before Li would go on to have a retrospective at the TIFF Cinematheque. Kraicer describes Li’s films as being, “Marked by narrative playfulness, implicitly subversive formal innovation and elegant, beautifully crafted images, and pervaded by a remarkably gentle, unassuming confidence.” Li, a York film production graduate, is typically grouped with the new generation directors sub-category of the Toronto DIY filmmakers, which are first- and second-generation immigrants to Canada, who reside in and around Toronto, but whose films are set back in their home country. These directors include Li, Nicolás Pereda, Igor Drljaca, Albert Shin, Simone Rapisarda Casanova and Lina Rodriguez.

In the summer issue (N.63) Jason Anderson spotlights from the Cannes Critic’s Week Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant, a coming-of-age story of three boys set in Thunder Bay, which he describes as coming, “far closer than most teen-centric dramas to conveying the damage that young people can inflict on each other as they constantly jockey for power.” Sleeping Giant would go on to join Canada’s Top Ten. In the fall issue (N.64) Phil Coldiron interviewed Isiah Medina, who just moved to Toronto earlier in the year, for his experimental film 88:88. Coldiron wrote about how it “necessitates the creation of a new experimental form of the system composed of cuts and frames which we generally refer to as montage,” while Medina compares it to a Moebius strip.

And in the most recent winter issue (N.65) Sean Rogers reviews both Igor Drljaca’s The Waiting Room and Radwanski’s How Heavy this Hammer for their spotlight on fall festival films. Rogers wrote about them, “I considered the way they made the city feel: anonymous, provisional, somewhere to wait. In the drearier moments of this place that I live, that certainly seems like Toronto, all right.” Prior to this their films would have been only reviewed on Cinema Scope Online for their festival premiere, with Christoph Huber reviewing Radwanski’s Tower and Angelo Muredda How Heavy This Hammer, and John Semley reviewing Drljaca’s Krivina and Adam Nayman The Waiting Room. Though Radwanski was featured in print in the fall 2012 issue (N. 52) with a conversation with Pereda, Unexpected Textures, moderated by Christopher Heron.

Though it’s a shame that Blake Williams (an experimental filmmaker, who also writes for the magazine) wasn’t included in their coverage of 'The Third Image: 3D as Experiment' at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival where his work was playing. 

But it’s the first time that Cinema Scope has featured a young Toronto director in every of their quarterly issues. Previous Toronto DIY filmmaker's films reviewed at the magazine include an interview with Matt Johnson by Calum Marsh for The Dirties in the summer 2013 issue (N.55), Robert Koehler wrote about Pereda’s work as early as Summer 2010 (N.43) before he would go on to be included in their ‘best fifty filmmakers under fifty’ issue, Anderson wrote on Simone Rapisarda Casanova’s The Creation of Meaning in the fall 2014 issue (N.60), and Adam Nayman reviewed Daniel Cockburn’s You Are Here in their fall 2010 issue (N.44). There’s been also some online reviews of the Toronto DIY films like Nayman’s review of Simon Ennis’ Lunarcy!, Jason Anderson on Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas’ The Oxbow Cure, and Michael Vass interviewed Antoine Bourges regarding East Hastings Pharmacy.

It’s the first time that the Toronto DIY film community has received so much positive exposure and it’ll be great to see it keep continuing. The quantity and diversity of the directors is growing and their films are getting better and receiving more exposure. So what to do next? How to get more attention for these films? First off: The filmmakers need to give their films their all - make them count, aim for the stars, and make sure to do everything possible to conserve their vision. The MDFF series has been great so far at creating a community of filmmakers and an audience to create an interest in these more different types of films. Things are looking good and there is an interest. 

The future of Canadian cinema is in the hands of these young directors. Many of the above mentioned films will be getting a theatrical release in the upcoming months so it would be important to go see them and show an interest to support the filmmakers. Other new projects include: Nadia Litz’ The People Garden, Daniel Cockburn has been preparing a project for a while (in 2015 he made a short-documentary on Atom Egoyan) and it looks like Rebeccah Love has a few projects also in the works. Calvin Thomas and Yonah and Lev Lewis still need to release Spice it Up and Lev Lewis is currently finishing Sublet. There's curiosity about what new projects Sofia Bohdonowicz, Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson have to offer in 2016. Daniel Warth and Miles Barstead’s Dim the Fluorescents looks interesting and so does Fantavious Fritz’ Lewis. But most importantly what everyone wants to see is Matt Johnson’s Operation Avalanche which will premiere in the Next Program at Sundance. Here's to 2016!

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