York talent evident at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival

About 3,000 films are previewed by the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) programming team each year, with roughly 10 per cent making it onto the big screen during the 10-day event. And each year, TIFF – which ranks alongside Cannes as one of the most important film fetes in the world – sweeps the city with Hollywood glamour. Taking their place on the celebrity list at this year’s festival, Sept. 8-18, are several members, past and present, of York’s Film Department.

Newly-minted York alumna Tess Girard’s award-winning short film Benediction (11 min.) will be screened Sept. 10 at 9am at the Royal Ontario Museum and Sept. 15 at 8:30pm at the Varsity 7 theatre.

Right: An image from Tess Girard’s Benediction

Benediction blurs the boundaries between narrative, experimental and documentary film. “A meditation on loss and impermanence, it is a filmmaker’s last attempt to pay homage to those things left and leaving,” said Girard (BFA ’05), who undertook all the creative and technical work for the entire production.

TIFF’s Myrocia Watamaniuk wrote, “Director Tess Girard’s camera acts as the heart’s proxy, giving visual form to those memories one hopes will never fade.”

Girard won a special jury citation for Benediction at the national Student Film Showcase, hosted by the Toronto International Film Festival Group last May. Her award was a 2005 TIFF screening and industry pass. Last week, Benediction took the Norman McLaren Award, a $1,000 prize given by the National Film Board for best overall production, at the 36th Canadian Student Film Festival in Montreal.

Also on the TIFF playbill is Day of John (16 min.), by fourth-year York film student Chris Nash. Classified as a horror/comedy/drama, Nash’s genre-bending production will be screened Sept. 11 at 9pm at the Royal Ontario Museum and Sept. 13 at 4:30pm at the Cumberland 3 cinema.

Right: A scene from Chris Nash’s Day of John

“Set in the small town of Desbarats, Ont., Day of John revolves around high-school teacher John Travis,” said Nash. “The worst year of his life starts when his most promising student asked him to drive her to an abortion clinic in plain view of the parent of another student. From this point on, things only get worse as a broken family, a religious fanatic, a satanic letter carrier, a mob boss and other community members show John that sometimes the only way to see a way out is from the bottom.”

Nash grew up on a steady diet of horror films, and ever since he can remember, there has always been a dark undertone to everything he’s written. “I started writing more dark comedies, always with some sort of underdog angle where the victim turns into the hero. I guess Day of John is a great example of both of those things coming together in one piece,” explained Nash.

Nash has found previous success with his productions. Last February, his short film Hawaii won first place in the open category at the Shadows of the Mind festival in Sault Ste. Marie. Hawaii also took the grand prize at Cinéfest Sudbury’s MCTV Videomakers’ competition, awarding Nash the funding he needed to take Day of John from script to screen.

York film graduate Ryan Redford’s (BFA ‘01) Lake (20 min.) will be screened Sept. 12 at 8pm at Varsity 7 and Sept. 17 at 9:30am at Cumberland 3.

Left: Ryan Redford’s Lake

Described by TIFF writer Angie Driscoll as “a languid, romantic tale of amnesia by baptism”, Lake tells the story of a woman who turns up at a stranger’s house and asks him to take her to the lake. Together they embark on a mysterious quest in search of renewal.

Benediction, Day of John and Lake are part of the Short Cuts Canada series which boasts a selection of the very best short films from across the country, by both established directors and promising new filmmakers.

“I am awestruck by some of the young filmmakers and some of the ones whose work I have followed since I was a film studies student,” said TIFF managing director Michéle Maheu.

York talent is also showcased in TIFF’s feature film lineup. One of the productions creating a lot of buzz and “twang” is the Canadian premiere of The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico, an alt-country mockumentary starring a host of contemporary music legends, including York ethnomusicologist Rob Bowman, playing Sept. 9 and 11 at Paramount (see the Sept. 7 issue of YFile).

Right: A scene from The Life and Times of Guy Terrifico

Also generating a lot of excitement is the world premiere of Whole New Thing, a captivating coming-of-age drama co-written and directed by York film Professor Amnon Buchbinder. Awarded four stars as a “must-see” in NOW magazine’s Sept. 1 film festival previews, Whole New Thing screens Sept. 12 at the Varsity Cinemas and Sept. 14 at Cumberland 2.

These talented Yorkies will be rubbing shoulders with the likes of actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz and Anthony Hopkins, and celebrated Canadian directors David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan, to name just a few of the more than 500 stars and directors on TIFF’s guest list.

TIFF runs Sept. 8 to 18 at a number of downtown Toronto cinemas. For more information about the festival and the complete film schedule, visit the Toronto International Film Festival Web site.

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena in the Faculty of Fine Arts.