Walking the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival

In just a few weeks, the largest public film festival in the world returns to Toronto. The 32nd annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), a 10-day event beginning the Thursday after Labour Day, will present the latest in new cinematic talent, both at home and internationally.

The A-list film fest, often described as the official kick-off of the race to the Oscars, is a showcase for the world’s film elite. This year York film alumni Raha Shirazi (BFA ‛06) and Carl Bessai (MFA ‛89) will screen their films at the festival. They will be joined by screenwriter Tudor Voican, a master’s student in York’s film program. Voican will be at the festival showcasing his work as a screenwriter for the Cannes Festival award-winning film California Dreamin’. (See the June 7 issue of YFile.)

Shirazi’s film Four Walls will be showcased in the Short Cuts Canada series which features singular achievements in short films by Canadian filmmakers. From veteran directors with an established reputation in the industry to emerging artists presenting their first efforts, all the works in this program are under 50 minutes in length.

Running 12 minutes, Four Walls tells the story of three women from different social groups who are brought together between the four walls of a prison cell. Both despair and hope permeate this thoughtful parable. Their experience within the four walls changes them forever.

Above: An image from the short film Four Walls by Raha Shirazi

Bessai’s feature-length film Normal, the latest from the acclaimed Canadian writer and director, will be screened as part of TIFF’s Contemporary World Cinema category. Normal follows the lives of three characters whose worlds intersect at the accidental death of a young man. The man’s mother, Catherine (Carrie Anne Moss), continues to grieve for her son, living an isolated life and alienating her remaining family; Walt (Callum Keith Rennie) lives at a standstill, trying to find redemption by caring for his autistic brother whose agoraphobia was augmented by the accident; and Jordie (Kevin Zegers), a young man fresh out of youth detention for his role in the theft of the car that killed his friend, returns to his dysfunctional home to the arms of his young stepmother. Ultimately, these stories merge into one story, as the characters, linked by blood and fate, search for redemption.

Right: Canadian actress Carrie Anne Moss stars in Normal

Bessai’s first feature film, Johnny, premiered at the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival where it received a special jury citation. His second feature, Lola, premiered at the Toronto festival in 2001 and went on to screenings at the Sundance and Berlin festivals. His 2003 feature, Emile, starring Sir Ian McKellen, also premiered at the Toronto festival and went on to theatrical releases in the UK, Australia and the US. In 2005, he directed Severed, an eco-horror, art-house zombie film, followed by the 2006 feature Unnatural and Accidental, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and went on to win several festival prizes and a Genie award in 2007. Normal is his sixth feature film.

Fresh off the red carpet at the Cannes Festival in France, Voican’s California Dreamin’  won first prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard series, and the audience gave it a sustained standing ovation. It will be screened in the Toronto festival’s Contemporary World Cinema category.

Left: Romanian teenager Monica (Maria Dinulescu) with American soldier (Jamie Elman) in a scene from California Dreamin

Voican wrote the screenplay for California Dreamin’, the first and final feature from late filmmaker Cristian Nemescu. It tells the story of a group of American soldiers who are transporting, by train, a radar system headed for Yugoslavia via Romania. At a small Romanian village, the railway station master, a local thug named Doiaru, detains them because they lack the requisite customs documents. Held up for five days, the Americans, led by Captain Jones (Armand Assante), interact with the villagers, some of whom exploit the situation for their own ends. One of the soldiers even has a steamy romance with Doiaru’s beautiful teenaged daughter Monica. (The film’s title comes from the song of the same name by the 1960’s band, The Mamas and the Papas, that Monica recites in the film.)

Visit the Toronto International Film Festival Web site for more information on each of these films. The full schedule for the 32nd festival, running Sept. 6-15,  will be finalized next week.