Spotlight on talented York filmmakers

Festival screenings, premieres, distribution deals and awards have been putting York filmmakers in the headlines.

Alumni Kathleen Cummins (BFA ’92, MFA ’95), Michael Sparaga (BFA ’96), Andrew Nisker (BFA ’93) and Franci Duran (MFA ’08) have recently been featured on Toronto’s festival screens.

Featured at the Female Eye Festival in April was Cummins’ dramatic short, Lost Things. The film asks "What’s a ‘number-one-dad’ to do when a remarkable number of things go missing over the course of a day – including a daughter’s trust?" The film explores the relationship between a father who has run into some hard luck, and his daughter, who has a dream that her father will do anything to preserve.

Right: Mike (played by David Ferry) runs amok in his attempt to preserve his daughter’s Irish dance dream in Lost Things

The world premiere of Sparaga’s documentary Maple Flavour Films played to a sold-out house at the Canadian Film Festival in March. This road-trip chronicle followed Sparaga and his fellow alumnus Blake Van De Graaf (BFA ’95) as they toured their low-budget superhero flick Sidekick (directed by Van De Graaf and produced by Sparaga) across Canada in a bid to drum up enough interest to secure a theatrical release for the film. On the way, they interviewed people on the street and in the biz about Canadian films. Maple Flavour Films collects those opinions into a frank, often funny and ironic look at the current state of the industry.

Nisker’s feature documentary Garbage! the Revolution Starts at Home examines how the family household has become one of the most ferocious environmental predators of our time. Duran’s Mr. Edison’s Ear explores recorded sound from its roots with brilliant – and deaf – inventor Thomas Edison’s discovery of the phonograph to the beginnings of our modern, audio-drenched world. Both films screened in April at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary film festival.

Also shown at Hot Docs as part of an industry workshop was York Visual Arts Professor Katherine Knight’s new digital convergence project, Little Entrance Caribou. The project digitally reconstructs a demolished lobster-processing facility in Nova Scotia, through stories and visuals contributed by the community, in collaboration with artists and the Northumberland Fisheries Museum. Knight re-imagined the material as part of the inaugural Convergence Lab, an interactive boot camp hosted by the National Film Board and Documentary Organization of Canada Agora Ontario partnership. The lab guided four teams of documentary filmmakers through the process of developing a new media or interactive component for their existing documentary projects – in Knight’s case, her SSHRC-funded project, "Site Stories: Caribou Harbour".

York Film Professor John Greyson (right) participated in an exhibit titled Documentary Uncertainty at Toronto’s Images Festival in April with fellow filmmakers Stephen Andrews and Hito Steyerl. The works in the exhibition approached the question of the documentary image from a variety of perspectives, exposing the layers that lie both within and between the images. All three artists also participated in a panel discussion on the documentary, moderated by Greyson’s colleague in the Department of Film, Professor Sharon Hayashi. The Images Festival is Canada’s leading showcase for independent and experimental film and video.

After its 2007 debut at the Department of Film’s year-end screenings, The Finish Line, Lindsay MacKay’s (BFA ’07) short film Laces went to the Edmonton International Film Festival as an official selection. Laces tells the story of a young teen who uses his imagination as an escape from stagnant small-town life.

The team behind the 2003 CineSiege and international festival hit The School, Matthew Miller (BFA ’03), Ezra Krybus (BFA ’03) and Sascha Drews (BFA ’04), recently picked up the Kodak Vision Award for Best Cinematography for their for their new feature Crooked Lake (aka Portage) at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. This backwoods thriller, about a quartet of teenaged girls on a canoe-camping trip gone wrong, was also featured at the Canadian Film Festival in Toronto in March and is scheduled for US theatrical release in June.

The Finish Line was also a great start for P.U.R.E., which went on to win three festival prizes: Best Canadian Narrative at Toronto’s Student Shorts Film Festival; Best Science Fiction Film at the Route 66 Film Festival in Springfield, Illinois; and Best Student Film at the Secret City Film Festival in Oakridge, Tenn. Directed by Dusty Mancinelli (BFA ’07), this dramatic short tells the story of young boy who discovers a natural phenomenon that threatens to destroy the entire world. Mancinelli is currently in India, helping acclaimed Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta shoot her new feature, Exclusion.

Former York film student David Greene won the Canadian Society of Cinematographers’ 2008 award for TV drama for his work in "Across the River to Motor City", a mini-series that aired last fall on CityTV stations across Canada. This six-part mystery series set in Windsor and Detroit spans a period of 40 years and reveals how ordinary people are impacted by history’s most extraordinary events.

Mary Young Leckie (BA ’78), executive producer of "MVP: The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives", was not disappointed for long when CBC TV decided not to renew the series for a second season. It’s been snapped up by the American television channel SoapNet, which will air 10 one-hour episodes of the hockey-themed dramatic series starting June 19.

And coming soon to the big screen is Toronto Stories, a feature film about four incidents witnessed by a boy in the course of a single day on the streets of Toronto, which come to be connected at the end. Each story is written and directed by a different filmmaker, including two from York – Aaron Woodley (BFA ’95), whose previous credits include the feature films Rhinoceros Eyes and Tennessee and Sudz Sutherland (Love, Sex and Eating the Bones), who studied in York’s Film Department from 1989-1991. Toronto Stories is currently in post-production with New Real Films.