York talent lights up the screens at Toronto’s filmfest

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which launches tomorrow, ranks with Cannes as one of the biggest and most prestigious celebrations of film in the world. Thousands of films are submitted every year for consideration for TIFF’s screens, and this year an unprecedented number of productions with York names in the credits made the cut. Among the 312 titles from 64 countries showing during the 10-day festival are the following films involving York alumni or students:  

York theatre alumna and Hollywood it-girl Rachel McAdams (BFA ‘01), star of such mega-hits as Wedding Crashers, Mean Girls, The Notebook, Red Eye and The Family Stone, is expected to attend the celebrity-studded festival with her latest feature. She headlines with Tim Robbins and Michael Peña in The Lucky Ones, which will receive its world premiere as part of TIFF’s high-profile Gala showcase. The story follows three injured American soldiers who return home from the war in Iraq to find that life has moved on without them. Forced to grapple with old relationships, broken hopes and a country divided over the war, they discover that home is not quite what they remembered, and that the unlikely companionship they’ve found might be what matters the most.

Film alumnus Carl Bessai (MFA ‘89) returns to TIFF’s Contemporary World Cinema program with his new dramatic feature Mothers & Daughters. Six unique, beguiling characters weave a complex web of stories. The result is a trenchant exploration of different facets of the mother-daughter connection – the way buttons are pushed, the way bonds are rebuilt –  portrayed with clarity and considerable courage. Since 1999, all eight of Bessai’s films have premiered or screened at TIFF. His 2007 feature Normal and his 2006 documentary Unnatural & Accidental made their debut in the same program he graces this year, which showcases the best in international cinema.

Also part of the Contemporary World Cinema program is the world premiere of Toronto Stories, an omnibus feature with four writer-directors: former York film student Sudz Sutherland and alumnus Aaron Woodley (BFA ’95) with Sook-Yin Lee and David Weaver. A passionate tribute to the city, the film is a collection of four stories witnessed by a nameless boy in the course of a single day. En route, he provides us with a tour of Toronto the Good – and the not so good. Both Sutherland and Woodley have netted TIFF awards in the past. Sutherland’s Love, Sex and Eating the Bones was named Best Canadian First Feature Film in 2003, while Woodley’s Rhinoceros Eyes received the Discovery Award in 2003.

Above: Actor Gil Bellows interacts with the nameless boy in a scene from Toronto Stories

Curated by Alex Rogalski (MA ‘07), an alumnus of York’s Graduate Program in Communication & Culture, TIFF’s Short Cuts Canada program spotlights the originality and creativity of Canada’s most innovative artists working in the short-film format. Productions in this program are in the running for the award for Best Canadian Short Film, which carries a $10,000 cash prize and is supported by the National Film Board of Canada.

Four York filmmakers are featured in Short Cuts.

Candice Day (BFA ’00) makes her TIFF debut with the comedic short 106. Day wrote, directed and produced this engaging take on centenarian jealousy. Protagonist Wilma Harrington is fed up with playing second fiddle to Edna Berry, the oldest person in Ontario, who was born mere minutes before she was.

Left: In 106, York film alumna Candice Day’s comedic short, the elderly protagonist contemplates the birthday celebration of her rival

Complaining that second place is just a first-place loser, Wilma plans on getting older, or she’ll die trying. 106 is the latest in a string of short films Day has made in her hometown of Sault St. Marie during the past decade. Her other credits include Angela, Missing and Between the Lines.

Elizabeth Lazebnik (BFA ’02) directs Belonging, a short documentary that explores the life of two women navigating the complex world of relationships, cultural differences and motherhood. Jennifer, a Jewish midwife, and Alex, a Mexican artist, share a house, a child and a life filled with belongings that they have jointly brought to their relationship. Lazebnik’s idea for Belonging won Toronto’s Worldwide Short Film Festival’s Pitchin’ Award in 2007. Its creation was supported with a $5,000 prize of post-production services from Charles Street Video. Lazebnik was also the recipient of the 2008 Lindalee Tracey Award at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. The prize is a $5,000 cash award presented annually to a filmmaker who works in the spirit of its namesake – with passion, humour, a strong sense of social justice and a personal point of view.

Brian Stockton (MFA ’06) presents his latest work, Whitmore Park, a short production he started as a film student at York and continued developing after graduation. Continuing his film series, The Epic Story of My Life, Stockton moves from sketches of his native Saskatchewan to a personal view of his suburban neighbourhood and formative years. With humour and nostalgia, he ruminates on his cinematic beginnings and a teacher who introduced him to scriptwriting and celluloid. This will be Stockton’s fifth appearance at TIFF.

Right: Film alumnus Brian Stockton offers a personal view of his native Saskatchewan 

Graduate film student Chris McCarroll’s Uniform Material is a dramatic short that he produced for one of his courses at York earlier this year. It focuses on a middle-aged man methodically preparing for a new job. Capturing his precise but revealing actions, the film shows the transformation of a man working his way through the class system – an intimate portrait of the tenuous struggle for urban survival on the margins of society.

Erika Loic (MA ’07 ), an alumna of York’s Graduate Program in Communication & Culture, directed the 16mm avant-garde short Parícutin, showing in TIFF’s  Wavelengths 5 experimental film program. The production combines various genres of animation with contemporary footage to chronicle the history of the titular town in Mexico. It uncovers a series of events metaphysically tied to the famous local Strombolian volcanic eruption in 1943, which started as a fissure in a cornfield and grew roughly 330 meters over the course of a year.

The Real to Reel program, presenting the best in non-fiction cinema from around the globe, boasts the world premiere of Under Rich Earth, directed by York alumnus Malcolm Rogge (LLB/MES ‘98). This feature-length documentary examines a decade-old fight over land, resources and environmental autonomy in Ecuador. An indictment of environmental exploitation and corporate greed, the film exposes the truth – not just about what happened in Ecuador, but also about how pervasive such stories are on our planet today.

Above: A scene from Malcolm Rogge’s feature-length documentary Under Rich Earth. The film examines environmental expoitation and corporate greed in Ecuador.

Film alumni Rachelle Audet and Emiliano Paternostro (both BFA ‘07) worked on the film Only – Audet as sound recordist and Paternostro as sound editor/boom operator. This dramatic feature makes its world premiere as part of the Canada First Program. It explores tween ennui and loneliness through the conversations of two 12-year-olds whose lives unexpectedly intersect in a small Northern Ontario town.

Right: Only, a film told from the viewpoint of child protagonists, stars young actors Jacob Switzer and Elena Hudgins Lyle. York film alumni worked on the film’s sound.

TIFF runs from Sept. 4 to 13 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.

With files from www.tiff08.ca