York filmmakers hot on the festival circuit

Many York University filmmakers have been featured at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in the past, and the lineup for the upcoming 2009 fest continues the trend. New films and new filmmakers associated with York will be showcased April 30 to May 10 on big screens across the city in North America’s largest documentary film festival, conference and market.

The world premiere of Inside Hana’s Suitcase, directed and produced by award-winning documentary filmmaker and alumnus Larry Weinstein (BFA Spec. Hons. ’80), is one of the festival’s high-profile special presentations. The film recounts the real-life story that inspired Karen Levine’s best-selling book Hana’s Suitcase. It starts with a battered suitcase with the name Hana Brady roughly painted on it, which was delivered from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland to Fumiko Ishioka at the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Centre in Japan. Weinstein’s masterful film follows Ishioka’s investigation into the details of Hana’s life, which leads to the discovery of her brother George in Toronto.

Left:  Scene  from Inside Hana’s Suitcase, showing Hana carefree before the war. Jindriška Hanušová plays young Hana. Photo by Katerina Svobodová, courtesy of Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

Inside Hana’s Suitcase screens April 30 at 9:30pm at the Winter Garden Theatre and May 3 at 1:30pm at the Isabel Bader Theatre.

Another special presentation is the North American premiere of Professor John Greyson’s feature documentary Fig Trees. This screening follows its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival (see YFile, Feb. 6), where it won the prestigious Teddy Award (for films with gay and/or lesbian content). At Hot Docs, Fig Trees will be in the running for Best Canadian Feature, the Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award.

Greyson’s creative collaborators on Fig Trees include his Department of Film colleague, Professor Ali Kazimi, as director of photography and recent graduate Jared Raab (BFA  Spec. Hons.‘07) as editor.

Above: An image from the "doc-op" Fig Trees by York film Professor John Greyson. Image courtesy of John Greyson.

Cheekily tagged a “doc-op” (short for documentary-opera) about AIDS, pills and Gertrude Stein, Fig Trees explores the work of AIDS activists Tim McCaskell in Toronto and Zackie Achmat in Cape Town, South Africa. Fig Trees will play May 1 at 9:15pm at the Bloor Cinema and May 9 at 4:15pm at the Isabel Bader Theatre.

York film faculty member Lynne Fernie’s award-winning documentary Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives was selected for the Spotlight On… National Film Board (NFB) of Canada Retrospective program (honouring the NFB’s 70th birthday), programmed by American film critic B. Ruby Rich. Rich describes the production as “an exquisite work of imaginative historiography” and notes its importance as the first film in the NFB library with lesbian content. She says “Forbidden Love fills in the blanks in the national psyche.”

Right: A scene from Lynne Fernie’s award-winning documentary Forbidden Love. Photo courtesy of Lynne Fernie, © 1992 National Film Board of Canada.

Fernie currently serves as a programmer of the Hot Docs Canadian Spectrum and on the advisory board for the Inside Out Toronto Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival.  

Forbidden Love will be shown May 2 at 11:30am at the Isabel Bader Theatre and May 10 at 2pm at Innis Town Hall.

Two shorts by first-year York film student Wayne Robinson got the nod for the festival’s Doc Its  showcase, featuring films by 14- to 18-year-olds. The Care Taker follows Robinson and his friend Nathan Deschamps on a weekend trip to Vancouver to shoot a documentary about former meth addicts. They become distracted and make a film about Robinson’s great-aunt instead. Robinson’s second production, Blackspot Culture, takes a look at the Blackspot anti-corporation and its newest venture, the most earth-friendly shoe on the planet.

The Doc Its showcase is a 90-minute program with a dozen films, screening May 9 at 11:30am at the Royal Ontario Museum Theatre.

Alumna Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘08) and graduate student Marcia Connolly and Raha Shirazi are among a select group of emerging artists taking part in the festival’s Doc U. This week-long master class gives 20 recent grads and upper-level students from film schools across Canada a hands-on introduction to the behind-the-scenes workings of a large festival and market. The program includes salon-style workshops, meetings with leading professional filmmakers, social gatherings, screenings and access to the Toronto Documentary Forum and many other industry panels and events. Participation in Doc U is by invitation only, based on extensive consultation with educators at a number of regional film schools.

For more information about tickets, venues and the other films in the Hot Docs Festival visit the Hot Docs Web site.

Hot Docs comes hot on the heels of the Images Festival, Canada’s largest festival of independent film, video and installation, which unspooled in Toronto April 2 to11.

Productions by undergraduate students in York’s film program captured both awards offered in the festival’s S is for Student competitive international screening held April 8. Both winners were selected by audience choice from a wide range of student productions from Belgium, Turkey, Portugal, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and the USA.

It Only Hurts When I Cry, directed by York student Daniel McIntyre, received the York University Award for Best Student Film. Morning Will Come, directed by York student Pouyan Jafarizadeh Dezfoulian and shot by Mikhail Petrenko, took the Vtape Award for Best Student Video (it was also a winner at the 2008 CineSiege festival, York’s own celebration of student film, for Best Alternative Film).

Other winners at the Images Festival include two York alumni. Josh Bonnetta (BFA Spec. Hons. ’04) walked away with the National Film Board of Canada Award for his experimental animation Parting. The award is given to the best emerging or mid-career Canadian film or video maker in the festival. Bonnetta’s prize provides him with $5,000 in services through the NFB Filmmaker Assistance Program. 

And recent graduate Lesley Loksi Chan (BFA Spec. Hons. ’08) added to her growing list of accolades the Ryerson University Award for Best Emerging Canadian Film/Videomaker from the Greater Toronto Area. Her winning short film Curse Cures, which screened in the fest April 11, was the result of her residency with Images/Charles Street Video, an award valued at $10,000 that she won at last year’s Images Festival.