Lights! Camera! Glory! York filmmakers score at TIFF (The Sequel)

The annual Toronto International Film Festival – the world’s leading public film fest – opens Sept. 8. This year’s edition will showcase 336 productions from 65 countries during its 10-day run, and as always, York filmmakers are on the program. This is the second of a two-part overview of films by York alumni, faculty and students in TIFF 2011. (For Part I, see YFile, Sept. 6.)

As in years past, York alumni and students make up a significant slice of TIFF’s popular Short Cuts Canada program.

Chelsea McMullan (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘06, MFA ‘11) is the writer and director of Derailments, which traces the fragments of Federico Fellini’s most famous unfinished film, Il viaggio di Mastorna. The documentary reveals how Fellini’s story of a man wandering through the afterlife was transformed into a graphic novel by illustrator Milo Manara. An excerpt and an interview with McMullan are availableChelsea McMullan online at the digital media outlet Nowness.

Left: Chelsea McMullan

Derailments grew out of McMullan’s artist residency at Fabrica, the Benetton family’s ‘artistic think tank’ in Treviso near Venice, Italy. It’s McMullan’s third foray into TIFF, following Deadman in 2009 and Plume (which won the Kodak Award for Excellence in Cinematography in York’s annual juried student film festival CineSiege) in 2006.

Majoring in physics and astronomy at York, Ian Harnarine (BSc Spec. Hons. ‘02) went on to graduate work in nuclear physics, but then decided to abandon the sciences to study filmmaking in New York City. As location sound mixer, his credits include short films, features, documentaries, special events and commercials. Doubles With Slight Pepper Ian Harnarine(co-produced by Spike Lee) marks his directorial and TIFF debut. It’s a poetic, heartfelt tale of a father’s request of his only son, whom he left behind in Trinidad. For a fan’s take on the film, see the Totally Filmi blog.

Left: Ian Harnarine

Dusty Mancinelli’s (BFA ‘07) short drama Pathways explores the confusion that comes with violence, the desperation that it prompts and follows unspeakable acts. The story follows a bullied boy into the woods where he stumbles upon a seemingly dead man with a gun and briefcase. Mancinelli drew on his York network to recruit Adam Clark (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘11) as one of the sound editors and cinematographer Maya Bankovic (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘07) for the production. Pathways is his second TIFF premiere, following Soap in 2009.

Also in TIFF’s Short Cuts series is Evan Morgan’s (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘08) mockumentary The Pedestrian Jar, which likewise features Bankovic as cinematographer. It’s a dark comedy about a sinister game that punishes co-workers for distracted behaviour on their daily commute. As the quarters and loonies pile up, office morale soars.

Left: Evan Morgan’s mockumentary is a dark comedy that presents the daily commute in a new way

Igor Drljaca (BFA ‘07, MFA ‘11) contributes a highly personal documentary, The Fuse: Or How I Burned Simon Bolivar. Using home video footage from his 1990s boyhood in Sarajevo interlaced with narration, the filmmaker recalls his childhood fear that his desperate attempts to avoid a poor grade on an art assignment led to a devastating civil war. The Fuse marks Drljaca’s sophomore screening at TIFF, following his 2009 debut On a Lonely Drive.

Acqua (Water) is the second TIFF premiere for Raha Shirazi (BFA Spec. Hons. ’06). (Her Four Walls, which received honourable mention at York’s CineSiege, screened at TIFF in 2007). Shirazi describes the film as a “reflection of spiritual traditions”. It’s a compelling visual meditation that presents the quest for water partly as necessity, partly as solemn pilgrimage. Visit Twitch for a TIFF preview interview with Shirazi.

Joshua Bonnetta (BFA Spec. Hons. ’04), now an assistant professor of Cinema, Photography and Media Arts at Ithaca College, New York, makes his TIFF debut with his short film American Colour. It’s screening in the Wavelengths program, which presents the best in international avant-garde film and video. An homage to an iconic but now obsolete film stock, American Colour was shot on old rolls of 16mm Kodachrome. Creating the film took Bonnetta on a pilgrimage from the stock’s birthplace in upstate New York to Kansas, where the last rolls of Kodachrome were processed earlier this year.

Two York artists are featured in TIFF’s Future Projections series, in which cinema meets the visual arts with moving image works in various venues around the city.

Road Movie is a powerful video installation created by York Visual Arts PhD candidate Elle Flanders with architect and artist Tamira Sawatzky, produced by the National Film Board of Canada. The work, comprising a series of short films shot in stop-motion animation and presented on six double-sided walls, examines contemporary life in Palestine. Full of arresting and vibrant images, from the deserts of the Jordan Valley to the circumference of Jerusalem, Road Movie offers a unique glimpse into the human landscape of this volatile land.

A scene from Elle Flander's film Road Movie, which was produced in conjunction with the National Film Board of CanadaRight: A scene from Elle Flander’s film Road Movie, which was produced in conjunction with the National Film Board of Canada

Visual Arts PhD candidate Nicholas Pye’s Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, created in collaboration with his partner, artist Shelia Pye, refers to the levitation game children often play at slumber parties. In a series of projections, the Pyes combine film and photography to create four tableaux that explore the link between magic and cinema, and the illusory nature of artistic constructions. Each image is imbued with delicate yet startling movement, drawing on old-world special effects to convey a mysterious story.

Both Road Movies and Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board are among Toronto Star visual arts critic Murray Whyte’s top picks for the fall season (read the article).

TIFF 2011 runs Sept. 8 to 18 at a number of cinemas and galleries in downtown Toronto. For more information about the festival and a detailed schedule of events, visit the TIFF website.