York filmmakers win major awards from Toronto critics

close up of a women with a sign saying "I am a good person"

Two York filmmakers stepped up to the podium at the Toronto Film Critics Association’s 15th annual awards gala Tuesday to receive prizes that recognize their talent and promise.

Freshly minted York grad Janice Lee (BFA ‘11) won the Deluxe Student Award for her fourth-year production, a short drama titled Faraway. The prize, presented by Canadian film director Don McKellar, comes with $5,000 worth of post-production services from Deluxe.

Ingrid Veninger, who teaches film production in York’s Department of Film, received the Jay Scott Prize for an emerging artist. The $5,000 cash prize, named in honour of the late, legendary Globe and Mail film critic, was presented by Canadian film director Bruce McDonald.

York award winners

Above: York award winners Janice Lee (second from right) and Ingrid Veninger (fourth from right) with, among others, from left beginning with TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey (third from left), director Philippe Falardeau,  film critic Brian D. Johnson, Sarah Gadon, comedian Andrea Martin and director David Cronenberg at the Toronto Film Critics Association’s 2011 awards gala at The Carlu Jan. 10

This is the second time York talent has won the Jay Scott Prize. Last year, it went to Daniel Cockburn (BFA ’99).

In December, members of the TFCA – a group of about three dozen Toronto-based film journalists and critics – announced their pick for Best Picture of 2011 (Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life) and other “best of” honours. But a few awards – including the Deluxe Student Award and the Jay Scott Prize – were kept under wraps until the Jan. 10 gala at The Carlu.

Lee’s winning film Faraway was selected as the best student film produced at a Toronto-area postsecondary film school in the 2010-11 academic year.

Mother and Daughter on a bench eatingA production still from Janice Lee’s award-winning short, Faraway

“It’s such an honour to have the Toronto Film Critics Association recognize Faraway, a film that’s so personal and dear to my heart – and that I definitely could not have made without such an outstanding cast and crew,” said Lee. “Being in the same room with such talented people and fine critics was incredible all on its own. Having Don McKellar read a synopsis of my film and then present the award to me was the cherry on top!”

Lee’s “outstanding” crew included York classmates – director of photography Joel Kim (BFA Spec. Hons. ’11), editor Senaa Ahmad and Adam Clark (BFA Spec. Hons. ’11), who handled location and post-production sound.

Asked about her plans for her award, Lee said: “I guess I have to make another film! I’ve been thinking of developing another short, and I’ve always wanted to shoot on film” rather than digital. The Deluxe prize will help make that possible.

Veninger is “a true independent, a maker of intimate films that seem born of the moment,” said TFCA president and Maclean’s magazine film critic Brian D. Johnson, in announcing her winner of the Jay Scott Prize.

close up of a women with a sign saying "I am a good person"As Ruby in her film i am a Good Person/i am a Bad Person, Ingrid Veninger sits in Mauerpark, Berlin

In her acceptance speech, Veninger said: “I make personal, micro-budget films and I hope they are genuine and provocative. I work with talented and committed people who want a filmmaking adventure. And I’m grateful to every person who comes out to see the films, because that exchange with an audience is the point of the entire process.”

Veninger’s most recent production is i am a good person/i am a bad person,  a feature film about a mother and daughter who confront life-changing choices while travelling to film festivals in Europe.

The founder of pUNK films inc., Veninger wrote, directed and produced the film, and stars in it alongside her real-life daughter, Hallie Switzer. York alumni on the creative team included cinematographer Ben Lichty (BFA ‘03), editor Chris Wiseman (BFA ‘07) and assistant editor Anne Feldman (BFA ‘11). York design Professor Paul Sych designed the titles and poster for the film.

i am a good person/i am a bad person made its world premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and has been reaping accolades ever since. Most recently, it won the Adrienne Fancey Best Film Award at the WIFTS Foundation International Visionary Awards and earned acting nominations for both Veninger and Switzer from the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. The film is currently on tour, slated to show at Raindance Canada in Toronto Jan. 26, the Available Light Film Festival in Whitehorse Feb. 6 and the Canadian Front Series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City March 14 to 19.

Veninger’s previous feature, Modra, wowed critics and audiences alike at the Toronto, Sao Paulo, Bratislava and Vancouver international film festivals, and was named one of Canada’s top 10 films of 2010. See a screening on campus Jan. 23.