“To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face and to know it for what it is.” — Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman), The Hours
Given the climate of fear and paranoia prompted by the results of the US election, I wanted to explore the idea of compassion — defined, literally, as “to suffer together” — in relation to film. In 2015, I produced The Other Half, a moving emotional drama written and directed by Joey Klein, starring Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Tom Cullen (Downton Abbey, Weekend), Suzanne Clément (Mommy, Laurence Anyways), Henry Czerny (Revenge) and Mark Rendall (The History of Love, The Exploding Girl). The film is a dark romantic drama about a young woman with bipolar disorder and a young man with PTSD who fall in love and struggle to forge a simple life together. It’s a strong first feature for the director and opens theatrically on December 2.
Each month, a New Release title is screened exclusively for TIFF Members ahead of its run at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Member Premiere screenings include an introduction by a special guest, bringing your in-cinema experience to life!
Join us for this special Member Premiere screening of Sebastián Lelio's A Fantastic Woman on Thursday, January 25 at 7pm, preceded by Chandler Levack's short film We Forgot to Break Up. Levack and star Jesse Todd will join us for a post-film Q&A following A Fantastic Woman. On sale to TIFF Members January 17.
Take advantage of your Member discount for up to four tickets and bring your friends! Not a Member? Join today at tiff.net/join.
We Forgot to Break Up is having its world premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Directed by Chandler Levak and written by Steven McCarthy and Levack, the 15-minute short film follows Evan Strocker (Jesse Todd) as he returns to see the band that he has managed following a three-year absence. This absence has seen a change to all of the band members; indeed, Evan is now living as a trans man. Adapted from Kayt Burgess’ novel Heidegger Stairwell, the film features consistently strong performances, both acting and musical. In what follows, I discuss with McCarthy his involvement as writer, musician, and actor in this project. The ElastoCitizens, McCarthy’s ten-piece funk band, are cult favourites on the Toronto music scene. His acclaimed theatre productions such as Bliss, Malaria Lullaby, and Boblo combined elements of circus, dance, trapeze, and rock and roll. Best known for roles in The Strain, HBO’s Good God, the indie hit Picture Day, and A&E’s The Crossing, he has had the pleasure of working with such directors as Guillermo del Toro, Ken Finkleman, Kate Melville and Robert Harmon. More recently McCarthy starred in Andrew Currie’s ensemble comedy The Steps, sharing the screen with Christine Lahti, James Brolin, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Jason Ritter. In 2015 he wrote and directed his first short film, “O Negative” which has played at festivals all over North America including TIFF, RiverRun, Whistler, Cleveland, Palm Springs, and the Portland International Film Festival. It was named one of Canada’s Top Ten Short Films of 2015 by the TIFF jury and has now been seen all over the world as a Vimeo Staff Pick.
Steven has taught at the Randolph Academy, The National Theatre School, and Ryerson University, and is presently a faculty member at Armstrong Studios. Recently, Canadian Stage Theatre Co. produced his first ever translation, Guillaume Corbeil’s Five Faces for Evelyn Frost. Check out his Web site at stevenmccarthy.net.
Thank-you so much for an excellent and thought-provoking short film! What attracted you to Kayt Burgess’ novel Heidegger Stairwell?
It was the people involved. Nicole and Matt Hilliard-Forde of Motel Pictures had the rights to the novel and were working on adapting it into a feature. They decided that applying for a Bravo Fact might be a good way to kickstart the project into high gear. They first approached me as an actor and I immediately said yes: I loved the cast they were putting together and the idea of being in a band movie was appealing for lots of reasons. Chandler, the director, and I met up a couple of times to discuss the project and she pitched me the idea of coming onboard as a co-writer and I thought “why not?”
Clearly, much of the novel had to be cut and compressed for this adaptation: what were some of the more important omissions?
This film is basically based on only one scene of the novel. Even this was ambitious for a short film with all of the characters we were writing for. I was less tied to the book than others had been and I proposed that we really blow apart the source material and reduce it to its foundations and then re-build from there. We changed the location and that helped give the scene some reality and some urgency. The main elements are all there but the setting and the characters are all quite different. The fact that we knew which actors we were writing for gave Chandler and I quite a lot of ammunition. We could play to the actor’s strengths and idiosyncracies. We also had a few parties all together at my place and Nicole’s and Matt’s place to get to know each other a bit better and that helped the writing process enormously.
How did the screenplay evolve?
Once we’d ripped the source scene back to its foundations we built from there. Chandler and I would meet in cafes and bars throughout Toronto and it evolved quite naturally. For both of us, this was our first time collaborating on a screenplay so sometimes it was tricky. I proposed making a list of archetypes and traits and re-building the characters with these traits in mind. Who’s the Dad of the band, who’s the middle child who feels neglected, who’s the funny uncle? Who likes to complain and do nothing? Who pairs up for lunches and who stays behind to get work done? Looking at the band as a barely functioning family gave us a lot of good juice to go on. Having been a part of my own band, the ElastoCitizens, for more than a decade I could speak from a fair amount of experience.
So much of the film is communicated through silences and through characters’ trying (and failing) to communicate: what were some of the challenges of writing this dialogue?
The best part of the writing was that, in the end, we knew our scenes were going to be acted by phenomenal actors. So, for me, the most important part was getting the structure right – where does the story need to take place? Who wants what from whom? What’s in their way? What are they afraid of people knowing? What are they hoping for? How does one scene build upon another? Once that’s accomplished the rest is just window dressing. We got great feedback from the actors and used it to make the scenes more action-based and less writery. Jesse Todd, our lead, approached me about one scene that was particularly tricky and we were able to have a workshop at my house where we let he and Mark Rendall improvise based on the given circumstances of the scene we’d written. From watching what they did, we were able to throw out the script and create an entirely new one. We also had a rehearsal day the day before we shot and just listening to the actors read is huge – you learn what works rhythmically and what’s holding them up. Actors’ instincts are amazing. I think the key to filmmaking is knowing how to trust your collaborators and those jam sessions were a great example of that.
We know that Evan wrote a memoir, but we don’t know what approach he took (i.e. whether this would be a revenge story or a more factual one): what do you imagine he wrote and why?
I don’t think it would be about revenge. But any memoir, by its very nature, is going to be subjective. I thought a lot about what it might feel like to have the story of your band told by someone else, about the power of the printed word, and the hurt feelings and arguments that would ensue. I think the film is more powerful because the band is reacting to the fact of the book before they’ve even read it, and reacting to Evan’s return, and what it might mean for each of them, in the fragile place that they’re in as a group.
What attracted you to your character Augus?
Like I said, I’m the lead singer and manager of a ten-piece funk band with ten good friends, some of whom I’ve been friends with since we were kids growing up in Sault Ste. Marie. This film and this role was a natural fit for me. This is the second time I’ve written a role for myself but of course it’s quite different from “O Negative.” But yes, I’ve been the guy holding the door to the rehearsal hall open when people show up two hours late; I’ve been the guy putting up posters on Queen at 3 am only to see them torn down a half hour later; I’ve had these arguments and these reunions, these reconciliations. Creating something with people you love is hard work but it teaches you a lot about humility and a lot about communication. That’s what I wanted to bring to Angus: The weight of that responsibility. Bands and groups of all types have weird dynamics, and decisions get made in all sorts of ways. I wanted to show someone who felt that a lot of that weight rested on his shoulders, and who maybe wished it didn’t.
The performance looks and sounds wonderful. How did you decide on the band’s sound?
The director’s favourite band as a teenager was the Dears and so our incredible music director Michael Perlmutter reached out to Murray Lightburn, their lead singer, to see if he would write the title song for us. He said yes! More than that, he ended up coming in from Montreal and coaching us on our rehearsal day. Most of us played the instruments we play in the film already, but he gave us some amazing insight into the ups and downs of a successful indie band. We worked the song at a music jam space and then headed down to the phenomenal Orange Lounge recording studio on Queen West to record the vocals. It was a great way for us all to get to know each other and a real thrill for me to sing his song.
What’s next for this short film?
For that you’ll have to ask Motel Pictures. My job is done!
Have you thought about adapting this into a feature?
They already have plans to create a full-length film, that’s been their plan all along.
What’s next for you?
I’m just about to shoot a guest-starring role on Frankie Drake – a brand new series produced by Shaftesbury. I’m acting in a couple of other shorts this fall and doing a play as well. I’m also working on my own screenplay, a feature version of my short that played at TIFF a couple of years back.
Tom Ue was educated at Linacre College, University of Oxford, and at University College London, where he has worked from 2011 to 2016. His PhD examined Shakespeare’s influence on the writing of George Gissing. Ue has held visiting fellowships at Indiana University, Yale University, and the University of Toronto Scarborough, and he was the 2011 Cameron Hollyer Memorial Lecturer. He has published widely on Gissing, Conan Doyle, E. W. Hornung, and their contemporaries. Ue is the Frederick Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Toronto Scarborough and an Honorary Research Associate at University College London.
“It’s a constant renegotiation of who you are,” says Chandler Levack. The 30-year old Toronto native—whose short film, We Forgot to Break Up,premiered at TIFF this past Sunday—was talking about the moment when the film’s protagonist, Evan (played by Jesse Todd), once a woman, returns to an old group of friends to reintroduce themself as a man.
Evan’s coming out and the consequent reactions from his old bandmates consume all 15 minutes of We Forgot to Break Up, which was adapted from the novel Heidegger’s Stairwell by Kayt Burgess. But, despite being a short, the film is a poignant display of the complex, layered relationships between ex-lovers and old friends. FLARE talked to the director about what it was like to adapt a short film from a novel and the crucial need for the telling of trans stories, now more than ever.
Was staying faithful to the book important to you?
Yes, but this is an interesting question because the book chronicles this band from when they meet in high school to when they’re in their 40s. There’s a lot of backstory and lots of layered character arcs that I wanted to remain faithful to. I really loved the core relationship—the breakup between Evan and Lou—and the atmosphere of being backstage before a show. At the same time, when you’re telling a story in such a short amount of time, with such a contained scene, it’s hard to put all that in.
Aside from length, what’s different about the film in comparison to the novel?
The scene I adapted is the very first scene in the novel, but in the book, it takes place in a very fancy hotel room and there are tons of people hanging out backstage, so it’s a really different atmosphere. I wanted to show this band as grubby. In the book, they’re supposed to be internationally famous rockstars, but to make them more relatable, I wanted to make them a mid-level working band just trying to survive. In the book, Evan is this very fancy, renegade journalist traveling the world, and I thought, “Let’s just make him a regular person.” It was about taking parts of the book that were great in the original conceit of it, but then trying to make it more relatable and grounded in the kinds of bands that I know.
How did you conceptualize what the band would be like on screen?
It was an interesting challenge—the book hints at what the band sounds like and the band’s aesthetic, but when you’re building a rock band from scratch, it was really cool and interesting to think about what this rock band was about. Murray Lightburn of The Dears actually came to Toronto and coached the actors on how to be a rock bandon stage. He also read the script and gave feedback, so he was an invaluable collaborator. We also watched a lot of videos of bands performing on stage, like Radiohead and Sonic Youth, and we tried to find our own way.
How did you come to cast Canadian Jesse Todd for the role of Evan?
We knew we wanted to cast a trans male actor, but there weren’t any trans male actors in ACTRA (the actors union we were working with), so we held an open casting call for any trans person interested in the role. We asked people who were interested to record themselves telling a story about an album that impacted their life. Jesse told this really vulnerable story that was also really funny—which they recorded in the bathroom where they work—about Radiohead’s album Kid A and how they listened to it when their house burned down. When I saw Jesse’s audition, I was like “Wow, this person is amazing.”
Why do you think it’s important to tell trans stories?
Trans people are people. They’re complex, and the need for trans people to see themselves represented on screen—especially in situations where they aren’t being victimized for their trans nature—is crucial.
What advice would you give to others who want to tell stories which don’t reflect their own experience?
You really need to have as many people as possible around you that did have that experience, and you should listen to them and make them an active part of your collaboration. Alongside collaborating with Jesse on the script, we sent it to some trans consultants, and Jesse spoke with Mya Taylor from Tangerine about acting and sharing their experiences on camera.
What do you think is the next step for telling trans stories?
Trans people should be telling their own stories. I don’t think it’s enough to even cast a trans person to play themselves in a film—they should be the ones behind the camera and writing the script. That’s how we push representation forward in the industry. We’re still at a point where people still don’t really know what trans looks like, so for someone to see a trans character who is making jokes, doing selfish things and awkwardly putting themselves out there—I think that’s nice to see. I want to see more flawed, complex trans characters going through universal stuff, like a shitty break-up.
The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival is pleased to announce its Official Selection films for 2017. The titles listed below will screen at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) between 12th and 15th of October.
All of the work being shown has emerged from our annual International Film Competition, which has evolved into a key source of cinematic material for the festival. Richard Warden, film lead for the Mental Health Foundation, said: “What emerges across the programme is a striking sense of confidence, both in the storytelling itself and in the belief that these stories are worth telling. The implication is that these films mustexist, and deserve to be seen and experienced by a wide audience. We are honoured that our official selection screenings provide a platform for such vital creativity addressing mental health.”
Tickets can be booked directly via the links found under each film. An overview of the CCA film programme with more details can also be found on the booking site Eventbrite. Most screening events are free.
The winning films from the competition will be announced at the festival’s programme launch on Thursday 14th September and honoured at the International Film Awards on the evening of Thursday 12th October. Tickets for this event, which sees the Grand Jury Prize revealed and is followed by a drinks reception, can be booked here.
It seems that this year, TIFF presents a great number of features that are directed by actors (I once asked about this in an interview, and an actor turned director mentioned the importance of listening and being present). However, though the features look strong as well, the shorts that are directed by former actors this year are really strong. It is obvious that TIFF Short Cut programmers Jason Anderson and Danis Goulet are making the actors turned director earn their way into TIFF (there was a record number of submissions this year), and the results show that these are Short Cuts to seek out.
Lira’s Forest – Connor Jessup is putting other performers to shame, because he continues to act in films like Closet Monster and TV shows such as American Crime. His short film Boy premiered at the festival in 2015, and his latest work Lira’s Forest is whimsical and wonderful. Executive produced by Albert Shin, the short is a world builder and looks and sounds awesome. Oh, and Jessup recently turned 23.
Bird – Molly Parker is a household name from her work on House of Cards and the Paul Gross film Men with Brooms (amongst a storied career), but her sense of style present in the short film Bird has a unique sensibility, and plays out in quite an unexpected way. The first hint should have been the presence of Amanda Plummer, but the music by Lesley Barber (of Manchester by the Sea and A Better Man) is ethereal.
Nuuca – The Thunder Bay born and raised actress Michelle Latimer can scarcely be called an actress any more, having come a long way from Paradise Falls. But she continues to make outstanding projects, after her VICELAND documentary Rise was one of just two Canadian-helmed projects at Sundance, as a result she made Nuuca. Not only does the short have a clear message linking industrialization with the rise of violence towards Indigenous women, but the images present in the short, it’s like a Denis Côté film or something from Fritz Lang. Just a stunning accomplishment.
There is also a Justine Bateman-helmed short, Five Minutes. Other standouts are Chandler Levack’s We Forgot to Break Up, which really lingers, The Treehouse by Juan Sebastián Quebrada may be the equal of any romantic feature, Matthew Rankin’s The Tesla World Light, Jodilerks Dela Cruz Employee of the Month from the Phillipines, The Burden, which is one of the weirdest animated musical shorts in a long time, and Naledi Jackson’s The Drop In.
For more information about these exceptional short films, please visit tiff.net
Throughout college, Chandler Levack led a double life, learning how to make movies by day, under the tutelage of such filmmakers as “Into the Forest” director Patricia Rozema and “Mad Men” writer Semi Chellas, and dipping into clubs in the evenings where she was fast establishing herself as a music journalist. These two worlds rarely crossed, so when she got an e-mail from the guitarist of the Toronto-based punk band PUP, asking if she might know the name of a good director, she had just the person in mind.
“I was like, ‘Well, actually I want to direct it,” Levack says now with a laugh, about her first time behind the camera professionally. “So they really took a chance on me and my friend Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux, who I co-directed the video with.”
The gamble paid off handsomely, as Levack and Schaulin-Rioux took a thousand-dollar budget and earned a nomination for a UK Music Video, and the filmmaker’s unique background also made her the ideal helmer for “We Forgot to Break Up,” an adaptation of Kayt Burgess’ novel “Heidigger Stairwell” that will be premiering this week at the Toronto Film Festival as part of the shorts program. One suspects only Levack could authentically capture the backstage machinations before a big concert so effortlessly that the smell of liquor and sweat in the band Heidigger’s dressing room practically wafts off the screen. And there is plenty of the latter upon the arrival of Evan (Jesse Todd), a former member of the band who is nervous in seeing his old compadres after transitioning into a man. Well before the band performs the soaring title song, the short pulses with electricity as Evan approaches each of the band members, including the likes of Mark Rendall and Grace Glowicki, with trepidation and leaves surprised by their reaction to his new identity, for better or worse.
For a film about acceptance, it is beautiful to watch not only what happens onscreen, but off of it as Levack weaves together her two artistic passions so seamlessly without sacrificing the power of one for the other. Shortly before the film’s premiere, she spoke about literally putting on a show with “We Forgot to Break Up,” handling sensitive subject matter with great respect and how she was able to shape the characters’ moods with evocative lighting design.
How did this come about?
Canada has this short film grant program called BravoFACT where they fund short films and documentaries for emerging filmmakers. A day before the application was due, the producers Nicole and Matt Hilliard-Forde of Motel Pictures asked me if I wanted to come on board to direct adapt the novel “Heidigger Stairwell,” which was written by Kayt Burgess. It won the Amazon Three-Day novel writing contest, and I really enjoyed the premise of a former manager being friends with a Broken Social Scene-type rock band. My background is actually in music journalism and directing music videos, and there’s an interesting mythology with our own contribution to Canadian rock with these big, sprawling, complicated bands like Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene [where] you have these people who have known each other for many years and have complicated lives that extend far and wide past the bands. [This story] also had a really great trans character at the heart of it, and a really interesting love story between a straight man and a trans man, which is something I’d never seen before.
Did your own experience with rock bands contribute to how authentic this feels?
I’ve actually been a music journalist since I was 17. I watched Cameron’s Crowe “Almost Famous” when I was 15 and I was like, “I want this to be my life. ” My degree is in Cinema Studies from University of Toronto, so I was taking film classes simultaneously while I started reviewing albums and interviewing bands for music publications in Toronto and then I interned at Spin Magazine in the summer of 2007 and started writing about music for the Village Voice and the Rolling Stone website. So I’ve just always been obsessed with music and developed some close friendships with people who have been musicians and when I started directing music videos, it blended my love of cinema and also my love of music together.
But because I was also writing so much for magazines and newspapers, I never thought of myself as a filmmaker. I always figured I would become a pop culture critic or a nonfiction writer like my favorite writers at the time, who were people like Chuck Klosterman, Joan Didion, Pauline Kael, and Susan Sontag. And I think I was scared to make films because of my education. It was so theoretical and academic that it made me feel like films are canon, things that can only be studied. I would watch all of these incredible films, like Fellini’s “I Vitelloni” or the early Maysles Brothers docs, and write long academic essays thinking, “How does anyone make a movie?”
At the same time, I always loved writing dialogue and have been obsessed with comedy and theatre my whole life. My whole education in being a filmmaker has been making these low-budget music videos with Jeremy [Schaulin-Rioux] and with PUP where I was encouraged to be ambitious and take a lot of artistic risks and just do really crazy beautiful things with no money. But I think every emerging filmmaker should try making music videos first. The song is like the narrative for the film, so it’s a really great way to find your voice and find your platform.
If “We Forgot to Break Up” started as a novel, did it naturally lend itself to a short or was it difficult to adapt?
It was really challenging. I’ve never adapted anyone else’s material before. The novel chronicles the band from when they’re teenagers to when they’re out on the road as famous rock stars. We were trying to tell a story in a short amount of time, with a lot of backstory and exposition, so I think the film works because we have a specific container – Evan seeing the band again backstage in the hour before they play a show. We can hint at their personal band dynamics and these complicated relationships without giving too much away. But it was a real challenge to find the individual voices and dynamics of all the characters.
My co-writer Steven McCarthy, who also plays Angus in the film, is a really talented actor and director in his own right who has an extensive background in theatre and dramaturgy. One of the most brilliant things he did was break down every character like they were in a family – who is the black sheep? Who is the mom? Who is the dad? Who is the younger brother and the bossy older sister? That helped immensely in figuring out what every character wanted and needed from each other. Then once the actors came in, we did a lot of rehearsals and talked a lot about their character’s backstories. Two of the scenes — with Lugh and with Will — were rewritten [based on] the actors improvising off each other while Steve and I recorded and transcribed the workshop. So we used the book as a foundation to build our own specific histories and relationships that could work as a film.
How did you find Jesse Todd as your lead?
This is Jesse’s first time acting in anything ever and it was really important for me and the producers that we cast a trans actor for the role.We did an open casting call and we tried to see as many people as we could. In Canada, there are barely any trans actors in ACTRA, our acting union, and no trans males, [but because of] programs like “Orange is the New Black” and “Transparent,” we’re all starting to see trans actors playing themselves on screen. Obviously, it’s so powerful and important for trans actors to be able to play any role, not just a trans role. But more crucially, they should be the ones behind the camera, writing and directing their own stories.
We asked different trans males, who were all non-actors, to record themselves telling us a story about a song or an album that impacted their life. Jesse was one of the last submissions, who was encouraged to apply from our mutual friend William Ellis. [Jesse] filmed their audition in the bathroom of this queer bar where they work called the Beaver and told this powerful, funny, sad story about listening to [Radiohead’s] “Kid A” as a teenager. It was just so vulnerable and funny, I was just like I have to meet this person immediately. I am not trans and the story that Evan experiences in the film was in some ways one that I was familiar with — going through a painful breakup and having to distance yourself from the people who you thought used to define you — but in other ways, a really radically different experience that needed to be honest and authentic and also represent a group of people who are not normally depicted on screen. Having Jesse to collaborate with was really key – they had a lot of extremely valuable input on the development of the script and pushed and fought for things that made the movie much stronger.
[Jesse] had filmed their transition previously on YouTube, so they let me watch videos of them going through the process of taking testosterone and having top surgery, which was fascinating and incredibly valuable to have as a tool towards learning and understanding what Evan has gone through in the years since he last saw the band. [Jesse] forced me to reconsider my own assumptions about gender and trans identity and I learned a lot and became much more cognizant of the story I wanted to tell and the film I wanted to make as a result of our friendship. So I would encourage anyone who wants to tell a trans or queer story or any Othered story that’s different from your own lived experience to surround themselves and actively collaborate with people who can bring their own experiences and points of view to your work and really listen to them, especially when they are challenging you or calling you out on your own biases or assumptions. I really hope the next time Jesse and I work together on a film, that [Jesse is] the writer/director and maybe I can be a producer or a PA.
The band in the film all appears to be really playing their instruments during the concert scene — were they cast based on musical experience? Or were they just really good looking doing it?
Three of the actors who play in the band are musicians. Steve McCarthy has a funk band called the Elastocitizens, Dov Tiefenbach used to be the lead singer in Theresa’s Sound World, and Mark Rendall is also a musician and solo artist. Grace Glowicki had never played bass before and the Cara Gee has never played the keyboard. I was intimidated to film the big rock and roll show at the end, and was really grateful that our composer Murray Lightburn actually came to Toronto rehearse with the actors and teach them how to be a band. He is the lead singer of a band in Montreal called The Dears, and there was one day where the producers booked a rehearsal studio and we watched a bunch of videos with bands performing live and studied their movement and energy and chemistry onstage. Then we broke down all their parts individually and Murray gave everyone their rock star persona. We booked a studio and a recording session, so they all sang the song for real and Murray recorded and mixed the track.
How did you collaborate on the song with Murray Lightburn?
Michael Perlmutter, our executive producer and music supervisor asked me, “Who would you want to compose to song?” And I suggested The Dears because they were my favorite band when I was 15. The suggestion was a bit, like “That’s not going to happen,” but we put the offer out and it was really exciting that he wanted to do it. It’s an exciting and intimidating thing to create a rock band from scratch and I didn’t want to lean too much on how the book suggested the band should sound like. I sent [Murray] three or four songs that I really liked that had cool elements – Sonic Youth’s “Massage The History, The Dears “Heartless Romantic” and a song by The Jealous Girlfriends called “Secret Identity.” Murray took that as inspiration and he read the book and he read the script, so the lyrics are based on the themes from the script. The song evolved over time as we tried to figure it out. We knew we wanted a boy-girl harmony, a big guitar solo and a cool, cathartic chorus. Murray recorded some aspects of the song himself and got a friend to play drums. But once the cast recorded it, it was really magical and surprising. They completely transformed it into something really special. It’s a hit!
Was it difficult to stage the concert aspect?
We had a little bit of movie magic. We got really lucky to shoot at the Danforth Music Hall, which is a really iconic venue in Toronto and a fantastic place to see a concert. It’s just amazing on camera. There were maybe 16 extras that we kind of like all grouped together, so it looked like a huge audience watching the band. Before we shot, my friends PUP ended up playing three sold out shows at the Danforth, so they let me put Jesse, our lead, into the audience. We filmed his reaction shots in the crowd before we shot the band stuff and we copied the same lighting design from PUP so that the band’s performance would match the look of the audience.
The lighting throughout is so effective at conveying emotion, particularly during the scene where Evan and Lugh, the lead singer, talk about their estrangement and the changing colors in the background as the technicians run a soundcheck reflect the shifting mood. How did you figure that out?
It was really all Cabot McNenly, our extremely talented cinematographer, to have it change and shift during that scene. Originally, I wanted to stage that scene in a small stairwell, but the location didn’t have anything to offer. During our location scout, Cabot pointed out the fact that there’s this whole glorious balcony at the Danforth Music Hall. So we conceived of the idea that they can be testing the lighting on stage and the light can be reflecting off of them. I wanted the scene to take place originally in one seven-minute zoom shot, which is a classic first-time director mistake, and of course, we ended up needing those close-ups for emotional impact. But it ended up being so cinematic and beautiful to have the blue light coming up on their faces. I loved to see them looking at each other with the light coming off the stage. Louise [Simpson], the lighting board designer at the Danforth Music Hall, created a beautiful lighting scheme for all of it, so it was a real nice collaboration between me, Cabot, and everyone at the Danforth that also felt emotionally tied to what the characters were experiencing as well.
What’s it like for you to have this film premiere at Toronto?
It’s so amazing. I still can’t believe it. I’m a Torontonian and have been attending and covering the festival as a journalist for about eight years now. There are so many movies and filmmakers that I’ve discovered at TIFF that have actively changed my life and informed my whole perspective on cinema, from Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Cemetery of Splendor” to Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha.” Because of TIFF, I’ve also gotten to interview legendary filmmakers like Mike Leigh, Pedro Almodovar and Jill Soloway and maybe also secretly ask them for advice! So when I found out that “We Forgot to Break Up” was accepted into the festival, even to be in the same programme book as my cinematic heroes like Agnes Varda, Yorgos Lanthimos, Greta Gerwig and Michael Haneke is just overwhelming. It means so much to me. I think we’re at a really exciting moment for Canadian film and I’m inspired by so many of my peers and friends who are emerging Canadian filmmakers. I’ve wanted to call myself a filmmaker my whole life, so I’m just really excited to be a part of TIFF.
In addition to screening hundreds of feature films every year, the Toronto International Film Festival (kicking off on Thursday, September 7th and running to the 17th) boasts an exceptionally strong line-up of shorts. The Short Cuts Programme has become one of the most prominent showcases of short filmmaking in the world, but films functioning outside of the sexier, long-form norm can be found popping up throughout the festival in various sections, perhaps most notably in the daring, boundary pushing Wavelengths program. Sometimes feature films in many of TIFF’s other programs will be accompanied by like-minded shorts as a sort of appetizer for things to come. The array of short films and filmmakers is just as varied and diverse as the features that tend to overshadow these smaller cinematic accomplishments.
With that in mind, here’s a look at 40 shorts at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (listed in alphabetical order) that viewers won’t want to miss. For a full list of short films and programmes playing at TIFF, check out the TIFF website.
If one were to close their eyes while watching Swiss filmmaker Michaela Müller’s animated short, Airport, viewers could be forgiven for thinking they were actually in a bustling, functional, chaotic airport. Open your eyes, however, and be dazzled by the gorgeous paint-on-glass splendour that naturally captures key details, anxieties, and motions instantly recognizable in any airport experience. It’s a lovely slice of life.
Canadian filmmaker Daniel Cockburn (Weakend, You Are Here) returns to TIFF with this witty blending of semantics and melodrama. Starting off with a cinematic discussion on the nature of metaphor and intention (covering everything from The Big Lebowski to Alive to The Shining), Cockburn’s latest finds an unhappy professor utilizing her teachings in her own life (via the titular annotations serving as a running internal monologue). Not only a discussion about the use of metaphor in a literary and cinematic sense, Cockburn has also created a short that’s dripping with visual metaphor in its own right, building to a sumptuous, layered film.
Ambiguity and charm are two feelings that are hard to blend together, but filmmakers Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart have done just that with the black and white relationship comedy Bickford Park. A likable Liane Balaban stars as a young wife growing further apart from her garage rocker husband and finding companionship in a young man who’s teaching her how to skateboard. The underlying relationship issues contained within Bickford Park’s narrative are obvious, but the conflicted feelings of the film’s protagonist are realistically rendered and malleable thanks to astute plotting and Balaban’s dynamic performance.
The directorial debut of actress Molly Parker, Bird casts Amanda Plummer as a transient woman returning home to visit her stressed out elderly mother and increasingly senile former marathon runner father. When the beloved family bird flies out the front door and dad goes walkabout, the returning daughter springs into action. Full of subtle nuances, great performances, and a wholly original story, Bird is an assured and confident first film from Parker, and one hopes she’ll make another one soon.
Set in Scotland in the late 1960s, Charlotte Wells’ Blue Christmas spins the not so joyful yuletide tale of a tenacious debt collector (Jamie Robson) going from door to door on Christmas Eve to shake people down when he knows they’ll be home. While that could sustain a film fine enough on its own, Wells’ work travels closer into Ken Loach territory (which makes sense seeing that her film was shot by Loach’s frequent cinematographer) that casts her unlikable protagonist in the light of his crumbling home life, with a wife (Michelle Duncan) suffering from undiagnosed and unchecked mental illness and a young son (Lewis McGowan) pushed to the breaking point by both his parents. It’s the kind of film one wished would go on longer, but it says exactly what it needs to in a succinct and lovely manner.
Singing sardines, soft-shoe dancing rats, and self-loathing call centre employees are just a few of the things viewers will see in the captivating, toe-tapping, and beautifully empathetic stop-motion animated musical The Burden. Swedish filmmaker Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s ode to loneliness told through the eyes of folks trying to work or sleep through another solitary or unfulfilling night is packed to bursting with great music, original visuals, and humane insights. Did I mention it was a musical? Did I mention the singing fish?
This lightning paced and visually and narratively elaborate animated set piece from Dutch filmmaker Jamille Van Wijngaarden finds a housecat desperately trying to not get blamed for the apparent natural causes death of the family bird. It goes by quickly, but Wijngaarden packs a lot of laughs and flash into just a couple of minutes.
One of the shortest, but most visually powerful shorts to make this list, Caroline Monnet’s Creatura Dada casts indigenous women (including legendary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin) as attendees of an opulent dinner party. A striking portrait of empowerment and femininity, Monnet’s percussive short leaves a visual and emotional impression on the viewer greater than its short running time might suggest.
This tragicomic Canadian short from filmmakers Philippe David Gagné and Jean-Marc E. Roy might take its name from one of the most nausea inducing liqueurs ever created (you know this is true and there’s no telling me otherwise), but the film built around it is eminently likable and moving. A woman (a wonderful Charlotte Aubin) travels back to her hometown for the funeral of her semi-estranged Rush worshiping father, only to find that her dad’s former landlord wants his former tenant’s unit to be emptied out by the end of the week. It’s a task easier said than done considering that mom is very little help and it turned out that dad was a bit of a hoarder. But through this frustrated hero’s journey, a catharsis comes, and it’s quite lovely. This one is guaranteed to make you smile.
Canadian filmmaker Vincent Toi’s ambitious and artistically fascinating reimagining of Creole history and myth takes a lot of different storytelling techniques, mixes them up, and comes up with something timeless. Set against the backdrop of Guinea slaves being sent to work in Haiti in the 18th century, but played out by performers working with modern sensibilities and told from the overarching perspective of an orated history, The Crying Conch is insightful, intelligent, playful, and entertaining.
Sky Hopkina’s innovative documentary look at the 2016 Standing Rock protests eschews big picture significance to tell smaller, more intimate stories of the First Nations resistance from perspectives within the movement that are often ignored. Dislocation Blues expertly shows how the personal is almost always political, but it also functions as a well constructed text that dives deeply, but subtly into media manipulation and the double edged sword of nostalgia. There’s a lot to process here, but it’s worth it.
Inhabitants of a dying community with a dwindling population talk about life on the margins and their plans for the future in Portuguese animator Xá and documentarian Laura Gonçalves’ artful and poignant blending of gorgeous, hand drawn black and white illustration and real life interviews. The community being described by the recordings of these people is never glimpsed, but it sounds appropriately surreal, making the marriage of animation and documentary technique a perfect fit for Drop by Drop.
Up and coming writer-director Naledi Jackson’s The Drop In (featured in the image at the top of the page) is an assured work that’s best viewed by knowing as little as possible about how the plot works outside of saying that it starts when a beauty salon worker is stopped from closing up by a woman begging to get her braids fixed. Outside of saying that, The Drop In is revolutionary in this year’s short selection for several reasons: it plays out entirely between two black female leads (Mouna Traoré and Oluniké Adeliyi), it’s the only subtle sci-fi short in this year’s line-up (with echoes of Blade Runner), and it’s the only short this year (that I’ve seen) to feature a full on action sequence. It’s great, but that’s all I want to tell you outside of a parting word to say that I can’t wait to see what Jackson does next.
A Palestinian refugee living on the streets of Athens struggles, hustles, and desperately attempts to scrounge up enough food for a comfortable meal and some smokes in Mahdi Fleifel’s kinetic and heart-wrenching drama A Drowning Man. Effectively placing the viewer into the shoes of someone in a bad situation driven to worse places by desperate, but basic human needs, Fleifel has created a tragic, bracing commentary for our times.
A raw, but moving familial portrait, Luis de Filippis’ For Nonna Anna concerns a teenage transwoman (YouTube star Maya Henry) caring for her frail, Italian speaking grandmother during what feels like a time of need for both women. Delicate and easily identifiable to anyone who has ever had to care for an elderly loved on, For Nonna Annabuilds to a moment of great tenderness and recognition that builds a bridge between generations with a single glance.
Qiu Yang picked up the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes this year for his riveting and immediate look at a Chinese mother trying desperately to locate her missing daughter. Fed up with what she sees as police inaction, she sets out on an all night journey for answers. Played out in sprawling, expertly choreographed shots from atypical perspectives, A Gentle Night flips the script on a genre staple that was in danger of growing stale. We’ve all seen plenty of films where grieving parents search for missing children, but never one like this.
The latest short film from Trevor Mack, Grandmother finds a young indigenous child fascinated by his grandmother’s old VHS camcorder. Seeing the camera not only as an escape from a life dominated by a less than exemplary or understanding surrogate father figure, but also as a way to reconnect to his beloved grandmother, the boy’s journey starts of poignant, but builds to a grand tragedy with stark, timely relevance. It’s moving, gutting, must-see filmmaking.
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Where to find it:
Screening as part of Midnight Madness before the feature Mom and Dad
If the description for the short just above this one seems inscrutable to you, then I can’t even try to explain or contextualize the latest creepy, weirdly comic offering from Astron-6 members Milos Mitrovic and Connor Sweeney. It’s, um, related to The Simpsons… uh… somewhat… and… well, it might be the strangest thing I have seen since that guy dressed up as a cut rate Max Headroom and pirated a TV broadcast.
An Imagined Conversation: Kanye West & Stephen Hawking
Another oddball that almost defies rational explanation, Sol Friedman’s animated and wholly hypothetical vision of a bro-down on the beach between rap’s biggest mouthpiece and the world’s most renowned cosmologist might push the boundaries of good taste for some, but there’s no denying that this short contains some huge belly laughs. Growing stranger and more ridiculous as it goes along, Friedman’s tête-à-tête between two of pop culture’s most instantly recognizable figureheads throws whatever it comes up with at the wall, and shockingly almost all of it sticks. At any rate, viewers will never be able to look at Drake or Bryan Cranston the same way again.
At a gas station in The Philippines on the verge of going out of business, a once dedicated employee stops giving any sort of a shit in Carlo Francisco Manatad’s black comedy Jodilerks Dela Cruz, Employee of the Month. Sometimes in gleefully bad taste and filmed with a gritty, grimy visual sensibility, but always riveting and relatable, it’s a spectacularly realized yarn based around a good employee gone hilariously bad.
The latest project from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnographic Lab (Leviathan, Manakamana), La Libertad finds Laura Huertas Millán observing female weavers plying their trade in Mexico. An unfiltered look at craftsmanship, the creative process, and even consumer culture on a subtextual level, La Libertad is just as entrancing and potentially hypnotic as other offerings in the Ethnographic Lab’s filmography, but astute viewers will be thinking longer and harder about what’s happening outside the margins of this observational documentary than some of their other offerings rather than dwelling exclusively on what’s happening within the frame.
A dancer and single mother brings her still breast feeding toddler away on a retreat to a cabin in the woods to focus on her next gig as a choreographer and wean her son onto the bottle. What could have been comic in its own right takes an inspired, creative, and bonkers horror movie twist in Canadian filmmakers Justin Hardin and Rob Brunner’s Latched when a mysterious, monstrous creature is awakened to turn the woman’s life into a nightmare. It’s a strange one, but certainly memorable and entertaining.
Although the still incredibly young and immeasurably talented Canadian artist Connor Jessup might be known best to festival audiences as the break-out star of feature films Blackbird and Closet Monster, he has amassed quite a C.V. of directorial efforts worth noting. The fantastical and austere Lira’s Forest is a great addition to Jessup’s filmmaking career. Playing out like a live action sequence from a Miyazaki film, Lira’s Forest is a simple encounter between an elderly woman with emphysema sitting on her porch and a child-like, silent creature in a cat mask. A poignant look at staying young, growing old, and the power of wonder, Lira’s Forest is a quiet little marvel.
Midnight Confessions, the latest off-the-wall comedy from director, star, and co-writer Maxwell McCabe Lokos (someone I hope has a film at the festival every year until he gets tired of making them), is the side-splitting and more than slightly pathetic tale of a pathological liar calling up former friends in the middle of the night from his West Berlin shithole apartment circa 1989. The caller wants to rebuild burned bridges and let those he aggrieved say how they really feel about him, but things don’t go so well. A fascinating and funny look at the nature of guilt, Midnight Confessions is a grimy delight.
One of the most haunting and best written films in this year’s shorts programme is Sam Kuhn’s mash-up of noir, teen movies, and transcendental cinema, Möbius. Told largely from the inner monologue of a teenager trying to piece together the disappearance of her boyfriend, Kuhn’s film starts in a place of visual splendour and narrative delicacy before exploding outward in surprising, elegant fashion. It’s stylish, unnerving, playful, and not to be missed.
Not to be confused with the latest feature from Darren Aronofsky that’s also playing this year’s festival, Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s intense, largely single take thriller focuses on a single Spanish mother (Marta Nieto) who gets a call from her young son from a French beach. The boy’s father has seemingly disappeared, the battery on the child’s phone is dying, and the young man has no idea the name of the beach. Tapping into a primal, unimaginable fear to great effect, Mother is one of the most thrilling shorts of the festival.
Canadian filmmaker and documentarian Michelle Latimer returns to the festival with Nucca, a haunting, stripped down look at the alarming and unacceptable number of missing and endangered indigenous women. Over shots of a North Dakota reservation that has become a hotbed for oil drilling, a young woman talks about the day her community stopped feeling like a safe place to live. Nuuca takes a vital, often overlooked issue and strips it back to its painful, harrowing essence.
Filmmaker Michael Robinson’s avant garde short begins with the sounds of a preacher talking about predestination and temperament, but this entrancing, moving, and unnerving work of cinematic art evolves into something unexpected. Expertly blending strobing effects, text, subtext, slowed down stock footage, audio cues, and music to almost symphonic effect, Robinson has crafted one of the best (and hard to explain) art films of the year.
Providing the biggest number of hearty belly laughs of any film on this list, Cyril Aris’ The President’s Visit concerns a small Lebanese fishing village that’s whipped into a frenzy when a local soap maker lets it slip that the country’s leader is buying some of his artisanal soaps for his “cleansing” of the country’s corrupt political landscape. What was supposed to be a secret trip to the town turns into an all out frenzy with people going out of their way (and in some cases, outright lying) in an effort to impress the president. Aris’ cast is comedically gifted across the board, and the director can get just as much mileage out of a well timed sound effect happening in the distance as he can from the film’s sharply written dialogue and message.
Canadian filmmaker Sara Cwynar’s purposefully colourful and vibrant Rose Gold unfolds at a blistering pace, painting a picture of consumerism as a form of near mania. Expertly edited, Cwynar looks at vanishing ways of life, branding, nostalgia, and how many rabid consumers give in to objectification in such an accomplished fashion that it never feels overwhelming. This is smart filmmaking made for smart people.
The children of Syrian refugees now living in Canada attempt to adjust to cultural and language shifts in filmmaker Yassmina Karajah’s heartbreaking and profound second short. A cautious young man and his sister (Assad al Arid and Salam al Marzouqi, who like the rest of the primary cast are non-actors) set out with some more adventurous friends to find a local swimming pool and shopping mall to pass the time. Gradually, a secret will be revealed that the brother has been hiding from his sister, but even prior to Rupture’s big reveal, Karajah’s film functions as a timely and perceptive look at struggles into integrate into a new culture after leaving tragic circumstances behind.
Toronto filmmaker Kazik Radwanski (Tower, How Heavy This Hammer) returns to the festival this year in the Wavelengths programme with this deceptively simple look at a pair of contractors (Jasmin Geljo and Igor Drljaca) as they work on a home in Toronto’s Danforth area. Never showing the faces of anyone involved with the renovation (but curiously showing those of people across the laneway and street) Scaffold seems experimental and almost banal at first, but gradually stories begin to form and emotions are stirred thanks to Radwanski’s unique method of placing viewers at an almost waist-level view of the action. It’s a fascinating work from one of Canada’s best working filmmakers.
A great performative piece full of movement and surreal delights should be able to tell a viewer any number of stories without bombarding them with too much unecessary detail, and that’s precisely what Phillip Barker’s black-and-white-and-nearly-wordless short Shadow Nettes does splendidly. Depicting fishermen who like to capture shadows, it’s a film so expertly designed and choreographed that almost no explanation is needed to get attuned to its singular wavelength.
The definition of a slow-burn, this patient, but worthwhile film from Japanese filmmaker Kei Chikaura starts out by following a skittish, ear-bud wearing Chinese tourist as he attempts to navigate a bustling Tokyo commercial centre. What begins as a low-key fish out of water story and observational drama quickly turns into something humane and moving following a key revelation about this young man’s journey. It’s a revelation worth waiting around for.
One of the world’s greatest and unrecognized inventors contemplates his life and research in a letter penned to one of his greatest funders – J.P. Morgan – in Canadian filmmaker Matthew Rankin’s visually dazzling blend of documentary, fictional filmmaking, outsider art, and animation. The Tesla World Light creatively blends a lot of dissimilar techniques with such unique precision that it becomes a lovely reflection of its titular historical figurehead.
Latin American filmmaker Juan Sebastián Quebrada’s The Treehouse would be hilarious if it didn’t feel so realistic and lived in that it almost becomes uncomfortable. In The Treehouse, a woman moves into a new apartment with her long term lover, but in the process of getting settled in she starts to learn that her boyfriend isn’t who she first thought he was. A picture perfect look at falling in and out of love and the remorse people feel when they learn the truth about someone, The Treehouse is complex and understanding in ways that few shorts about doomed relationships could ever achieve.
At turns eerie and calming, Rawane Nassif’s observational film travels to the seemingly deserted and quiet Qanat Quarter of Doha, Qatar. Paying close attention to the tackily fabricated facades of storefronts and buildings that are designed to look like visitors are anywhere but Qatar, Nassif has crafted something that runs counter to filmmaking convention. By looking at the glossy artifice straight on and remaining silent, Nassif’s film is the rare example where reflections in a pane of glass are more telling and honest than the actual foreground image.
Writer, journalist filmmaker, and music video director Chandler Levack’s adaptation of Kayt Burgess’ novel Heidegger’s Stairwell concerns, Evan (Jesse Todd), a former manager for a band that’s reached the big time following his acrimonious, sudden, but emotionally understandable split from the group. Returning out of nowhere after four years to tell his former clients that he has written a tell-all book about the band and his life stirs up plenty of mixed feelings. Levack, who still has quite the career ahead of her, has proven to be a master of characterization, creating deeper personalities and connections in a short film than many accomplished filmmakers could over an entire feature. Add to Levack’s talents a top notch cast (including Grace Glowicki, Cara Gee, Dov Tiefenbach, and co-writer Stephen McCarthy) and one ends up with an exceptionally moving backstage drama.
A story of young people crushing on each other with a twist, British filmmaker Dionne Edwards We Love Moses is a smart and witty look at how teenage girls can experiment and explore their sexuality while their male peers are often too consumed by proving their masculinity at the same age. Grade eight student Ella (a wonderful Danaë Jean Marie) develops a crush for her big brother’s best friend, Moses (Jerome Holder), but the relationship between the two men isn’t what Ella initially expected. Edwards’ thoughtfully assembled script and direction offers up a multi-layered look at the pressures faced by teens when they try to subscribe to pre-determined, rigid societal norms.
Glance at this year’s TIFF schedule and the downsizing doesn’t really leap out at you – there seem to be just as many Galas and Special Presentations as ever, cramming venues with red carpets.
Look for the Short Cuts screenings, though, and the cuts are obvious: there are just eight programs of Canadian and international short subjects, down from 11 last year.
Not that selection has suffered, mind you; programmers Jason Anderson and Danis Goulet have curated another fine selection of short cinema, organized into roughly thematic collections.
Program One looks at connections, from the oddball pairing of a hip-hop king and the greatest mind on Earth in Sol Friedman’s animated An Imagined Conversation: Kanye West And Stephen Hawking to the quartet of young refugees whose repressed traumas bubble back up as they visit a Vancouver pool in Yassmina Karajah’s Rupture. And Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart’s Bickford Park looks at another sort of connection, as a young woman (Liane Balaban) avoids dealing with her husband (Patrick Costello) by taking skateboarding lessons from a teenager (Daniel Policelli).
Program Two is about "high-pressure situations," and includes Heather Young’s Milk – which stars Babette Hayward as a dairy worker dealing with a pregnancy, and reminded me of Denis Côté’s observational documentaries – and Daniel Cockburn’s dry The Argument (With Annotations), which elegantly knits the semiotics of cinema into an understated relationship drama about an academic (Clare Coulter) who realizes that her partner (Robin Benger) is kind of a tool.
Program Three, about "hoping and coping," features Trevor Mack’s haunting Grandmother – a meditation on family, memory and generational pain with a striking visual aesthetic – and The President’s Visit, Lebanese filmmaker Cyril Aris’s comedy about the mounting hysteria in a small town awaiting the eponymous leader. This program also includes Bird, a delicate drama about a woman (Amanda Plummer) trying to do right by her aging parents (Geza Kovacs and The Argument’s Coulter). It’s the writing and directing debut of the actor Molly Parker, and it’s exactly as thoughtful and textured as I’d expect something of hers to be.
Program Four, about "the mysteries of human desire," offers a couple of imported gems: Charlotte Wells’s Blue Christmas, a grim English drama about a debt collector (Jamie Robson) and his disturbed wife (Michelle Duncan), and Carolina Markowitz’s Long Distance Relationship, a very strange monologue from a Brazilian gentleman (Matías Singer) who would like to have sex with an extraterrestrial someday.
Program Five, about "those who struggle to find a place for themselves," features Chandler Levack’s We Forgot To Break Up, a sharp character study about a guy named Evan (Jesse Todd) who drops backstage to catch up with his old friends in a band, who knew him when he was called Evie.
Packed with Toronto talent – including Steven McCarthy (who also co-wrote the script), Cara Gee, Grace Glowicki, Dov Tiefenbach, Mark Rendall and Sofia Banzhaf – and shot by Cabot McNenly in a hushed, intimate manner that belies the bustling Danforth Music Hall location, it’s a small marvel of storytelling, building entire histories out of half-finished sentences and quick glances. And the song that closes the film has been bouncing around in my head for the last couple of weeks. (Full disclosure: I know a few of these people. It’s still a really good short.)
Program Six, composed of “daring films that blur boundaries and break conventions," offers the year’s strongest and strangest lineup. There’s The Burden, a stop-motion musical from Swedish director Niki Lindroth von Bahr; Filipino filmmaker Carlo Francisco Manatad’s slow-burn satire Jodilerks Dela Cruz, Employee Of The Month; Matthew Rankin’s delirious stop-motion kinograph The Tesla World Light and Jamille van Wijngaarden’s equally delirious (if considerably more concise) animated farce Catastrophe.
Sam Kuhn’s Möbius and Justin Harding and Rob Brunner’s Latched both mix dance and the fantastical, to very different results; there’s the down-to-earth observational dramedy of Philippe David Gagné and Jean-Marc E. Roy’s Crème De Menthe, in which a young woman (Charlotte Aubin) finally connects to her late father by sorting through his personal effects, and Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas’s Roadside Attraction people-watches on a strip of Florida road that overlooks the airport where Air Force One delivers Donald Trump to his weekend getaways.
Program Seven, about characters facing "the very worst of challenges," collects oddball entries like Midnight Confession, a darkish-night-of-the-soul story from writer/director/star Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, and Michaela Müller’s Airport uses beautiful hand-painted animation to turn the mundane experience of travel into an impressionistic landscape of beauty and horror.
Oh, but there’s more: fans of The Simpsons will be equally attracted and repelled by the freakish live-action inhabitants of homer_b, from Astron-6 members Milos Mitrovic and Conor Sweeney, while Qiu Yang’s Cannes-winning drama A Gentle Night packs a great deal of tension into a quarter of an hour. (You don’t need to know more than that.)
Finally, there’s Program Eight, about “surviving and thriving” – which is not necessarily a description I’d apply to Connor Jessup’s Lira’s Forest, a sort of live-action Miyazaki fable about a dying woman (Patricia Hamilton) visited by a fox spirit. But I suppose it depends on your point of view. One could say the same for the events of Phillip Barker’s Shadow Nettes, an eerie mixture of myth and dance.
Things are a little more concrete in Jessica Palud’s Marlon, a brooding drama that follows a teenage girl (Flavie Delangle) as she prepares to visit her mother in prison, and in Kei Chikaura’s Signature, about a young Chinese man (Lu Yulai) seeking purpose in Tokyo. And the resulting mixture is a fine, considered selection of cinema from Canada and beyond – just like all of this year’s programs, really. Fewer doesn't have to mean lesser.
The 2017 Short Cuts lineup is here, and as in past years, it is international and diverse. With 59 short films in 16 different languages in eight programmes from over 30 countries, there is a wealth of fresh, original points of view. Female-directed films make up 40% of the section.
This year's programme offers strong new animation, including the spellbinding hand-drawn NFB film Threads from Oscar-winning animator Torril Kove; Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s The Burden, winner of the Cristal for a Short Film award at the 2017 Annecy International Animation Film Festival; and The Death, Dad & Son by Denis Walgenwitz and Winshluss, the renowned French comic book artist who co-wrote and co-directed the Oscar-nominated Persepolis (07).
The Short Cuts section also features the bold directorial debuts of several well-known actors, including the hilarious FIVE MINUTES by Justine Bateman, and the raw and tender Bird, a drama written and directed by renowned Canadian Molly Parker and starring Amanda Plummer. A former TIFF Rising Star, actor and filmmaker Connor Jessup also returns to the Festival with the evocative Lira's Forest. Among the very notable talents in front of the camera are French film great Tcheky Karyo in Sophie Beaulieu’s delightfully deadpan comedy I Didn't Shoot Jesse James and Toronto’s own Liane Balaban in Bickford Park.
One of the many socio-political issues tackled by short filmmakers in the program is violence against women; Ifunanya Maduka’s heartbreaking Waiting for Hassanashares a brave teenager’s account of the 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping, and Michelle Latimer's Nuuca makes a disturbing link between resource extraction industries' exploitation of Indigenous land and violence against these communities. Among the many stories of migration and the search for new homes are Mahdi Fleifel’s gripping A Drowning Man, Emad Aleebrahim Dehkordi’s devastating Lower Heaven, and Rupture, a powerful effort born out of a collaboration between director Yassmina Karajah and a cast of young refugees in BC.
Bold and provocative stories about family and romantic relationships are just as prominent. Mothers in desperate straits are at the centre of such selections, including Yang Qiu’s A Gentle Night — which won the Short Film Palme d'Or at Cannes — and Mother, an intense new film from Spain's Rodrigo Sorogoyen about every parent's nightmare. And as always, some of the boldest Short Cuts selections delve into matters of love and sex; the results are especially charged in Marc-Antoine Lemire’s sultry and surprising trans-themed romance Pre-Drink, and Sebastian Quebrada’s Treehouse, a drama about two young lovers’ extremely volatile dynamic.
The Short Cuts lineup will be presented in a series of eight short film programmes.
The international films in the 2017 Short Cuts programme:
Airport | Michaela Müller, Switzerland/Croatia North American Premiere
TORONTO — The Toronto International Film Festival® announced today the 29 Canadian short films that will light up the screens this September. The 2017 lineup includes the directorial efforts of multiple TIFF alumni, accomplished actors, filmmakers with recent projects at multiple major Festivals and discoveries by TIFF programmers that together round out a powerful and eclectic mix. In addition to a wide range of genres, the Festival’s Canadian shorts selection also encompasses a variety of perspectives, including 11 titles directed by women and three films by Indigenous filmmakers. Highlights include: Michelle Latimer’s Nuuca, executive produced by Oscar winner Laura Poitras, and the latest by Latimer, who was part of Sundance’s The New Climate program earlier this year; Sol Friedman’s An Imagined Conversation: Kanye West & Stephen Hawking, a hilarious black-and-white animation right out of a parallel universe; Caroline Monnet’s Creatura Dada, which stars Alanis Obomsawin and is Monnet’s first project since becoming the first Canadian filmmaker to be selected for the prestigious Cannes Cinéfondation Residence program; and Naledi Jackson’s The Drop In, at Toronto-set sci-fi immigration thriller that takes place entirely in a hair salon.
The Festival’s Canadian short film slate also includes: Molly Parker’s Bird, the compelling directorial debut of the B.C. actor known for her roles in Deadwood, House of Cards and other TV hits; TIFF Rising Star alumnus Connor Jessup’s Lira’s Forest, the actor-turneddirector’s second short at the Festival; Matthew Rankin’s Cannes selection The Tesla World Light (Tesla : Lumière Mondiale), a luminescent black-and-white animation and live-action mix centred around the famous inventor; and Gabriel Savignac’s Stay, I Don’t Want to Be Alone (Reste, je ne veux pas être toute seule), a touching, beautifully crafted portrait of a pastry factory worker with an intellectual disability at a difficult moment in her life.
All 24 Canadian Short Cuts titles are eligible for the IWC Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Short Film. All films in the Short Cuts programme are eligible for the IWC Short Cuts Award for Best Film. This year's jury includes Marit van den Elshout, Head of CineMart at the International Film Festival Rotterdam; award-winning filmmaker Johnny Ma (Old Stone); and Cannes 2017 Art Cinema Award winner Chloé Zhao (The Rider). The 42nd Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 7 to 17, 2017.
The Argument (with annotations) Daniel Cockburn, Canada/UK World Premiere
Bickford Park Linsey Stewart, Dane Clark, Canada World Premiere
Bird Molly Parker, Canada World Premiere
Charles Dominic Etienne Simard, Canada/France World Premiere
Creatura Dada Caroline Monnet, Canada Toronto Premiere
Crème de menthe Philippe David Gagné, Jean-Marc E. Roy, Canada North American Premiere
The Crying Conch (Le cri du lambi) Vincent Toi, Canada North American Premiere
The Drop In Naledi Jackson, Canada World Premiere
For Nonna Anna Luis De Filippis, Canada World Premiere
Grandmother (ʔEtsu) Trevor Mack, Canada World Premiere
homer_b Milos Mitrovic, Conor Sweeney, Canada World Premiere
An Imagined Conversation: Kanye West & Stephen Hawking Sol Friedman, Canada World Premiere
Latched Justin Harding, Rob Brunner, Canada World Premiere
Lira's Forest Connor Jessup, Canada World Premiere
Midnight Confession Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Canada/USA World Premiere
Milk Heather Young, Canada World Premiere
Nuuca Michelle Latimer, Canada World Premiere
Pre-Drink Marc-Antoine Lemire, Canada World Premiere
Rupture Yassmina Karajah, Jordan/Canada World Premiere
Shadow Nettes Phillip Barker, Canada World Premiere
Stay, I Don't Want to Be Alone (Reste, je ne veux pas être toute seule) Gabriel Savignac, Canada World Premiere
The Tesla World Light (Tesla : Lumière Mondiale) Matthew Rankin, Canada North American Premiere
Threads Torill Kove, Canada/Norway North American Premiere
We Forgot to Break Up Chandler Levack, Canada World Premiere
The Hollywood Reporter by Etan Vlessing March 12, 2017 7:15 PM
The Emmy winner nabbed the best TV actress prize for 'Orphan Black' and the best film actress award for her star turn in 'The Other Half.'
Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany dominated the Canadian Screen Awards, her country's national film and TV awards, Sunday night by earning two best actress crowns. BBC America's and Space's Orphan Black also won for best Canadian TV drama.
Maslany first won the best film actress prize for her role in the indie romantic drama The Other Half. Accepting the award, she paid tribute to co-star and boyfriend Tom Cullen: "My Tom, my other half, you are electric and fearless and generous and the kindness you bring to set is inspiring and the bravery in your work is what I think of every day on set."
Maslany then stole the show by nabbing the best TV drama actress prize for her star turn in Orphan Black. "This is for all of my sestras, my beautiful sestras," she said on stage, referring to her fellow clones in the homegrown sci-fi series headed to its fifth and final season.
The Canadian actress last year won the Emmy for best actress in a drama series for her performance in Orphan Black. The clone drama, where Maslany plays a dozen look-alike characters, nabbed a field-leading 14 TV category nominations going into the Canadian Screen Awards.
Orphan Black in pre-broadcast prize-giving earned another seven trophies, including best direction and best writing in a dramatic series. In other TV acting categories, the best drama actor prize went to Adrian Holmes for his performance in the the cop drama 19-2, while SCTV alum Catherine O'Hara repeated as best comedy actress for her role in Schitt's Creek.
Elsewhere, Letterkenny won for best Canadian comedy, and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee nabbed the best comedy actor prize for his role in the homegrown sitcom Kim's Convenience. And Natasha Negovanlis, star of the LGBTQ web drama Carmilla, won the fan choice award.
In the film categories, Stephan James won the best film actor prize for his role in Race, the Jesse Owens biopic. And Xavier Dolan earned the best Canadian film and best film director prizes for his Cannes grand jury prize earner, It's Only the End of the World, starring Marion Cotillard.
The French language drama also earned Dolan the best adapted screenplay trophy and Vincent Cassel the best supporting actor prize. And House of Cards star Molly Parker won for best supporting film actress for her role in Weirdos.
America's Got Talent judge Howie Mandel hosted the Canadian kudos-fest, which honors homegrown film, TV and digital media content product. An emotional highlight of the evening was Hollywood comedy star Dave Chappelle introducing a tribute to the Just for Laughs comedy festival.
Chappelle recounted first coming to the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal in 1992 and discovering in Canada a kinder and gentler United States culturally, "like the little gay brother I didn't know we had." Other highlights included Christopher Plummer receiving a lifetime achievement award, an honor the Oscar winning actor attributed as much to his 87 years of age as his body of stage and screen work over a seven-decade career.
"I'm old. Dangerously old. I'm so old that when I was a baby, the first word I uttered was in Latin," a self-deprecating Plummer said before adding: "The curtain has not yet fallen. It's simply stuck." And Blackstone drama star Tantoo Cardinal was awarded the Earle Grey Award for her four-decade long acting career.
The Canadian Screen Awards are organized by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television and aired on CBC.
The nominations for the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards were announced Tuesday, honouring the best in Canada’s film and television industries over the past year.
Leading the list of TV nominations is “Orphan Black” with 14 nominations, while other series to receive multiple nods include “Schitt’s Creek” (13), “Kim’s Convenience” (11), and “19-2” and “Vikings”, which each garnered nine nods.
ET Canada viewers will be pleased to note that two of our own TV specials — one exploring the fourth season of “Vikings”, the other focusing on “Survivor” — also received nominations.
Howie Mandel hosts the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards, to be broadcast live from Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts on Sunday, March 12. Here is the complete list of film and television nominees:
Calum Marsh | December 2, 2016 10:59 AM ET National Post
Joey Klein’s The Other Half is an old-fashioned picture. Not only does it bear few hallmarks of life for urban 20-somethings in the present day – the hero, an English ex-pat living in Toronto named Nickie (Tom Cullen), communicates with his mother back home almost exclusively by way of calling-cards and payphones – but it’s also the sort of passé romantic drama I’d long assumed to be obsolete for independent filmmakers. But here’s Klein, stalwart Canadian star of screens big and small, with his directorial debut bringing the style back to vogue.
Nickie is of a type recently fashionable among leading men: grief-stricken, volatile, and darkly handsome, could-be British cousin to Christopher Abbott in James White or Casey Affleck in this year’s Manchester By the Sea. Like those louts, Nickie is by turns morose and choleric, passing the time either sulking to himself at the bar or blowing up at strangers; all it takes is a bumped shoulder in passing, a dubious glance in a club, to provoke a cataract of sailing fists. But where Abbott and Affleck’s wretches seemed beyond redemption – their pain too acute, their agony ongoing – Nickie wants to be saved. He’s ready to love, ready to get over it, ready to go to the bar without brawling.
Enter Emily (Tatiana Maslany), a sort of manic-depressive pixie dream girl. She and Nickie meet-cute (she’s on hand when he gets into a fight at the café that’s his meagre day job), fall for one another hard (dreamy romance montages abound) and seem on course for forever-happiness – until of course they aren’t. It soon transpires that Emily suffers from rapid cycling bipolar disorder: without the calming salve of her medication she’s prone to bouts of manic anarchy, a feverish analogue to Nickie’s fits of rage. She blasts music, dances wildly, paints all day and night. It’s all Nickie can do to stand back and watch.
It’s a love nearly conquered by hardship: they try, they struggle, they flail, all a brand of romantic turbulence we’ve seen on screen before. What distinguishes The Other Half are two rare virtues; one novel, one indispensable given the form. The first is the film’s fresh take on mental illness; fresh because it’s treated with sensitivity and care. Emily’s illness isn’t reduced to a quirk or idiosyncrasy; neither does it unduly define her, governing every dimension of the role.
Klein adopts the radical position that bipolar disorder is a problem this woman sometimes has under control and sometimes does not. Unfortunate that a true-to-life, down-to-earth depiction of mental illness needs to be singled out and commended in 2016. But it does, and this one ought to be.
Klein’s other asset is his ensemble. Maslany and Cullen have been praised extensively (and justly) for their work here in festival reviews and across the trades; no less excellent, if perhaps less conspicuous, are the performances of the film’s supporting players. Deragh Campbell, so terrific in Matt Porterfield’s I Used to Be Darker, does much with little screen time.
The oft-underappreciated Henry Czerny – he was Tom Cruise’s boss in Brian De Palma’s Mission Impossible, most memorably – lends depth and gravity to the role of Emily’s put-upon father, while Suzanne Clement, favoured leading lady of Xavier Dolan, gives some shading to the unloved stepmother. It stands to reason that a career actor would have a gift for directing actors himself. What Klein does with the talent on hand proves the point.
Thanks to Mongrel Media for partnering with us as the Canadian distributor for The Other Half.
Nickie Bellow (Tom Cullen) is a self-destructive drifter, ever mourning the disappearance of his younger brother. Having abandoned a life of promise in his native UK, he has spent the inaugural years of adulthood drowning grief in alcohol and violence. By the 5th anniversary of his brother’s disappearance he has reached his nadir - fired from his menial job, he is poised once again for an aimless life. Then he meets Emily (Tatiana Maslany) and the two form an immediate, inseparable bond – it is love at first sight deepened by a shared sense of sorrow. Enamored with each other, they expedite the standard rituals of a ‘normal’ relationship. Drunk on the intoxication of an accelerated young love, they consume each other ravenously, accustomed to the fleeting and transitory, untrusting of permanence. After a short amount of time, his PTSD and her bipolar disorder surface complicating their new-found intimacy. They have a connection deeper than anything they could have imagined; it’s the two of them against the world. For Nickie and Emily, time does not heal all wounds, but could real love indeed conquer all?
Friday, December 2, 2016
For information on the film including the trailer, production stills, poster and more, please click here
Writer/Director Joey Klein and Tatiana Maslany are in attendance for the film's west coast premiere.
The Other Half
True North | Canadian Images
The Other Half presents the dramatic relationship between a bipolar woman and a grief-stricken man. A feature directorial debut from Joey Klein, the film’s nuanced and sensitive narrative is striking in its depth and sincerity as it portrays a relationship borne of mutual mental distress. Emily (Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black) and Nickie (Tom Cullen, Weekend) may not seem practically right for each other but their shared feelings of isolation, torment and depression yield a therapeutic bond wherein the presence of each other offers a sense of relief that evolves into a profound love.
Maslany and Cullen display great chemistry and are highly convincing in their difficult roles, while Klein’s sharp screenplay crafts their relationship through wonderfully subtle details. The writer-director’s inspired use of voice-over invites us to form an intimate relationship with these characters, while the film’s unique aesthetic flourishes and an indelible soundtrack creates a dizzyingly atmospheric tone that lingers long after the curtains close.
"A troubled, anguished love story that neither exaggerates nor soft-pedals the demons on display… Cullen, so memorable as the shy, taciturn half of a gay couple in Andrew Haigh’s superb British indie Weekend, brilliantly ratchets up the dramatic tension through body language alone… [And] Maslany, no stranger to mercurial turns after her endlessly multifaceted work on Orphan Black, makes Emily someone far too alive and sprawling to be reduced to a redemptive symbol…"—Justin Chang, Variety
We're thrilled to be amongst excellent company at the esteemed Los Cabos International Film Festival.
11 OCTOBER, 2016 | BY JEREMY KAY
Amat Escalante’s The Untamed (pictured) and Andrea Arnold’s American Honey will compete for the Cinemax Award for the best competition film at the Mexican festival, set to run from November 9-13.
The other selections in the Competencia Los Cabos main competition strand are: Antonio Campos’ Christine, Kristopher Avedisian’s Donald Cried, Matt Johnson’s Operation Avalanche, Gabe Klinger’s Porto, Rafi Pitts’ Soy Nero, Joey Klein’s The Other Half and Kim Nguyen’s Two Lovers And A Bear.
Competing for top honours in Mexico Primero are: Maria José Cuevas’ Beauties Of The Night, Sebastián Hiriart’s Carroña, Rodrigo Cervantes’ LosPaisages, Lucía Carreras’ Tamara y La Catarina, Ricardo Silva and Omar Guzmán’s William,The New Judo Master, and Juan Andrés Arango’s X500.
Festival heads said most of the Mexico Primero entries came through the festival’s Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund.
The winners of the Cinemax Award for best film in the Competencia Los Cabos, Cinemax Award for best film in Mexico Primero and the Cinemax Audience Award for the most popular Mexican film from both sections will each receive MXN$200,000, roughly equivalent to USD $10,549 based on exchange rates at time of writing
The festival also carries a FIPRESCI Award for best Mexican film, the Labodigital Distribution Incentive worth USD$15,000 in services, and the Art Kingdom Showbiz Agency prize, worth USD$12,000, for the production of a trailer for one Mexico Primero entry.
We were delighted The Other Half was selected by Cinefest Sudbury.FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JULY 26, 2016 CINÉFEST SUDBURY ANNOUNCES FEATURES CANADA TO FESTIVAL LINEUP SUDBURY – Cinéfest Sudbury is excited to announce this year’s selection of high-calibre Canadian feature films at the 28th edition of Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival.
Lavender [Ed Gass-Donnelly, Canada/USA, Pacific Northwest Pictures, 2016] Starring: Abbie Cornish, Justin Long and Dermot Mulroney When a photographer (Cornish) in a failing marriage suffers severe memory loss after a traumatic accident, strange clues among her photos suggest she may be responsible for the deaths of family members she never knew she had.
The Other Half [Joey Klein, Canada, Mongrel Media, 2016] Starring: Tatiana Maslany, Tom Cullen, Henry Czerny, Suzanne Clément and Mark Rendall Nickie Bellow (Cullen) is a self-destructive drifter, mourning the disappearance of his younger brother. Having abandoned a life of promise in his native UK, he has spent the inaugural years of adulthood drowning grief in alcohol and violence.
All Features Canada screenings will take place at SilverCity Sudbury, located at 355 Barrydowne Road. The 28th edition of Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival runs from September 17th – 25th, 2016.