Visit www.tiff.net/shareherjourney for more info.
TIFF is running a campaign called Share Her Journey to promote equal opportunities for women. This campaign celebrates successful and inspirational women behind and in front of the camera and is joined by a number of talented women in the industry as Ambassadors, including the Oscar-nominated Deepa Mehta, award-winning filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, and Toronto Youth Shorts award winner Carol Nguyen (This House is Not Empty, TYS2016). Carol has screened her film at Toronto Youth Shorts and a number of TIFF initiatives as well as numerous festivals across the country. We're so excited that Carol can take part in such a meaningful project.
Visit www.tiff.net/shareherjourney for more info.
Spring is a busy time for us; it's the start of the festival season and programmers run around trying to see as much as we can to study the market. We at Toronto Youth Shorts are generally scouring the crevices of Toronto for new works that wow us. We love the process, but invariably throughout the years there is always a good number of filmmakers that make it exceedingly hard for us.
If you're a filmmaker, especially a young one with any intention of getting your work seen by people outside of your social circle, you need to make it easier for your work to be seen.
LIST YOUR MAJOR CREDITS
Seems straightforward, no? Usually at screenings, there will be a program guide of some kind. But sometimes, even though a guide may be handed out, it would lack necessary information, like the name of the director or producer (or ANYONE that worked on the film). This means if we see a film we really like, we must wait for credits and then frantically take notes in the dark. And then put our google-fu to the test later, which leaves us feeling like stalkers.
This isn't the filmmakers' fault as it is the event organizer that is responsible for producing a coherent piece of collateral that represents their program. It's incredible how often organizers would completely ignore the creators of the work in their promotional material. As organizers of any screening, we should always let people know through some sort of marketing platform who directed the films that we put on our screens (at the very least). Anything less is disrespectful to the people who put their efforts into bringing the film to life for your event. (Shoutout to Ryerson for their outstanding programme guides!)
As a filmmaker, it is recommended to take some time to create a digital footprint, whether it be a website or social media accounts for your film, and then ensure that your name can be connected to your work. Here is where you can make it accessible for your audience, your peers, and industry professionals to see you, and then reach you.
Make like Storm, not Susan Storm.
If we think back on some classic film moments, like the Psycho shower scene or the shark appearing in Jaws, we notice our reactions are directly tied to the music. We all realize early on, either as a filmmaker or audience member, how crucial a good score is to a movie. On the flip side, it seems like a lot of filmmakers are scared of silence due to their exposure to films with a soundtrack and thus, lean too much on music to lift their scenes. Here are my two cents into this issue:
Do not use generic music just to fill the silence.
I was watching a film this year and it hit me that I had heard the song before. It was the same one I had used earlier in the week to edit a real estate video. It was free for commercial use and very generic; perfect for real estate, but not so good for a documentary. It was so plain that it kept distracting me from what the film wanted to say. I get it -- it is really hard to make independent films. The budget is minuscule, and you cannot always find talent that is willing to help out for so little. But if you cannot afford good music, don’t just use any song you find for free.
Do not force an emotion through music that you cannot match with the script and the visuals.
If your music is grand and swells up like the ending of a Hollywood movie, make sure your story follows the stakes. Do not put an action-oriented track or melodramatic violins in a scene if your character is alone and plainly framed in front of a computer. You might be able to pull it off, but it requires greater care. Music is supposed to aid the visuals, not engulf them (unless that’s the goal).
Ask yourself if having music is necessary in the first place.
Filmmakers are hammered with the importance of music in a movie - because it is important. However, it is crucial to remember that silence is part of the score too. It has incredible potency. For more on this, I'd recommend you watch Tony Zhou's video essay on this topic. While Zhou talks about fictional movies, my experience with the overbearing soundtrack, especially in reviewing work from this year, has been with documentaries. A few of them didn't have a single moment without background music. It was very distracting and it didn’t add anything to the story. I believe that, through editing, you can always find better ways to express a certain emotion and find a rhythm.
A portion of the films that Toronto Youth Shorts screen are made by individuals from college and university art programs and as I've recently survived my first year of university (while avoiding the freshmen 15) in a somewhat "artsy program" (Media Production), I have some thoughts to share/contribute/make a fool of myself/whatever it might be.
To start off, I want to say that I am enjoying the whole experience and the lovely people I met and will meet. It’s such a tight-knit community and you get to know almost everybody.
But, that also means shit goes down and ripples quickly.
In the beginning of the year all was great. Everyone shared stories and we were all doing creative things. Many people are also involved outside of school or are already working in the "industry" (how you define that can be broad but you get what I mean). To be honest, it feels a little weird to be around so many creative people. Some of us are used to being the odd ones out. And now EVERYONE around us are just as passionate and like-minded. It’s awesome but… (yes here comes the BUT).
The air became a little different, and inexplicable. Occasionally, there's a venom that swims beneath…
As time and our relationships with each other progressed, “stuff” surfaced. Maybe this is just a part of growing up, a part of being in the arts, or maybe this occurs in any industry. But as time went on, some people exhibited various signs of being competitive, jealous, ambitious, or a mix of all three. And some started to gossiped behind other people's backs.
"It’s just luck, she doesn't deserve that job..."
"His work isn't even good..."
"How did they get into this program..."
"Damn, must got some nice connections..."
This is NOT what I signed up for.
We all have our reasons for choosing the arts as an educational pursuit. Likewise, we will also all come out of it heading into different directions. But I believe regardless of what path each one of us take, we all enjoy being creative. Some of us want to make a change in the world through media. Some of us want to create the next block buster film. Or some of us simply like to share stories.
But as we dive deeper into the environment, we seem to forget all about it. Competition, ego, and ambition takes over. These traits aren’t necessarily terrible. No. These qualities can motivate and prompt valuable work. However, they act as blindfolds that consume us. As young infiltrators into this circle, it’s easy to be completely controlled by it. People begin to focus on “beating” each other. It becomes easy to be fixated on “I need to prove myself." But it is important to remind ourselves from time to time that we are just starting out. Even those of us who finish school will still have much to learn. We're absorbing and consuming to grow, to better ourselves. And while this may not be an easy journey for some of us, we should appreciate the creativity that we're afforded while we can. The real treasure (in my opinion) is the opportunity for collaboration of young minds, who are all growing as creative people. These opportunities may not be as readily available without major restrictions in place so we should feel relieved that we can experiment and try new things, and take some creative risks.
After another spring of university and college screenings, I’d like to report the obvious: student filmmakers love fake blood. And it’s easy to see why. From Psycho (in which chocolate syrup was used – since it popped better on black and white film stock) to Carrie, fake blood has been ingrained in the visual grammar of film since the end of the Hays Code era. But is it always worth the mess?
One of the questions that comes up again and again among the TYS programming staff is, “Was it necessary?” The “it” in this case isn’t always the blood itself, but rather the on-screen violence.
As a rule, we don’t shy away from including graphic imagery in the TYS programmes, but we do consider depictions of strong violence through the lens of whether or not they serve their films in an artistic way. Admittedly, as with the rest of film criticism, that’s a vague criterion, but we apply it with the best of intentions. Some of the questions we ask are:
These are all difficult questions for us as programmers to address, so we nearly always err on the side of giving filmmakers the benefit of the doubt.
But, before your next climactic scene turns into a bloodbath, ask yourself whether all the corn syrup is necessary. Your actors will thank you.
TYS2015 alumni, Hanna Jovin (animator for White Lines), is directing Erika, a short fiction film based on the true story of Sidika Delić Hadzihasanovic. It is set in the 1940’s, during the Nazi occupation of the city of Bihać, in Bosnia. The story follows two young girls, Sidika Delić and Erika Richter, as they develop a lasting friendship, despite being on opposite sides of war. Erika is written by two-time Toronto Youth Shorts award winner, Jessie Posthumus. If their past collaborations are any indication on the quality of their work, then Erika is definitely something we're excited to see in the near future. Support the film and get updates on the production through their Kickstarter campaign.
Why Do Flowers Die? is an animated short film about Rose, a 10-year-old-girl, who questions why people give flowers as gifts when her own start to die. Why Do Flowers Die? is directed and produced by Annie Amaya (Tanabata, 2015 and Grow, 2016). Based on her experiences during the period where her mother battled cancer (the basis of Grow), Why Do Flowers Die? examines this centuries-old universal gesture of expression, celebration, and mourning in face of the irony behind it. The Toronto Youth Shorts team loved her two previous pieces (I even personally programmed Tanabata into the festival) and we can't wait to see the film once it's complete. Take a look at Annie's behind-the-scenes process in making the film, including storyboards, at her Tumblr page.
As my fellow programmers Sia and Julia discussed, this year’s submissions broke the TYS record. For every film in our 2016 lineup, we left at least four on the cutting room floor. And while we were #blessed to have so many films to pick from, having such an embarrassment of riches actually presented some challenges.
Our programming process begins a few months before the submissions deadline, when we start attending school and community screenings around the GTA and trolling for films online. During this time, I find it very easy to get attached to specific films — maybe even too attached — before some of the other programmers have even seen them. In the lead up to the submissions deadline, I’ll hype up my favourites to my fellow programmers — “________ is the best student doc. I’ve ever seen!” — excited for the day when the filmmaker submits and everyone else can see what I’ve been going on about. Most of the time, we end up being on the same page, and we’ll add the film to our lineup without hesitation. But, sometimes, Sia, Julia and Henry will look at me like I have two heads, and I’ll be left scratching them both, wondering where exactly our tastes diverged.
These moments are actually instructive, because they help me to understand why I like particular elements of a film and why those elements don’t resonate with everyone else. When selecting a lineup, it’s absolutely important to have strong ideas about what makes a film good, but it’s equally important to acknowledge that if your fellow programmers don’t love a particular film, it’s likely the audience won’t either.
Of course, compromise is the name of the game, and it comes in many forms. Sometimes, it resembles political horse-trading, and sometimes it means coming to terms with the fact that certain films just aren’t going to fit the theme of any of the programs. More often, though, we come to an understanding through passionate, mostly level-headed discussions about the films themselves. It doesn’t make it any less painful to kill your darlings, but it’s really fun when you win.
This is my fourth year as a programmer for Toronto Youth Shorts, and each year, one of my main goals is to increase the number of participants from the high school level. I am very happy to say that we have received over 80 high school submissions from a variety of schools across Toronto and the Southern Ontario region, and we will be featuring 13 films made from those in high school at this year’s festival. As a youth film festival, it is important to us to feature films from this demographic and these impressive stats were made possible by a team of junior programmers, a newly initiative at Toronto Youth Shorts.
Our inaugural team is consists of Carri Chen, Christian Gnam, Avondale Nixon, and Meryl Allysa Romo. I had the pleasure of working with these wonderful film buffs in soliciting and programming our high school submissions. Thanks to their dedication, from attending numerous screenings to composing exceptional film notes, we were able to acquire and program some of the best high school films in the region. While reviewing the submissions, I was very impressed with the level of sophistication that these high school filmmakers brought to the table. Wonderful writing, excellent comedic timing, beautiful costumes, and polished cinematography are only some of the great things you can expect from the high school films showcasing at the festival this year. It is inspiring to see the immense talent and drive that these young filmmakers have, which is why we want to showcase their work to our audiences.
My favorite part of working with the Junior Programmers was gaining insight on the unique perspectives they provided on all the films, including the ones made from university or college film schools and community-based non-academic pieces. Each programmer shed light on a different aspect of their favorite shorts that allowed the rest of the team to appreciate upon second viewings of these films. The level of detail with which they analyzed each film, from character design and story to the technical aspects of film and their personal emotional responses to each piece, made for very insightful programming discussions, and provided this year's festival with a well-rounded youth voice.
The Junior Programming team and I curated Expect the Unexpected and though the majority of the team are from high school, the program is anything but child-like. Films will touch on domestic violence, sexual abuse, racial tensions, stereotypes, and mental illness. Watching some of these films and choosing to program them for a youth audiences requires an innate sense of maturity and I must give kudos to the junior programming team for that. We chose these shorts because they use the power of film to express the unheard voices of society, and provide insight on these sensitive topics in ways that will resonate with the audience. We're excited to share with you some of the best of the best films made by youth and we hope you will enjoy them as much as we did.
After months of reviewing submissions, I must say that 2016 was eager to outdo 2015 in every way. Just from content alone, this year brought us more submissions than ever before. Even with the short run time of each piece, we would need more than a full 24 waking hours to sort through everything.
Contrary to what many may think, we do not begin programming with a specific theme in mind. We watch, we take notes, and move on to the next film. Once in a while, we come together and we discuss what we've seen. If at the end trends emerge, they are a surprise to us. Each year is different.
This year is an incredibly strong year for documentaries and animation especially, both of which we received in greater numbers. Several of our documentaries tackled diverse cultural and social issues that are both local and international in scope – from a man's fight for his community's access to water in Colombia, to the Canadian Sikh harassed and wrongfully accused to be one of the Paris bombers in the hullabaloo of #Gamergate, to the Bowmanville Zoo controversy right at home in Ontario after video surfaced showing them whipping their tiger. I was massively impressed by the sophistication with which these stories were approached, especially the intimate, soul-baring film of a woman speaking candidly about her sexual abuse in an experimental mix of memory and myth.
The animated films are always a delight and my favourite bunch to go through. I feel like I say it every year, but it's absolutely true that Toronto Youth Shorts receives extraordinarily good animation pieces that are rich in both art and storytelling. We’ve been spoiled.
The content is not the only difference this year. Here on the programming front, we expanded our team with the addition of our Junior Programmers. Like us, they waded through hours and hours of content, went through what has been our largest submission yet from filmmakers under 18, attended several screenings of their peers, wrote pages and pages of notes (often by hand!), compiled their picks, and spent hours deliberating the selection to curate a program that represents the younger side of our youth demographic. Their voice and vision were an integral part of this year’s lineup.
Youth are increasingly growing up with an audience due to the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and livestreaming. The entry into experimenting with image and film comes early. Teens are now more than ever creating incredible award-worthy works that travel to film festivals around the world, and age is fast becoming insignificant as a determinant of quality.
But don't take our word for it. Swing by on the first Saturday of August at Innis and we'll show you!
iOne of the perks of being a Festival Director for a youth-based film festival is gaining access to a lot of work made by students over the past year. Myself along with our programming team have been attending different screenings these last few weeks to see what we can expect to come our way for this year's festival. It’s always interesting to see the distinct styles that those from each school employ. Here are some thoughts based on the screenings I've been to this year.
University of Toronto
The film community at U of T is thriving thanks to the Hart House Film Board and the Raindance on Campus groups. Though they may not have the same resources as their film school counterparts, their productions have no lack of heart. While the premise is a bit out of left field, there was chemistry in Edy Garfinkel's Blowdryin' Sunday. Carla Veldman's Uncle Antlers memorized audiences despite some faulty playback on the Hart House computers. I was hoping to see more from those in Mississauga due to their partnership with Sheridan College. Perhaps at Toronto Youth Shorts this year!
I attended three screenings at York and some of these films really made that trek on the Finch bus worth it. From their second year, I found the documentaries to be strongest with The Friendly Giant by Mariah Enarson, Yes I Can by Lalo Nixon-Pasten, and Salamander by Aidan Cheeatow being exceptionally notable for presenting engaging characters with a vulnerability that audiences can empathize with. Same goes for Last Step by Rachel D’Ercole, produced from the third year group. Salmonella by Michele DesLauriers showed a lot of charm with its art direction, colour palette, and kooky characters.
The content coming out of 4th year truly impressed me, with Tidal Waves by Kristina Wang being amongst one of my favourite dramas across all the film screenings I’ve attended so far. Emmerek Van Leur’s Tinder Dad rightfully solicited laughs from the crowd and it was crazy to see how much they were able to get away with. And despite being 18 minutes long, there was no lull in the bittersweet story of Christian Harrison's Moods Like Jazz.
I had the pleasure to see work from the graduating classes of both their Film and Television Production diploma program and their Film and Media Production degree program at the Bloor Cinema. This is the first time in years that I was able to directly compare the work between the two. Some of the best films from both programs are stories based on being an outsider or being different. Both Stall by Ramon Lapshin and Distance by Roya Edalatmand are effective relationship dramas that hit the right emotional notes. Interestingly enough, both programs ended on films about someone who is terminally ill. Both Jacob is Ready by Tatevik Galstyan and Severance by Katie Hill feature beautiful landscape photography to parallel the inner character conflict.
Event organizers and filmmaking collaborators, Sanchita Mitra, Jessica Sinopoli, and Molly Shears produced the Next Exit Film Festival, giving me a taste of OCAD's Integrated Media program. In addition to three narrative films that they collaborated on in different roles, the screening featured a lot of video art. Stylistically speaking, they stand out from the rest of the film schools due to the differences in their curriculum and resources. Father’s Story by Sook Jung features still images that are hauntingly beautiful, with a direction that is very different compared to the work seen in industry-based animation schools. As expected of OCAD, a lot of the work do not adhere to traditional formats and artists are more free to experiment. Now that our good friend, Jamie McMillan, is back from overseas to run Augmented Cinema again, I can’t wait to see what other OCAD U projects are out there.
I’ll be going to RUFF this week as well and they definitely have some shoes to fill when it comes to my expectations. But if the quality of past content is any indication, I’m sure it’ll be just as amazing. Hopefully we can show some of these films to you at Toronto Youth Shorts this year!