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!
Two weeks ago, the internet erupted over Scarlett Johansson’s lead role as a Japanese cyber-body in the remake of a Japanese anime and manga classic, Ghost in the Shell. Many people cried “whitewashing” and blamed Hollywood for it’s lack of diversity and representation of Asian talent. Even successful actor, Ming-Na Wen, who stars in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., wrote on Twitter, “Nothing against Scarlett Johansson. In fact, I’m a big fan. But everything against this Whitewashing of Asian role.”
I am not an actor so while I felt uncomfortable with this news, I spoke to my friend and actor, Jeff Yung, to talk more about whitewashing and the issue of Asian stereotypes in Hollywood. Jeff has been acting professionally for almost ten years. While he works primarily in theatre and independent work, he has a lot of experience working on film sets as well.
A.T: What is White Washing?
J.Y: To me, whitewashing is taking roles that were specifically written or historically meant to be played by actors of colour and casting them with actors who are white.
A.T: Can you talk about some experiences of stereotyping you've had in an audition room or any part of casting.
J.Y: Nearly all the characters I've ever auditioned for in television and film, have some degree of stereotype. I can't count the times I've gone in to audition for an Asian gangster. In acting we have a term called “hit” it's sort of a way to categorize what type of roles might be suited for the way you appear to those making the decisions. One of my hit's is for sure “gangster”, which in itself isn't necessarily bad. But when pretty much every role that I audition for with “gangster” in the breakdown, is a two dimensional, stereotypical, side character who is usually an antagonist for white leads, it can get pretty frustrating.
The “Asian accent” is also a common stereotype. Being asked to use one, or having it written in the breakdown, or being asked to put on some “flavour” of accent, so it can sound more “foreign.” I understand that in very specific roles, where it is required to do proper justice to the character being portrayed, it may be necessary. But I also feel like it's something that Hollywood still finds novel, and often isn't necessary. I personally have been fortunate enough to have the privilege and I guess, courage, to say no to using one in everything I've filmed but I definitely feel it is something that Asian actors are still battling against.
A.T: Why do you think this is a big problem in Hollywood?
J.Y: I don't think that Hollywood thinks that it's a big problem. The whitewashed casting choices that have occurred in the past year tell me that Hollywood is perfectly fine with whitewashing characters because they don't feel like actors of color can take on specific roles. My reasons for thinking this is a problem don't differ from the countless of people who've spoken out about it before me. It's about representation in the mainstream. It's about being barred from the very few opportunities that were crafted specifically for the people being barred from them. As to why the issue seems to be happening so frequently in Hollywood, well, you'd have to ask the people making the decisions. I'm sure they think money has something to do with it. Though from where I sit in the hierarchy, it just seems to be a lack of faith. And yes, I find it disturbing.
A.T: Do you think the situation is better than a decade ago?
J.Y: To say the industry is “better than a decade ago” would maybe be correct, but that would also be like saying, (and I understand that this is a completely different issue, and my comparison isn't a fair one) equality for women is “better than a decade ago”. Is it better? Sure, the types of roles offered to actors of colour (and all marginalized groups) aren't blatantly racist (sexist, stereotypical), like they may have been a decade ago. Congratulations. Pat yourself on the back. “A decade ago” shouldn't be the standard in which we are comparing our current state. To me, and I don't speak for all marginalized groups, I can't, but from where I specifically view the state of our industry. Small improvement isn't enough. Little victories aren't enough. They are great when they happen, and they are amazing to watch, but they aren't enough. The industry needs to take a good, hard, honest look at it's state of affairs, and put in the work to make bigger and bolder strides. It's not going to be easy, and it's not going to be comfortable. It's going to take a lot of empathy and a lot of likely uncomfortable compromise from the higher ups. But without big moves, we'll be living in a “better than a decade ago” state forever. And I just don't think that's fair or good for this industry's survival and growth.
A.T: What advice would you give young Asian Americans who are thinking about becoming professional actors?
J.Y: If you are in a position to, refuse work that you don't feel helps accurately reflect the Asian North American experience. Besides that, create work. Do it by whatever means you can and by whatever measure that means to you. Find like minded artists and producers, and make the things you want to see happen on the screen happen. Expand your artistic group and work with as diverse a group of people as you can from all walks of life, in every role of creation. Really LISTEN to this diverse group, try to understand their struggles, their reality, their stories. Really empathize, check your privilege, and try to set aside your ego when you are creating, and demand this of the writers, producers, and everyone who you are working with who is part of the creation process. It will not be comfortable, but hopefully it will be rewarding. When not creating, support work that supports what you want to see reflected in the mainstream. Don't get discouraged, or disheartened too easily. And don't give up. This industry will chew you up and spit you out over and over and over again. But if we don't keep trying to make the change we want to see, no change is going to happen.
This interview was conducted by Annie Tran.
York U's Finish Line took place the past two weeks. Julia and I were there for one of the 4th year screenings.
I was very pleased to see this year's graduates show up with a strong lineup of films, including as always, a variety of documentary, fiction and experimental. This was one of the few times for me that I enjoyed a programme in its entirety. The films were, across the board, well crafted, compelling, and most importantly when it comes to short films, never longer than they needed to be.
There were four standouts for me this year:
Lina Evans’ documentary, My Cradle and Tomb, which followed a Villa Rica resident in Colombia trying to save his community's only source of potable water.
Heliana 101, by Daria Savic, is a colourful romantic comedy that was just the thing for those of us who loved Pushing Daisies.
Connor Johnstone's documentary, White Circus, on Manitoba's wildlife tourism of which the subjects were the hardcore, off-center, and foul-mouthed tour guides.
And finally, Grozata by Taras Hemon, a captivating taut drama in which a father and his gay son come to a head at the family dinner.
A fantastic closing for York's 2016 class! I sincerely hope we have the opportunity to offer you a chance to see some of these films this year.
Toronto Youth Shorts alumni, Tanya Hoshi and Priscilla Galvez (Biggie's Garage, TYS2014), are producing a web series called How to Buy a Baby.
The series follow thirty-something couple, Jane and Charlie Levy, who have long given up on having a baby the fun way. Having been diagnosed with infertility, they are resigned to needing costly and invasive assistance if they are ever to become parents. They are determined, though, to keep things fertiliFUN and not lose sight of the reasons why they wanted to have a baby together in the first place. But what happens to a couple when so many people are involved in the intimate act of procreation? Can a marriage survive and thrive with the financial and emotional pressures of infertility? How much will two people sacrifice to make a new life?
Outrageous, real and darkly funny, How to Buy a Baby is competing for funding from the Independent Production Fund to complete the 14 episode series.
Read more about How to Buy a Baby at https://www.facebook.com/howtobuyababy
As part of its ongoing effort to make television programming accessible to all Canadians, the CRTC mandated in 2009 that all over-the-air broadcasters must provide described video (DV) for a portion of the content they air. Described video is an optional audio track, designed to provide extra context for vision-impaired audiences -- i.e. which characters are in a scene, where it takes place, and any other non-audible information -- similar to the function closed captioning plays for the hearing-impaired. Currently, conventional broadcasters are required to air four hours of described content per week, though that number will rise to include all primetime programming by 2019. A cottage industry of DV-providers has already sprung up in Canada to help broadcasters meet these regulations, and it should continue to grow significantly over the next few years as more stringent regulations come into place. In fact, as DV becomes mandatory in more English-speaking countries around the world, Canada's status as an early adopter could help it become a leader in the field (hint hint to those seeking employment in the industry).
Currently, though, DV is in its infancy, and for many providers, it remains a work in progress. In order to help standardize the quality of described video across channels, the Toronto-based Accessible Media Inc. has created a "Best Practices" document of "artistic and technical guidelines." And for those unfamiliar with DV, it is indeed an art. While the unofficial mantra of film schools everywhere is, "Show, don't tell," DV providers have to turn that adage on its head and translate visual images back into something that can be conveyed in words. And, beyond that, they have to do it quickly, and without obscuring any dialogue. With the picture moving at a constant rate of 30 frames per second, time is of the essence.
Most interesting, perhaps, are the ways in which the DV best practices dovetail with a number of ongoing conversations regarding representation in media. For instance, when is it important to describe someone's race or gender on screen? What visual signifiers of a character's identity should DV creators prioritize, and how should they put them into words? As writers, directors and broadcasters continue to become more open to putting characters on screen who don't fit into normative categories, these questions become even more essential. AMI's Best Practices suggest that "[I]dentification of characters by race, ethnic origin or disability is not required unless there is relevancy to plot, motivation or background." Yet, "relevancy" can be difficult to define. What makes someone's skin colour relevant to a narrative? Aziz Ansari, the Indian-American creator and star of Master of None, has spoken about the need to create stories for minority characters that don't revolve around their ethnic identity. And, indeed, a white character could participate in many of the story arcs on Master of None without significantly changing the meaning. But, an important part of normalizing non-white experiences on screen requires the juxtaposition that comes from visible minorities living banal, middle class lives. It seems possible, then, that ignoring race altogether may undermine that goal, even if it's done with the best intentions. As described video continues to make visual media accessible to more Canadians, then, it also gives us a new avenue through which we can use inform and complicate our understanding of representation on screen.
On April 20th, communities all over the country will be screening great Canadian films in honour of National Canadian Film Day. This event, created by Reel Canada, is a fantastic way to celebrate our national cinema, which is often lost in a sea of Hollywood films. I’ve had a great time this past month helping the Reel Canada team plan for this event, and I am very proud to support this initiative to get Canadians excited about Canadian film! Seeing the diverse range of films being sent across the country got my thinking about some of my favorite Canadian films. Here’s a list of top 5 films to watch on National Canadian Film Day:
1)Mommy (Xavier Dolan, 2014): One of the winners of the Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, this film is an extraordinary accomplishment for the 27-year-old director. Dolan tells the story of a single mother, her violent son, and the shy neighbour who enters their lives. The most beautiful aspect of the film is the three main characters and their relationship with each other. No one is presented as strictly good or evil, as each have their virtues and flaws, and they all try to help each other be the best versions of themselves. Dolan presents heart-felt moments of the three characters forgetting their worries and enjoying each other’s company, which brings light to the dark subject matter. Each actor gives an amazing performance, especially Anne Dorval, who won a Canadian Screen Award for her portrayal of the mother. Combined with unique editing and a great soundtrack, this is a very moving film.
2)The F Word (Michael Dowse, 2013): A movie that was filmed in Toronto, and actually takes place in Toronto, how refreshing! This film is filled with charm, witty dialogue, and lovely shots of Toronto. Everything about this film is so natural and fun to watch: the story of two friends struggling with becoming more than friends is relatable, Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan have great chemistry and the writing reflects how young people talk to each other today. Can you think of 10 other names for Cool Whip?
3) The Red Violin (Francois Girard, 1998): A poetic film about the transcendent power of music. The story unravels the mystery behind this iconic instrument in a brilliant way, and displays the unique impact that music has in each country and time period it reaches. With beautiful sets, and an Oscar-winning score, this is a gorgeous film that takes you on a journey around the world, across time, through the move of music.
4) Being Canadian (Robert Cohen, 2015): A hilarious documentary that follows Robert Cohen as he travels across Canada to figure out what it really means to be Canadian. Along the way, he chats with locals, Canadian celebrities, and non-Canadians to discover that no one really knows how to define our culture. It’s a light-hearted film that pokes fun at Canada, while still making you feel proud to be part of such a multi-faceted culture. It’s also fun to be able to relate to the topics they discuss on screen, such as our love of Tim Hortons, tendency to be too nice, and the fact that a scandal to us is 30 million dollars’ worth of maple syrup stolen.
5) My Internship in Canada (Philippe Falardeau, 2015): A comedic take on Canadian politics following the partnership between an indecisive Member of Parliament, Steve Guibord, and his hopeful intern from Haiti, Souverain Pascal. When Guibord has to break the tie-breaking vote deciding if Canada will go to war in the Middle East, he travels across Quebec to see if the public can help him make this decision. The clash between the stubborn Canadian and the idealistic immigrant is enjoyable to watch, and the absurd arguments presented by the different lobby groups are hilarious.
Those are my favorite Canadian films. Which ones are yours?
Don’t forget to celebrate National Canadian Film Day tomorrow by watching a great Canadian film! Visit www.canadianfilmday.ca to see which screenings will be held in your area, as well as the full broadcast schedule to see what will be playing on T.V!