In the Toronto Film Challenge part 4 of 4: The Gala
There's a lot to be said for semi-formal soirees. After the blurry-eyed race to finish a short in 48 hours, a good crowd of film-types pulled together and looking swish gave the whole Toronto Film Challenge a real sense of seriousness. As did the sweet prizes that came with the awards.
The nominees weren't announced, so though there were certainly some confident attendees, no one knew for sure which were the top ten films until the programs were handed out (after cocktail hour) as everyone entered the screening theatre.
I took advantage of the pre-screening schmooze time to chat with a few of the filmmakers in attendance. I was introduced to repeat TFC winners Lisa Wegner (producer/actor) and Donnie Mullins (director), whose film Countenance marks their third film challenge.
On their first film challenge, their film won 5 of the 7 awards, and was sold to the Ontario College of Art as a teaching tool. With that kind of positive reaction, it makes sense that they'd come back for more. It helps that they have a professional team (Wegner and Mullins both work in 'the industry', so they know some people). And that they have a lot of fun.
Also, Wegner and Mullins both feel that the TFC helped them find their voice - Mullins emphasizes that with the challenge you work out the story as you're shooting, using the skills of the people you have, rather than being tied to a specific script and trying to find people for it.
He says you "start with people" so the process is "more communal". Wegner adds that though they've worked on short films with larger budgets, this project cost them 600$ and notes that it's among their best work. If you have the talent, the budget doesn't matter.
Another repeat TFCer is Dion Saunders, one of the peeps behind Nadia's Train (which was actually in the same screening as The Blue Seal). Saunders has been in several challenges, the first in Vancouver, then two 24-hour TFCs, 1 unsuccessful 48 (didn't finish), and one finished 48. With that many under his belt, which does he prefer? "I like the 24 better" Saunders says, since in the 48 there's more of a break in the crew (writers, production, then edit) because there's room for it.
Also, Saunders notes that with the extra time is the potential to get a little too comfortable - his film was turned in 30 seconds before the deadline - they didn't start the sound edit until 7pm and the film was due by 8pm. It's always "heart exploding, killing pedestrians" to beat the clock at the last minute.
Mike Donis, the director of the piece I worked on The Blue Seal, has determined that though he had a great time, this will be his first and last Film Challenge. (This is before hearing about the prizes, by the way). He's already "gone crazy and had a lot of fun" and that experience is enough, he doesn't want to compare subsequent films and disappoint himself. Donis has never finished a film in under two and a half weeks before, but finished this one with 3 hours to spare - time budgeted in his schedule for safety, since he lives in Scarberia and needed room for the commute.
The best thing about the TFC, Donis says, it that it forces you to make a project you wouldn't have otherwise - "I would not have made an action movie," though he loved the idea, because "no one would take it seriously." Since it was part of the assignment, he got to throw himself into the genre, though he noticed that a few other projects cheated on some of the challenge pack items.
The Ten Finalists
1. Trouble on Treetop Terrace - a moc/doc about a girl living with amorous roomies and a dog to which she is allergic. The shining moment is the sfx where the dog gets hit by a truck.
2. Countenance - the film (mentioned above, from Lisa Wegner and David Mullins) wherein a man tries to get a promotion from his boss during a social visit - he and his wife/significant other head to a bbq with the boss and his w/so - and discovers just how twisted they are. A brilliantly improvised script, including some genius lines like "He knows over 500 Elizabethan medleys".
3.Life is Yard Work - a tennis player gets conned into training at a "mental gymnasium" where a guy in a bathrobe makes him do gardening. Best line- "Choose wisley," (actor chooses lawn implement) "you have chosen wisely."
4. Until You Came Along - an intensely creepy film wherein a mental patient loses it on the psych ward nurse. Scary. Looked really nice, too, though they cheated a bit - it was more thriller than drama and no one was trapped in a closet. Like, at all.
5. Growing Memories - Two guys in lab coats breed a new species of plant, trying (I think, the dialogue was a little confusing) to make some miracle cure-all but instead making a killer plant. Do they destroy the evidence, or the research? Tough choice. Best line: "I'm too f*cking smart to go to jail."
6. Broken Entry - An interrogation after a break-in. A couple pleads innocence, but turns out they're just kinky - they hired the dudes to rob the place to spice up their sex life.
7. Legend of Clipper Dos Santos - One of my favs; a moc/doc about the disappearance of a famous barber. A weird wannabe-biker type (hella charismatic actor), a couple and a Spanish lady are interviewed. Really nice looking film, and choice acting.
8.The Blue Seal - Yep, my team was in the top ten! Woo! To review, it's a action flick wherein a couple dudes have to get an envelope out of a house and to the pick-up in 6 minutes. There's someone waiting inside. And a car chase. Sweet.
9. The Outpost - I had a really hard time understanding the plot on this one. There were some sweet special effects though. It was a sci-fi flick, set on Mars, and something happens to the humans? Earth is wiped out? Some dude kills himself in front of a robot? I don't know.
10. Crossing Brooklyn Ferry - Remember my enthusiasm for this film at the earlier screening? I was so stoked to see them in the top ten. To review, a moc/doc masquerading as sci-fi - Derek lives with Bill. Bill thinks a unicorn stole his wallet, and therefore they have to hunt it everyday. Hilarious. My favourite actor (still) Cole Bastedo wasn't at the Gala, alas.
Before the winners were announced, the audience had to suffer through the arrogant pontifications of Bill Marshall (a big kahuna from TIFF). I don't mind someone in 'the biz' giving everyone a tip or two, but what a way to kill a good time.
The guy just kept going on and on about how not to be amateur and how much stuff he didn't like. Dude. It's a 48 hour film challenge, not Cannes. And let's not pretend TIFF is the most important festival in the world. Get over yourself. Yeah, it's a big deal, but give me a break.
Besides which, he didn't say a thing you wouldn't hear in film 101 frosh year, and made some overly simple comments about style - i.e. don't do handheld, don't flare the lens - you know, the rules you can break when you know why they exist. I don't make films for Marshall, and I doubt anyone at the TFC writes, shoots and edits with him in mind. Killjoy.
What you've been waiting for... the envelope please:
Best Editing - Growing Memories
Best Cinematography - Until You Came Along
Best Audio - The Blue Seal (yay, go us!)
Best Screenplay - Countenance (it was improv...)
Best Actress - Karine Pion, The Legend of Clipper Dos Santos
Best Actor - David Read, Broken Entry
Audience Choice Award - Crossing Brooklyn Ferry (word!)
Best Director - Mike Donis, The Blue Seal (wicked, eh?)
Best Picture - Broken Entry
All in all, the TFC was a wild and really fun experience. I love seeing talented people throw it down on the fly. Maybe next time, I'll be in the driver's seat. We'll see. You should all get in on this, too.