nik powell toronto

Nik Powell imparts wisdom on Toronto film community

When Nik Powell talks about Toronto and London (where he lives), he's quick to note how similar the two cities are, in terms of weather, the cosmopolitan nature of both, and their diversity. In fact, you could say he's right at home here, because the first thing he did the morning after he arrived in the city was find the nearest pub to watch his favourite soccer team play their latest game (it's Arsenal, and yes, they won).

But when it comes to film culture, he could easily be talking about the same thing.
In Toronto for the 8th edition of the European Union Film Festival, where he was on the schedule to present two masterclasses on film, Powell can make these comparisons because in his day job (he heads up Britain's National Film and Television School).

The cultural makeup of Toronto's film and film festival scene pretty much mirrors what he sees every day while teaching at the NFTS. "We may be the British National Film and Television School, but we have about 45 per cent of our students that are not from the UK," he says. "So we have films from Estonia here - we have students from Estonia. Films from Slovakia? Students from Slovakia. We have films from German, and we obviously have students from Germany, and so on. Every single country that is in the [festival] program, we have students from. It's kind of cool."

So when the renowned producer (Calendar Girls, Little Voice, The Crying Game) was invited to participate in the EU Toronto Film Fest this year, it was easy to say yes.

"I knew the director, Thea, and I thought, obviously, there's the big Toronto film festival I've been to many times, and she set up this smaller festival with free screenings. I thought that was kind of a cool idea which would showcase the smaller films that won't necessarily make it into the main festival," he says.

Powell introduced the UK's contributions to this year's festival--1992's The Crying Game and Byzantium (2012), both by filmmaker and one-time collaborator Neil Jordan. He also conducted two free masterclasses on Sunday afternoon at Ryerson's School of Image Arts, on Screenwriting and Producing respectively.

And while Toronto's film festival culture is alive and thriving - with TIFF and the TIFF Bell Lightbox serving as shining beacons of this - Powell says that the existence of a smaller festival in a metropolitan city like Toronto that showcases the best work out of Europe is particularly important.

He adds that the best part of this festival, and what may be key to its success after 8 years, is that the screenings are free. This is what he feels will encourage festival-goers to be adventurous in their film choices.

"That's a very unusual opportunity to have, and it means they can take a bigger risk," he notes. "'Well, we've never heard anything about this film but it looks interesting, and the story looks interesting', or 'I like the country it's made in, so I'm going to go see it'. But if they had to part with ten bucks, or fifteen bucks, then it's a different story. It's like, 'Someone tell me, is it worth parting with ten bucks for?' I think it's a terrific thing."

Powell, who is Chairman of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Film Committee, is also Vice-Chair of the European Film Academy, overseeing the European Film Awards (the European equivalent to the Oscars) to be handed out this year on December 1. So in this capacity he also has a vested interest in supporting the spread of European films to a wider audience.

But that's not to say that he limits himself to watching films under his aegis. When asked what film-related happening interested him the most this year, he replied with "P.T Anderson making The Master and it opening. Because he's a genius; he's a young genius, which makes a change! I say 'young-ish'. And the film is a piece of major art, plus it's vastly entertaining: totally brilliant."

And in a recent TORO interview, when asked where the most compelling films are coming from at the moment, his response was to point at Mexico and Korea as current sources of innovation in film.

Despite working in and around film day in day out, Powell, who came to film after co-founding Virgin Records with Richard Branson, still relishes the chance to relax by watching even more films.

"I love watching movies. Never feels like work. As long as I don't have to analyze them or anything, I love watching movies. I hate answering questions about them, but I think it's fantastic to watch great movies!"

You can still catch some of these great films, as the EU Toronto Film Fest goes on until November 27, with all screenings taking place at the Royal Cinema, at 608 College St.

Writing by Gesilayefa Azorbo


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