Toronto Through the Eyes of Drew Lightfoot

Drew "I only go East for work or in airplanes" Lightfoot is a Parkdale boy through and through.

"It has far more character than most parts of the city, tons of great dive bars, great brunch spots, and most of my friends are on the west side," explains the director, who recently finished work on k-os' new music video. "I chose Parkdale for its bohemian roots...and Bacchus Roti."

Lightfoot, however, hasn't always been an East Coaster; his childhood years were spent just outside Vancouver--"on the fresh coast". While other children amused themselves with rounds of Red Rover and Kick the Can, this creatively inclined half-pint was fantasizing about automated Lego empires. While other little boys gave the standard "firefighter" and "policeman" replies to the million-dollar "What do you want to be when you grow up?" question, Lightfoot harboured no such ambitions: he had his sights set on becoming Billy Corrigan.

"I love his colour palette and, of course, being the smartest kid around never hurts," shrugs Lightfoot in reference to Chris Ware's cult comic book hit. Indeed, the director, cinematographer, editor and animator has always been fanatically drawn to visual forms. "I started animating as a result of wanting to give life to my Lego blocks. I was tired of playing with them and wanted them to play by themselves, so I started tinkering with stop-frame animation when I was 12."

In 1999, Lightfoot's animation career kicked off on The PJs, a Fox television series. Two years later, after a stint in Portland, Oregon, he landed in Toronto, which he describes as "a hotbed of talented artists and musicians". Relocating to such an environment seemed to be a logical move for a man whose right brain is in perma-overdrive, and being immersed in Toronto's creative climate has paid off. Recently, Lightfoot was a member of the Oscar-nominated animation team for Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride. He credits the experience for inspiring him to get more involved in live-action projects.

"Animation is a labour of love...and not a fast one," Lightfoot says of his first flame. "I decided I wanted to... get some of the ideas out of my head in [a more] expedient manner."

And what Lightfoot wants, Lightfoot gets. A slew of recent work on multiple music videos has kept the young talent busy, and the public is taking note. Two of said videos were selected for the 2006 tour of Resfest, a pioneering digital film festival whose Toronto leg starts today.

"I'm pretty jazzed about that fact," smiles the director. "They are two pieces I am proud of. Both were open-concept and came to me without any pre-conceived notions or limitations." The video for Guster's "One Man Wrecking Machine" is a loose nod to Ferris Bueller's Day's Off, and follows a down-on-his-luck puppet as he rips apart his melancholy world and build it afresh. "It's an abstract interpretation of the lyrics drawn from obscure memories and dreams of my life," explains Lightfoot.

It was precisely his proclivity to transcend the literal and unearth the fantastical that prompted The Constantines to commission Lightfoot for their "Working Full Time" video, another Resfest pick. Of that process, he says: "The band had no interest in doing a performance video. The track inspired visuals of people at work and I'm not talking desk jobs here; getting sweaty, breaking rocks, driving big diesel equipment and getting some dirt under the fingernails. I then took a look at the bigger picture and wanted to show what all the construction and progress is doing to the earth. There is a story if you watch it closely."

With project after project falling on his lap--many of which are presently hush-hush--it would appear Lightfoot has realized his childhood ambition. The best part of it all? "I get paid to dream and scheme up silly ideas and visuals," he grins.

Indeed, life isn't too shabby for the West Queen West denizen. No matter where work takes him--England and the US are frequent destinations--the jetsetter always comes back to Parkdale. Each time he returns to his beloved neighbourhood, however, it's to yet another development project that has popped up, yet another construction project that is breaking ground. But Lightfoot takes it all in stride.

"Nowhere is safe from gentrification. I would hate to see Parkdale become Yorkville, but with all the wankers have come a few more art galleries," he remarks dryly. "The Gladstone and Drake are great hotels and I would stay there if I were visiting this town... I just wouldn't hang out there every night as some people do."

Rather, when given the opportunity to get away from the make-believe world of monsters, puppets, Lego and digital creations, Lightfoot happily does so, seeking refuge in a smattering of Parkdale dives for inebriated escapism. For his ace picks, read on...


Drew Lightfoot on Toronto.

My favourite place...

...for breakfast: Aunties and Uncles (74 Lippincott, 416.324.1375). It's just like being at grandma's house. Plenty of chachkas to entertain the brain before the coffee arrives. It's terribly popular so expect to wait, but there's an amazing drug/junk store on the corner to peruse if the lineups are lengthy. The breakfast pocket is good and, while I haven't tried everything, I haven't been disappointed yet.

...for lunch: Peter Pan (373 Queen W, 416.593.0917). [Despite its] questionable name, it's not a theme restaurant. Tasty victuals and a fantastically cozy little garden patio for summertime escapes from the traffic.

...for dinner: Utopia (586 College, 416.534.7751). It's got big, fresh, hearty home food to warm the belly and the soul and the nicest staff on earth. What else does one need? And, of course, Ghandi's (554 Queen W, 416.504.8155) for their sweet, succulent sauces wrapped in a tender pastry and more options than you can shake a marching stick at. The decor is nothing to write home about so take it there to enjoy it.

...for drinks: The Communist's Daughter (1149 Dundas W, 647.435.0103). It's dank and intimate with a limited selection of booze. Wicked jukebox. And the map bar top is perfect for planning world trips or domination. [Ed note: blogTO digged Lightfoot's style so much, we bugged him for some more of his local haunts] Cadillac Lounge (1296 Queen W, 416.536.7717) is a good, dirty rock hangout for big drunken groups of merrymakers. Mitzi's Sister (1554 Queen W, 416.532.2570) for their racks of ribs and delicious burgers, with flowing pints and some occasional live tunes. And Beaver Cafe (1192 Queen W, 416.537.2768) because it's loud and tasty; good for a quiet meal or a raucous night of binge drinking.

...for dancing: Stone's Place (1255 Queen W, 416.536.4242) has got a cozy basement feeling place with more couches than your stoner cousin's house. Some good nights are hosted here, and it's a fun place to lose your mind with art-star indie rock-hags.

...to unwind: The hammock on my patio, in the sun, above the trees with some animal roasting on the BBQ.

...to get inspired: The Gulf Islands in British Columbia. Not close [Ed: uhm, yeah... you don't say!] but worth the walk. An amazing place to get lost in the wilderness and your own mind, it's quiet like you can't find downtown.

Everyone should know about: Green Shift. It's very simple.

Biggest pet peeve about Toronto: It's so easy saying no. I typically have some outlandish ideas to incorporate into videos or films and I get very frustrated by people just saying no without even having heard things through. I figure if they are saying no, I'm just not asking the right way. Saying no is just lazy... it doesn't involve a thought process. So yeah, that and a lack of eye contact.

An ideal day in Toronto would consist of: Breakfast on a sunlit patio with good friends, finding some inspiration in art galleries, quality people watching, some delicious food and not too many phone calls.

Finish the sentence "Toronto is...": as frantic as you are and usually pretty slow.

The Resfest Canada Tour starts in Toronto Thursday, November 30, and runs through Sunday, December 3.

Drew Lightfoot's works will be screened at 7:00pm on Sunday, December 3, at Theatre D at the Royal Theatre (616 College). Tickets for the screening ($10), as well for other Resfest events, are available here.

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