Big surprises at the Toronto International Film Festival as usual. Forget the popular titles such as ‘The Danish Girl’, ‘Spotlight’, ‘The Martian’ and ‘Equals’. Films that won the big awards at TIFF this year have barely got a marquee. ‘Room’, ‘Desierto’, ‘Hurt’ and ‘Closet Monster’ took home the awards. Last year Elevation Pictures had the People’s Choice winning picture ‘The Imitation Game’ which went on to win screenwriter Graham Moore an Academy Award for his first screenplay. ‘Room’ and ‘Closet Monster’ are both Elevation Picture films and have scooped up two coveted TIFF awards: ‘Room’ the Irish-Canadian feature won The Grolsch People’s Choice Award; and ‘Closet Monster’, a debut feature from Canadian writer/director Stephen Dunn, won Best Canadian Feature. The big films will continue to gather attention, but the refreshing thing about film festivals like Venice and Tiff is that you can always expect the unexpected. Film gems will be discovered that without the hype of a festival such as TIFF would have much more difficulty getting noticed. We had 80 titles on our TIFF15 watch list this year, a testament to the high calibre of films and filmmakers given attention over the eleven days of the festival. Hats off to independent filmmaking.
People’s Choice Award 2015
‘Room’ is based on the internationally acclaimed novel by Irish-Canadian Emma Donoghue who also adapted screenplay. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, 2014), this tense, often claustrophobia inducing film takes a magical view of the world told from the viewpoint of young Jack’s (Jacob Tremblay) eyes. It is a love story that perserveres even under the most gruelling circumstances. ‘Room’ stars Brie Larson, Joan Allen, William H. Macy and young Jacob Tremblay. Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack have been held in captivity for five years, Jack’s entire young life. Uniquely filmed from the tender young eyes of Jack the film follows his introduction to the real world once Ma manages to escape. The real star of the movie is Jacob Tremblay who delivers a truly remarkable performance. The film has also been nominated for the Best Pic at the London Film Festival. Look for it in theatres Oct.16th.
Lenny Abrahamson is an Irish filmmaker who’s touching comedy ‘Frank’, about a shy, young musician starring Michael Fassbender, who spends most of the movie with a large fake head on and Domhnall Gleeson, was featured on Netflix. ‘Frank’ showed Abrahamson’s extraordinary talent for a unique approach to storytelling with an unusual perspective.
FIPRESCI Prize Special Presentations
Desierto is a tense thriller directed by Jonás Cuarón, co-writer of Academy award winning film ‘Gravity‘. The film co-wrtten by Cuarón and Mateo Garcia and set in the Sonoran Desert is a harrowing story that follows the unexpected trials of a group of Mexican immigrants trying to illegally cross the border. A fairly simple journey becomes a nightmare as they become locked in the cross hairs of border guard Sam’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) shotgun. Sam has his loyal Belgian Malinois dog by his side and is unrelenting in his single minded determination to hunt down and kill every last illegal migrant. Sam knows the terrain of the desert in his sleep and holds all the cards when it comes to winning this gruelling man hunt. Moises (Gael García Bernal) must use all his cunning and pray for some incredible luck in order to survive and escape.
Award winning cinematographer Damián García (El Narco (2010), Güeros (2014), La vida precoz y breve de Sabina Rivas (2012) provides a spectacular canvas of the desert revealing its expansive natural theatre as well as the tiny details so vital to survival or as clues for the trackers. Toronto Platform Prize
‘Hurt’ is the story of Steve Fonyo, who at 18 years old did what Terri Fox tried to do but in the end could not. Like Terri Fox, Steve lost a leg to cancer and decided to run across the country to raise funds and awareness for cancer research and the victims it harms or kills. The film looks at what happened to Steve Fonyo since this heroic deed in 1984 and 1985. Its a great wakeup call to the easy way in which cancer fundraising efforts are focused on getting the money out of people’s pockets and what happens in the aftermath. Steve Fonyo was awarded the Order of Canada for his efforts but then when things got tough, his life became marginalized and he sunk into drug abuse and petty crime. The Federal Government stripped his medal from him — no helping hand was offered. The film finds him living on the outskirts of society in Whalley, BC, down on his luck but still with that spark not yet extinguished that galvanized him to run across Canada in the first place.
Alan Zweig won Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival for ‘When Jews Were Funny’, the Genie Award for Best Feature Length Documentary for ‘A Hard Name’ (2009), I, Curmudgeon received a Silver Hugo at the 2005 Chicago International Film Festival. He often focuses the camera on the subject he knows best, his own life experience.
Best Canadian Feature Film (Canada Goose)
Closet Monster, a coming-of-age story with a few dramatic twists, is the feature debut for Stephen Dunn who has written and directed the film. It stars Connor Jessup (Blackbird, Boy), Aaron Abrams, Joanne Kelly, Aliocha Schneider, Sofia Banzhaf, Jack Fulton, Mary Walsh and the voice of Isabella Rossellini.
Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup), a high school student from a small town in New Foundland, is an aspiring special-effects makeup artist. He is not only wrestling with questions of his own sexuallity, but is fearful of the social restrictions imposed by this small town. He suddenly finds he is overwhelmed with an attraction for handsome Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) whose carefree hedonistic, rebellious character is irresistible. Oscar is terribly inhibited by the memory of a brutal hate crime he witnessed as a small boy that has left an indelible mark on him and by his repressive parents. He struggles to come to grips with how to escape his narrow minded parents (Aaron Abrams, Joanne Kelly), the small New Foundland town and his repressive school environments. Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf) is his closest friend along with his hampster (voiced by Isabella Rossellini).
Elevation Pictures, founded by Teddy Schwarzian in 2013 is now a leading Canadian film and television distribution companies premiered 8 films at TIFF15 Room, Hyena Road, Closet Monster, Into The Forest, Legend, River, The Witch and Zoom.
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