When Denis Côté (Vic et Flo ont vu un ours) was asked in 24 Images if he felt that he was part of a ‘New Wave of Quebec Filmmakers’ along with Stéphane Lafleur, Maxime Giroux, Rafaël Ouellet and Sophie Desrape; he responded:
“We are all cinephiles, and we are all looking for formalist, signature filming styles. We all know that the international festival circuit can be a great niche for our work and reputations, and we know that we don’t make box office miracles and our films are not easy to digest. We have strong personalities and ambitions. So, I guess, I do feel comfortable sharing these ideals with the aforementioned directors.”
So who are the Toronto DIY filmmakers? They include the MDFF guys Kazik Radwanski (Tower) and Antoine Bourges (East Hastings Pharmacy), Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis (Amy George, and the much anticipated The Oxbow Cure), Igor Drljaca (Krivina), Simon Ennis (Lunarcy!), Cabot McNenly (Poopsie Dries Out), Blake Williams (Many A Swan), and Sofia Bohdanowicz (Dundas Street). Similar to how Côté characterizes his relationship with his peers, the Toronto DIY label is defined more by a shared do it yourself attitude towards production. Though one qualifier is that the film are filmed in Toronto, which separates them from the First Generation filmmakers like Luo Li, Chris Chong Chan Fui and Nicolás Pereda. Also of note, as brought up by Adam Nayman in my recent interview with him about his Coen brothers class at the JCC, he highlighted Ingrid Veninger's $1,000 feature film challenge as a significant initiative that fostered interesting films like Nadia Litz's Hotel Congress.
What makes these filmmakers so vital is that not only are they making work that reflect a certain local temperament and continues in a national film tradition, but that the films themselves speak about larger thoughts and feelings regarding the human condition. In a great interview Unexpected Textures: A Conversation Between Nicolas Pereda and Kazik Radwanski (Cinema Scope, N.52), Radwanski speaks about the potential of cinema and his affinity for the close-up,
“I always liked Powers of Ten (1977), that Eames film set in Michigan that starts above Detroit and zooms down all the way. It became infinitely smaller. I’ve always felt that way, in people’s faces, that you can be going smaller infinitely. The camera can capture something there that I can’t articulate. On a bigger scale it’s the idea of happening upon real people and learning about them. It sounds basic, but it’s more the richness of textures that are unexpected.”
Similar to their New York City peers like Alex Ross Perry, Ronald Bronstein and the Safdie brothers or the independent spirit of Joe Swanberg or Matthew Porterfield; the Toronto DIY have to hustle to make these small-scale films. Inspired by the independent tradition of John Cassavetes, there is a lot of work that goes into getting funding to make the pictures, communal work to get them made, and promotional work to get people to see them.
Just like how in the late eighties there emerged, what some people would call, a New Wave of Toronto filmmakers (Egoyan, Rozema, McDonald, McKellar, Mettler, Mann), the Toronto DIY represent a significant new voice in the Toronto film landscape. And people are noticing.
At the festivals: Tower premiered at the Locarno Film Festival and then did the rounds of the festival circuit, had a successful theatrical run at The Royal, and got selected for the New Directors/New Film series in New York where Luo Li's Emperor Visits the Hell is also playing. Krivina is playing at the MoMA as part of the Canadian Front 2013. And Lunarcy! is playing at South by Southwest.
There were also some great articles published recently about the films and filmmakers. John Semley focused on the legacy of the Revue Cinema on some of the directors in Video store confidential in Now Toronto, Angelo Murreda highlights College Street Pictures in his article Toronto’s Next Generation of Filmmakers Gets a Friend in the Business in the Torontoist, and Jason Anderson hypothesizes a new film movement in Toronto film’s next generation in The Grid.