Since its inception in 2010, the TIFF Next Wave Festival – running this weekend – has become one of the year’s most anticipated and unique cinematic events at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Featuring a plethora of special events and a selection of films old and new that have been curated by a committee of twelve GTA area students and film enthusiasts aged 15 to 18 aimed primarily at the teen demographic, TIFF Next Wave celebrates the next generation of cineastes and artists.
As with past years, it kicks off this Friday, February 17, with the annual Battle of the Scores, a creative melding of music and film where several aspiring teenage bands will produce live scores for a short film created by a TIFF Next Wave committee alumnus. The winning band, determined by a panel of industry judges from the film and music world, will receive not only professional studio time, but a spot on the soundtrack for actress and filmmaker Vanessa Matsui’s upcoming series Ghost BFF.
It’s a fun way to start off such an creatively inspiring festival – which also includes a Young Co-Creators Lab and a 24 Hour Film Challenge – aimed at expanding love of cinema while fostering and furthering a kind of literary and arts education that some students might not get otherwise. This year’s implementation of giving away free tickets to all screenings for anyone under the age of 25 should help in taking the aims of the Next Wave committee even further than previous years.
Once again this year, there’s a day long marathon of classic film on Saturday, this year revolving around the theme “Freaks and Geeks,” and featuring many beloved films of young people from established classics to modern day cult curious. It starts with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s cult classic Amélie at 12:30pm, followed by Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his own seminal bestseller The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2:45pm), Rick Famuyiwa’s slice-of-life inner city dramedy Dope (5:15pm), Hal Ashby’s quirky, beloved romance Harold and Maude (7:45pm), and it closes with one of the best coming of age stories, François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (10:00pm).
But in addition to a study of the classics and an emphasis on personal creativity, there’s a programme of thirteen recently produced features – some of which are making their local debuts after having made waves at other festivals around the world – that remains the primary attraction of the TIFF Next Wave Festival. We got a chance to catch several of these features before the festival kicks into high gear on Saturday, and we’ll continue to catch more throughout the weekend. For now, here are some thoughts on what films are worth catching in advance of this year’s festival.
For a full list of films, events, tickets, or more information, check out the TIFF Next Wave website.
Before the Streets
Rightfully nominated for six Canadian Screen Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, Montreal based writer and director Chloé Leriche’s Before the Streets simultaneously takes a hard edged, spiritual, educational, and philosophical look at growing up indigenous and impoverished in Canada. It’s the richly layered story of Shawnouk (newcomer Rykko Bellemare), a troublemaking, sometimes disrespectful, but ultimately well meaning teenager from an Atikamekw village who finds his life turned around after a strange white man offers him a hundred bucks to help him loot some nearby vacation properties. The unplanned events of that fateful night will have lasting repercussions in the relationships Shawnouk has with his sister (CSA Supporting Actress nominee Kwena Bellemare-Boivin, who will present the film at TIFF alongside Leriche) and his borderline abusive police officer stepfather (fellow CSA nominee Jacques Newashish).
What works best about Before the Streets is how Leriche balances a clearly outlined and sometimes brutally depressing and realistic narrative with equal amounts of unpredictability and hope. As dark as Before the Streets gets, there’s always something around the corner that the audience isn’t expecting to offer a sliver of hope or understanding. These moments of joy, reflection, and sadness are subtly and powerfully delivered by the cast. Also, just when one thinks the film will be diverting into potentially melodramatic territory, Leriche’s delicate and empathetic touch reins everything in for more potent emotional effect. It’s a truly special Canadian film, and one worthy of the praise that has been lavished upon it recently.
Screens: Saturday, February 18 at 6:30pm
A creative homage to the likes of Jared Hess, Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, and David Lynch all in the same breath, the delightful, surreal, and often uproariously funny debut feature from Australian filmmaker and theatrical veteran Rosemary Myers, Girl Asleep, casts a wonderful Bethany Whitmore as Greta, an awkward teen in the 1970s from a barely functional family being forced into throwing an unnecessary and unwanted fifteenth birthday party. Already dealing with the awkward affections of her best male friend (Harrison Feldman), her overzealous, smothering parents (Amber McMahon and writer Matthew Whittet), and catching the attention of a pack of creepy looking “cool girls,” Greta wants no part of growing up if this kind of human interaction is what entails growing up.
Myers packs every frame of Girl Asleep with sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious sight gags as if she were making a bonkers animated production. This uncanny visual and comic sensibility serves the story well when Greta falls asleep and enters a fantasy world where she has to face various versions of all her fears and neuroses (although it could credibly be argued that the whole thing is one long dream sequence). Filled with masked woodland entities, disco dancing sequences, a mythological Finnish warrior, and the strangest basketball game ever put to film, Girl Asleep throws a lot at the wall in just a shade over 75 minutes, but most of it sticks and the short length is perfect for this kind of perceptive, fantastical silliness.
Screens: Sunday, February 19 at 12:45pm
I get the feeling that 1:54, the debut feature from actor turned filmmaker Yan English, is unjustly destined to become one of the most slept on Canadian features in recent memory, but it deserves as large an audience as it can get. It starts off as a searing look at the effects of bullying on budding teenage sexuality, then becomes an inspirational sports film, and ultimately morphs into a wrenching sort of tragedy. It’s a special film, and one definitely worth seeking out this weekend.
Mommy star Antoine Olivier Pilon plays Tim Fortin, a shy 16 year old grade eleven science nerd in small town Quebec who once had the potential to become an unstoppable track runner. He’s also gay and deeply in the closet. Following an unspeakable act of bullying that hurts someone very close to him, Tim rejoins the track team almost out of spite to compete in the 800m and go head to head with one of the people responsible for the bullying, Jeff (Lou-Pascal Tremblay), the egotistical and underhanded record holder of the school’s athletics programme.
Featuring memorable, raw performances from Pilon, Tremblay, and Sophie Nélisse (as one of Tim’s closest friends and fellow member of the track team), 1:54 eases into crowd pleasing territory after a harrowing opening third before taking another turn in the final act into darker, more unexpected territory. It’s like a sports film has been sandwiched between two visceral, harsh human dramas, and I don’t mean that as a knock against the film. England’s depiction of hazing and cyberbulling is unflinching and purposefully disgusting to behold. It’s meant to provoke big emotions, but England does so in ways that I haven’t seen employed in a film of this nature before. It’s not a feel good movie despite the sports movie trappings, but given the impact with which it hits its core message about pushing people too far, it feels indispensible. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I watched it.
Screens: Sunday, February 19 at 2:15pm
The Young Offenders
Based on an unlikely true story that stemmed from the biggest seizure of cocaine in Irish history back in 2007, television veteran Pete Foott’s fast paced and snappy comedic teen noir The Young Offenders offers up a nice blend of one-liners, pop cultural references (including a killer nod to Michael Mann’s Heat), and gross out humour that should send almost everyone who sees it home happy.
Teen best friends Conor MacSweeney (Alex Murphy) and Jock Murphy (Chris Walley) both come from single parent families and both dream of a life outside the dead end options they face living in Cork. Conor begrudgingly works alongside his fishmonger mother (Hilary Rose), while Jock has become an almost legendary bike thief with an abusive, alcoholic dad (Michael Sands) and longstanding beefs with an overzealous cop (Dominic McHale) and a local hood (Shane Casey) that’s due for parole and revenge in the near future. When Jock gets wind that a seizure of 440 million Euros worth of cocaine went overboard off the Irish coast, he suggests that the pair team up and start “treasure hunting” for the lost drugs. Just one of the hundreds of cocaine bales would have a street value of about seven million Euros, effectively making them set for life.
Boasting great chemistry between Murphy and Walley and an unpredictable sense of comic timing, The Young Offenders is a road picture, heist film, and teen drama all rolled into one; think Ferris Bueller’s Day Off if both Ferris and Cameron were budding drug dealers and theives. Although it hits a slow patch during a lengthy scene where the boys hide from the cops at the home of a creepy drunk who thinks they’re his sons, it picks up again in the final third with the film’s secret MVP: a hilarious P.J. Gallagher as a drug dealer the boys rip off. Delivering every line in a droll, calm tone while walking with a pronounced limp, wearing a fishing hat, and toting a nail gun, it’s one of the most memorable villains I’ve ever seen, and he helps to send the already enjoyable flick out on a high note. (And don’t worry if you miss it here. The Young Offenders has been booked to play the Toronto Irish Film Festival at the beginning of next month.)
Screens: Sunday, February 19th at 3:00pm.
As You Are
Set in upstate New York in 1994, As You Are, the debut feature from filmmaker Miles Joris-Peyrafitte is a grunge era period piece where a trio of friends who fall in and out of love with each other struggle to keep their neuroses in check while exploring the budding, fluid sexualities.
Jack (Owen Campbell) strikes up a friendship with fellow punk and grunge enthusiast Mark (Charlie Heaton), the son of Jack’s mom’s new boyfriend. Following a beat down from some bullies outside a small town diner, they start hanging out with Sarah (Amandla Stenberg), a black girl the same age as them, but from a better adjusted family. Sarah’s affections towards Mark and Jack on romantic levels keep shifting, but Mark and Jack also have eyes for each other as more than friends. We learn all of this via a time shifting, Rashomon styled structure built around a police interrogation involving most of the characters, constantly suggesting that their friendship will come to a catastrophic end for one or more parties.
These interrogation flashbacks would come across as a bit much in other films, but are necessary to understanding Peyrafitte’s stylishly mounted, but lightweight drama. Without these moments to fill in what’s happening, it wouldn’t feel like much is going on in As You Are. Getting off to almost too slow of a start for its own good, nothing of major consequence happens until nearly forty minutes into the film, and things really don’t gain any sort of narrative momentum for a full hour. What little details we get about these teens’ lives are enough to keep interest to a point, but as characters only Mark feels fully fleshed out.
Despite the obvious narrative setbacks, the cast is great, Peyrafitte has a great visual eye for both the period and tone of the story (not to mention having a hand in the memorable musical score), and it built to a brave, gutsy, and commendable conclusion that I can safely say I didn’t fully see coming. This one could have gone either way for me, but the ending made it ultimately worthwhile. You really need to stick with it, though.
Screens: Sunday, February 19 at 8:45pm