Monday, May 8, 2017

The Italian Contemporary Film Festival returns to Toronto with De Sica honours

by Allan Tong

The line-up of the sixth ICFF (The Italian Contemporary Film Festival) was unveiled at Toronto's Ritz-Carlton earlier today, highlighted by Christian De Sica (above), son of iconic director and actor Vittorio De Sica (The Bicycle Thief), who will receive the ICFF’s Lifetime Achievement Award. De Sica will also present his latest films, Poveri ma ricchi (Poor but Rich) and Fraulein/Una fiaba d’inverno. Past recipients include Al Pacino, Roberto Benigni and Claudia Cardinale. The ICFF will also his present is father's classic comedy, Matrimonio all’italiana (Marriage Italian Style) and host a live talk, In conversation with Christian De Sica, where he will discuss his and his father's work.

As in recent years, the ICFF will take place in several cities at once. A total of 180 screenings will grace screens from June 8-16 at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lilghtbox as well as in Vaughan, Hamilton, Montreal, Québec City and Vancouver. To honour Canada's 150th birthday, the ICFF will host From Bello to Beautiful: The Art and Impact of Italian-Canadian Cinema, seven days of free screenings starting with Noelle’s Journey, a documentary by Peter Gentile about two immigrants who left southern Italy for a new life in Canada.

“This year’s Festival lineup," explained Cristiano de Florentiis, ICFF's Artistic Director, "focuses on three aspects of Italian cinema: creating a bridge between the classics [De Sica]; welcoming [actress] Paola Cortellesi, who will show the importance of women in film as they headline both the opening and closing screenings, as well as celebrating Canada’s 150th.”

ICFF’s opening film will be Qualcosa di nuovo/Something New, a comedy directed by Cristina Comencini. Other special guests include actors Giancarlo Giannini (above), best known here for Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, and a veteran star in Italy with accolades from Cannes, Locarno and the Italian Golden Globes.

Another acting legend, Franco Nero (Die Hard 2, Django Unchained, above), will grace the ICFF red carpet as will Paola Cortellesi (below) who stars in the opening night film.

For further details about films, the ICFF's school screening program and the opening and closing gala parties, please visit here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

20 things I learned at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference

by Allan Tong

TV scribes and some film writers, descended on the Toronto Screenwriting Conference last weekend (April 22-23) to listen to two full days of advice about the craft and business of writing for screen. Gracing the stage at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre were the creators and showrunners of Archer, Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce, Shoot The Messenger, Kim's Convenience and Mohawk Girls as well as big-league American and Canadian producers and network AMC. 

The $500 pass all the panels, but passholders paid $25 or each industry roundtable that overlapped panels to ask showrunners, producers and network buyers long as they didn't pitch any shows. I didn't attend these, but delegates I spoke to were pleased to meet these folks, and some hoped it would lead to pitch meetings one day.

Overall, the level of advice inspired writers. Speakers raised fresh ideas and reinforced existing notions, which is the aim of the TSC. However, pitching was off-limits and the guest speakers were hard to access once they were onstage, though many were in the audience to watch other panels. The TSC is not a marketplace, but a school. 

Should it inject more business elements into its packed schedule? Allow pitching? Introduce a component about agents, funders and casting agents, folks who don't shape the craft of writing, but nourish the business side? Perhaps. 

The conference ran smoothly, though several sessions began and started 10-15 minutes late, such as the Sunday morning coffee break which unfortunately spilled into the start of the Corey Mandell session. This was the weekend's true writing class--and an inspiring one. (My favourite.)

So, here are 20 things I learned from this year's Toronto Screenwriting Conference:

"Writers and crazy people spend time with imaginary characters." - Adam Reed, Archer creator

While constantly fielding pitches, AMC commissions 70 scripts each year, then assigns six to eight writers' rooms (three or four twice a year). Here, they decide which shows to greenlight for production. They don't order pilots.

"Have the courage to tell a story that matters to you. Plumb your own heart of darkness," which are your darkness fears and internal conflicts. - writer and screenwriting coach, Corey Mandell

Be careful shacking up with a writer, warns Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby). "Writers will steal everything from your relationship." Also: "People with some success struggle exactly like you," says the two-time Oscar winner. Any writer, everyday, faces the same battles with their script. "Finding the story is so tough."

If you're a writer in Toronto or anywhere and want to pitch AMC, but don't have an agent in Hollywood? Then, partner with a producer, but don't assign him/her ownership. Leave that to AMC who wants to own the show. The days of a prodco licensing say, Mad Men, to AMC are over.

"A story escalates or dies. A great story escalates through its characters' hearts of darkness," their darkest nightmare. - Corey Mandell 

Unsolicited scripts end up in the garbage bin, reveal American producers. Sorry. It's true.

Courtney Jane Walker finds that female Degrassi (Next Generation, Next Class) fans harshly criticize her show's female characters on Twitter more than guys do to male characters.

The "boneyard" of discarded ideas is useful when you need an idea in the clutch, says Kim's Convenience co-showrunner, Kevin White.

Paul Haggis' question to himself and to characters he creates: "What would you for love? What two things? Now...choose one."
Showrunner Marti Noxon never aimed for commercial success, but wound up marrying her personal interests (i.e. anorexia) + genre (thrillers, soaps) + specificity (detail, knowledge of a subject).

"I don't recommend virtual reality. It's as bad as this one." - Motive showrunner, Dennis Heaton (left) with Archer creator Adam Reed

"Daffy Duck is one.of the great villains of all time." Archer animated series creator Adam Reed (right)

Two questions to ask when writing any script, comedy or drama (from Kim's Convenience) (click to enlarge):

U.S. producers more likely to hire a new writer for TV than films given writer's room. A studio can pair a rookie with a veteran scribe.

Paul Haggis, who used to work at a moving company: "We all have jobs. Take the shittiest job, nothing creative....Save that for writing."

Get to the point of a comedy sketch within the first five seconds. Lesson learned from season one of the Beaverton.

The biggest career mistake that writers make: they stop getting better. "Keep pushing yourself to get from good to very good to great to EXTRAORDINARY." - Corey Mandell

For more nuggets of wisdom and photos, find us on Twitter at @chinokino_com

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sundance Now enters the streaming game

by Allan Tong

Sundance is entering the streaming game with a new service called Sundance Now. For US$6.99 a month, subscribers access a catalogue of indie features, award-winning docs and some series.

Sundance Now's curator George Schmalz (pictured above, left, formerly of Kino Lorber and Kickstarer) and general manager, Jan Diedrichsen (right) flew up from New York last night to launch the service with a Q&A and brief video presentation at the AGO in Toronto.

Features include Heathers, Rhythm Thief, Dementia 13, Kubrick's obscure early film, Fear and Desire, and Takeshi Kitano's Violent Cop. The documentary selection is particularly notable with titles such as Knuckleball, War Don Don, Burma VJ, Detropia, Wordplay, Bronx Obama and Page One. So far, there are only seven series including two Sundance originals, The Bureau and Take 5: Justice in America which center on espionage and the prison system. Viewers can select titles pre-curated by filmmakers such as Jonathan Demme and Bruce McDonald under the Curators Collection select their own playlists (The Central Park Five and Anvil, respectively).

The cost is US$6.99 a month or US$59.99 a year. Note that Canadians pay based on the US price, so account for the currency exchange.

Will Sundance Now make a dent in the Netflix juggernaut? Hard to say. Canada showed the door to Shomi last year, but Shomi didn't offer any original content which was their fatal flaw. At least Sundance Now has a few original series and offers more obscure but acclaimed indie films than mainstreams VOD channels. It may come down to Sundance and its partners investing in original programming to thrive.

Whatever the case, the current catalogue relects Sundance's indie and social activist bent, qualities the Sundance brand has championed from day one.

(Disclosure: I'm a Sundance Documentary Fellow, and the Sundance Documentary Film has financed one of my films.)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A step forward for Canadian diversity at 2017 CSAs

Tatiana Maslany (above) walked away with two big statues at Sunday's Canadian Screen Awards gala in Toronto. That's three if you count the award that Orphan Black (below) snagged for its farewell season. Pretty good for a show that nobody in Canada picked up until BBC America did. Oh, Canada...

Other big winners were Montreal director Xavier Dolan's It's Only the End of the World, the Jesse Owens biopic Race and Letterkenny for best TV comedy series.

The red carpet was more racially diverse than usual with the cast of Mohawk Girls (above), Kim's Convenience, Tattoo Cardinal (receiving the Earle Grey award) and American stand-up superstar, Dave Chappelle (below) posing before the paparazzi .

Chappelle presented a lifetime achievement award to the Just For Laughs Festival, "a national treasure" and compared kinder, gentler Canada to a "little gay brother I didn't know we had."

Christopher Plummer (above in the press room) accepted his lifetime achievement award with grace and wit, insisting, "By no means is this the end. The curtain has not yet fallen. It's simply stuck." It was a high point of the show.

Friday, February 24, 2017

IDS 2017 warms up Toronto with design and dance

by Allan Tong
(last update: Feb. 24)

Toronto is a frozen hell-hole in January. Besides paying off Christmas credit card bills and enduring the darkest days of the year, Torontonians have little to enjoy at the start of the year. The Interior Design Show shrewdly fills the void to promote Canadian and world designers of home furnishings while injecting colour and fun into the city.

Last Thursday (January 19), the IDS opened with its annual party, sprawled across the north building of the Metro Convention Centre. Dozen of exhibitors' booths poured bubbly, beer and wine while others offered canopes of everything from beef to falafels. "It's the first real party of the year," said one woman, who works at a bank. "After Christmas, we kind of hibernate, and now we come out."

She paid $61 and dressed up to take in the party that lasted four hours. The unusually mild weather attracted larger crowds than last year. Partygoers danced and drank at the Caesarstone Stage (below) while consumers and industry professionals alike glided from booth to booth with champagne in their hands to admire the latest luxury bathtubs, lighting fixtures, kitchen appliances and bedroom sets. Everyone dressed up, like a red carpet premiere, and leaned towards casual chic. (I'd never seen so many black leather pants in one place.)

Toronto mixes paint and party at the Artist Project

The 2017 Artist Project exhibition opened Thursday night at the CNE's Better Living Centre with a party surrounded by beautiful creations. For $28 ($30 at the door), any art collector, hipster or party animal could have sipped red wine and nibbled on canapes as they admired (or dismissed) the 250 or so booths adorned in paintings. It was booth after booth of paintings, from oils to mixed media, with zero photography and almost no sculpture (a suggestion for next year), created by local artists. Last month's Interior Design Show opened in the same party fashion.

So was the art any good? That depends on your taste. As the photos below attest, styles ranged from the abstract to representational, from traditional to modern.
And the party? There were line-ups for glasses of wine, beer, Crystal Head vodka, Strongbow cider and even Walter Ceasar mix. Bodega Martin Berdugo and Between The Lines drew the healthiest queues for red, wine and rose. Meanwhile, Tabule served the tastiest food and it was vegetarian to boot (falafel balls with hummus and pita), followed by Quesada's Mexican samplers, but some patrons wanted a little more to nibble on (another tip for 2018).

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Nominations announced for the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards

The nominations for the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards were announced today in joint press conferences in Montreal and Toronto. Montreal director Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World | Juste la fin du monde and Space’s series Orphan Black are the leading nominees for this year’s Canadian Screen Awards.

Dolan’s French-language drama It’s Only the End of the World | Juste la fin du monde leads the film portion with nine nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor for French actor Vincent Cassel.

Orphan Black leads the televion categories with 14 nominations. CBC comedy “Schitt’s Creek followed with 13 nominations, while another of their comedies “Kim’s Convenience had 11. “19-2 and “Vikings each received nine nominations.

Christopher Plummer had been previously announced as the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

film review (Netflix): Miss Sharon Jones!

Director: Barbara Kopple
Featuring: Sharon Jones, The Dap Kings

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

Originally released before her death last November, Miss Sharon Jones! now serves as a memoriam to the late, great soul singer. This heartwrenching film by renown documentarian, Barbara Kopple (Harlan Country, U.S.A.), and just released on Netflix, chronicles Jones' battle against pancreatic cancer for seven months in 2013 after her diagnosis. It's not your typical glossy music doc, but a war movie.

First of all, Jones was an anomaly in the youthful world of music. She struggled for many years signing in wedding bands and even working as a corrections officer at Rikers Island before gaining fame in her fifties. As she recounts in the film, record execs told her she was too black, too fat and too short to make it big. Thankfully, she proved them wrong.

Friday, January 13, 2017

film review: Live By Night

Director: Ben Affleck
Writer: Ben Affleck
Featuring: Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Sienna Miller

ChinoKino score: B

Review by Allan Tong

A showcase of Ben Affleck's talents behind and in front of the camera, Live by Night is an uneven gangster flick redeemed by an intriguing storyline and moments of poignancy that raise this film above pulp fiction.

Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, Live by Night is about Joe Coughlin (Affleck), a disillusioned World War I vet and the bad son of a Boston police captain, who goes into bootlegging during Prohibition.

There are scores of films about the Italian mob, but few about the Irish. This is a welcome change. Coughlin's ethnicity continues to play a role after the bloody first act set in 1920's Boston. Live by Night then shifts to Tampa, Florida after Coughlin barely survives Irish rival, Albert White and leaves behind his love, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

film review: Gold

Director: Stephen Gaghan
Writers: Stephen Gaghan, Patrick Massett and John Zinman
Featuring: Matthew McConaughey, Édgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll

ChinoKino score: C

Review by Allan Tong

Matthew McConaughey sports a pot belly and bald head to portray Kenny Wells, half of a goldmining team that hits the jackpot in Indonesia in this morality play loosely based on the Bre-X scandal of 1993. Performances by him and his partner in business, Édgar Ramírez (as Michael Acosta), and love, Bryce Dallas Howard (as Kay) are sound, but we never quite fall behind Wells and cheer him as he strikes it rich nor pity him as he slides down. Another missed opportunity is Howard, whose Kay remains underdeveloped throughout and relationship with Kenny doesn't payoff at the end.

Monday, December 19, 2016

film review: Harry Benson: Shoot First

Directed by Matthew Miele & Justin Bare

Review by Allan Tong

You've likely seen this iconic image. But in February 1964, nobody expected a "pop" group of English moptops called The Beatles to last. Similarly, nobody bet on a loudmouthed black boxer named Cassius Clay to become the world heavyweight champion.

Scottish-born photographer Harry Benson wasn't lucky to photograph these two legends crossing paths--he was smart and hard-working. A fine, new documentary by Matthew Miele and Justin Bare reveals that it was Benson's idea to pair the Fab Four with Clay (later to rename himself Muhammed Ali). The Beatles were Miami, Benson needed shots for his editor, and Clay/Ali was in town.

Monday, December 12, 2016

5 cool things at IIDEX this year

Story and photos by Allan Tong

With a movie screening, walking tours, book signings, workshops, panels, awards and parties, IIDEX, Toronto's annual interior design expo, has blossomed into a multimedia affair that's expanded beyond its two days (Nov.30-Dec.1) on the convention floor. Here are five cool things we saw at IIDEX (in no particular order):

Monday, October 31, 2016

Film review: Gimme Danger

Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Review by Allan Tong

Punk pioneers, The Stooges, receive the deluxe rock doc treatment in the entertaining, funny and illuminating Gimme Danger. Makes sense that indie king, Jim Jarmusch, tells the story of the iconoclastic band that hailed from working class Michigan during the flower power era then roared across stages and recorded three seminal albums before drugs poisoned the band.

Stooges' front man, Iggy Pop, dominates the storytelling and it's clear he's the driving force throughout the band's frenetic history. Iggy's reminisces are detailed and warm. It's jarring to see him (as young James Osterberg) in old photos wearing suits and posing with his early bands behind drum kits (he started as a drummer). Blues freak Osterberg then travels to Mecca (aka Chicago) and gradually finds his voice by banding with the Asheton brothers, Ron and Scott, and a bassist, and mentoring under rock revolutionaries, the MC5.

Friday, October 28, 2016

145 documentary features submitted for 2016 Oscar race

One hundred forty-five features have been submitted for consideration in the Documentary Feature category for the 89th Academy Awards®.

Several of the films have not yet had their required Los Angeles and New York qualifying releases. Submitted features must fulfill the theatrical release requirements and comply with all of the category’s other qualifying rules in order to advance in the voting process. A shortlist of 15 films will be announced in December.

Films submitted in the Documentary Feature category also may qualify for Academy Awards in other categories, including Best Picture, provided they meet the requirements for those categories.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

10 documentary shorts named to Oscar's 2016 shortlist

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that the field of Documentary Short Subject contenders for the 89th Academy Awards has been narrowed to 10 films, of which 5 will earn Oscar nominations.

Voters from the Academy’s Documentary Branch viewed this year’s 61 eligible entries and submitted their ballots to PricewaterhouseCoopers for tabulation.