Friday, May 28, 2010

Film events this weekend in Toronto

There are two things definitely worth catching this weekend in Toronto that are film-related.

The Toronto Underground Cinema is a revamped theatre in Chinatown that was launched last week and offiicially opens this weekend. They are located at 186 Spadina Avenue, just north of Queen Street on the west side. Their excellent opening weekend lineup features Un Prophète (A Prophet), The Ghost Writer, Hard Core Logo, Rumble in the Bronx, and The Runaways. For more information, check their website.

The other thing you'll want to catch is a free retrospective screening of Hong Kong films at Innis Town Hall. The screening is to celebrate the donation of 35mm Hong Kong films by the Toronto International Film Festival's Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes to the University of Toronto. The two films will be Ringo Lam Ling-Tung's Esprit d'Amour and Ronny Yu's The Occupant. You can read more about it at Colin's Kung Fu Fridays blog.

Here is the schedule for both events:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

2010 Worldwide Short Film Festival, June 1-6

Next week, the 16th edition of the Canadian Film Centre’s Worldwide Short Film Festival runs from Tuesday, June 1 to Sunday June 6. WSFF is the largest short film festival in North America and features a diverse group of 281 films from 34 countries. Each of the 33 programs presents 5 to 20 short films grouped thematically. 210 of the films are premieres including 31 world premieres. The quality of the programming is consistently very strong from year to year. A few of the screenings are free for students (18+) and seniors with valid ID.

In addition to the excellent films themselves, the festival hosts a symposium, an important industry component that is a must for filmmakers and those in the business. They have seminars, master classes and workshops that are designed to help filmmakers at every stage of their process. Also, industry buyers come from around the world, to scour the festivals library of submitted films as well as their official programming. It is a terrific forum for people to network and form lasting relationships with industry professionals as well as fellow filmmakers.

Here is information on the film programs and the symposium. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to the website at

Monday, May 24, 2010

NFTKK diary #7: the shoot with pianist Anton Kuerti

I set my alarm for 5am for our 7am call time on May 13. But I wasn't sleeping well, so I finally got up at 4am and did some preparatory work for the shoot. I had previously made a playback CD for the shoot, adding a click track and dividing the piece (the Scherzo from Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 18) into smaller sections as well - into thirds and sixths. Katarina had organized the shot list into a detailed spreadsheet and I went through the list to figure out which playback track we would use and where we could get additional coverage as well.

We got to the Day 1 location to find all of our compact crew of 16 people was already there. They had gotten started setting up and moving the gear from the basement up to the third floor set. Rose and her intern Allison worked very quickly to design the set. We lost a half hour of prep time from the previous night so they had some catching up to do. Perhaps it wasn't so bad after all that Anton wouldn't be arriving until later.

Our 2nd AC Andrew was going to handle the data transfers for the Red camera, and tried setting up Katarina's laptop with the requisite setup for downloading the footage. That's when we realized that her computer didn't have the specs required for the software. I've worked on projects with the Red before and they do generally demand very specific requirements from your computer. We were in a bind. Andrew had a computer that we could use but he didn't bring it. He lived in the westernmost part of the city so would take at least an hour to get there and back, probably twice that in the morning rush hour. So we could lose him for an hour or two, or take a chance with our footage on the hard drive and only transfer at our lunch break and at the end of the day.

Interview - Mao's Last Dancer star Chi Cao

Recently, dancer/actor Chi Cao came to Toronto to promote the current release of the excellent film Mao's Last Dancer. He plays the real-life character Li Cunxin who was trained in communist China and then defected to the United States. I had an opportunity to speak to Chi about his thoughts on dancing and acting.

Congratulations on your success with this role. Is this your acting debut? How did it come about? 

My “day job” is ballet dancer. I think I got this part because I could dance. I was dancing at the time and I could speak both languages, Chinese/Mandarin and English. That’s pretty much it, that’s why I got the part. I think to start with Bruce Beresford didn’t want to have an actor playing the role and then a body double, because it would look very odd. These days, the audiences are very sophisticated. If you do that, they’d know it’s not the same person. So he was very determined to get a dancer playing the part. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

So how did you hear about it? 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

NFTKK diary# 6: last-minute chaos before the shoot

I'm late posting about the shoot I did last week for Notes From the Kuerti Keyboard, with co-filmmaker Katarina Soukup, but it was a crazy and intense time that required a fair bit of recuperation. Now that I'm pretty much recovered, I can look back on the shoot and how it went.

In the few days leading up to production, Katarina and I still had lots of little details to take care of: getting parking permits, preparing the music tracks required for playback, getting some clearances for the rights to use certain images, paying for catering, etc. It was a scramble to take care of these ourselves since we went without a production manager to keep our crew small and compact.

We had a bit of trouble finalizing our crew. We needed PAs who could drive but it was hard to find someone who drove who could be present the whole time and who was also over 25 - a requirement for assigning them as a secondary driver on the van rental. If we couldn't have an additional driver for the van, then Katarina or I would be stuck driving - hardly an ideal use of our time during the shoot. We finally found someone on the day before the shoot.

Awards News: 2010 Cannes Film Festival award winners

Winners were announced for the main awards of the 63rd edition of the Festival de Cannes (Cannes Film Festival) at a closing-night gala ceremony in the Palais des Festivals. The winners of prizes for the Un Certain Regard, Directors Fortnight and Critics Week sections of the festival were previously announced. On Sunday night the remaining, more prestigious awards including the Palme d'Or were announced.

Director Tim Burton presided over a jury that consisted of Kate Beckinsale, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Alberto Barbera, Emmanuel Carrere, Benicio Del Toro, Victor Erice, Alexandre Desplat and Shekhar Kapur. Imprisoned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was honoured with an empty jury seat.

The top prize, the Palme d’Or, went to Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives directed by the Thai auteur Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul. The award was presented to him by Tim Burton and actress Charlotte Gainsbourg. The Directing award went to actor-turned-director Mathieu Amalric for his film Tournée (On Tour) about American showgirls on a tour of France. Juliette Binoche won the Actress prize, while Javier Bardem and Elio Germano shared the prize for Actor.

Complete list of 2010 Festival de Cannes award winners:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Call for Submissions: imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival 2010

A call for submissions from the imagineNATIVE Film Festival for Indigenous artists:

11th Annual imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival
October 20 - 24, 2010

DEADLINE: June 1, 2010

Be a part of imagineNATIVE's 11th great year! The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival is an international festival that celebrates the best works by Indigenous artists on the forefront of innovation in film, video, radio, and new media. Each fall, the festival presents the most compelling and distinctive Indigenous works and voices from around the globe. The festival's screenings, artist talks, panel discussions, industry and cultural events attract and connect filmmakers, media artists, programmers, buyers, and industry professionals. The works accepted reflect the breadth and diversity of the world's Indigenous cultures and illustrate the vitality and excellence of our art and culture in contemporary media.

We are currently seeking film/video/media art/new media and radio works in all genres by international and Canadian Indigenous filmmakers and producers. We invite all genres and lengths and encourage submissions from first-time and emerging directors. Student films are welcome.

The film and video submissions form is available on our website at

Friday, May 21, 2010

Free Ben & Jerry's ice cream at the Varsity Theatre (Toronto) [UPDATED]

For moviegoers in Toronto, you can look forward to a added bonus to your viewing pleasure this long weekend. Over the next few evenings from 5-10pm, Ben & Jerry's has set up a stall will be providing free samples of their "We are Waffling" flavour in the lobby of the Varsity Theatre in Toronto (55 Bloor Street West, in the Manulife Centre). It's part of a promotion Ben & Jerry's has launched to find a new name for the flavour.

[UPDATE: The promotion is happening across Canada at many other theatres. For example, a booth was set up at the Scotiabank (formerly Paramount) Theatre, 259 Richmond Street West, at the top of the escalators. You don't even need a ticket to go up and have a scoop or two. Or three.]

After sampling the ice cream, you can head over to their website at Click on "We are Waffling" and fill out the form. If they pick your new name for the flavour, you can win a one-year supply of free ice cream.

I've sampled the flavour (okay, I may have had more than one sample - they didn't at all mind people coming back repeatedly) and it's quite tasty. It consists of vanilla with fudge swirl and fudge-covered waffle cone pieces. The name "We are Waffling" is clever in that it also indicate that it is a temporary name.

Film review - MacGruber

Writer: Jorma Taccone, Will Forte, John Solomon
Director: Jorma Taccone
Producer: Lorne Michaels, John Goldwyn, Ryan Kavanaugh
Cast: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer, Maya Rudolph
Action comedy, 1 hour 39 minutes

The new film MacGruber continues the long tradition of making feature-length films based on Saturday Night Live sketches. It lives up to the standard established by the previous films.

Yes, it's that bad.

I won't deny chuckling a handful of times during the screening. But the long stretches between the laughs seemed interminable. It wasn't just me either. The auditorium at my screening was nearly full, and no one else seemed to be laughing all that much either.

Call for submissions: Cinesonika Film and Video Festival of Innovative Sound Design

A new film festival is set to launch in the fall of 2010 in Vancouver. Cinesonika will launch its first edition in November 12-21 at the Westminster Savings Credit Union Theatre, Simon Fraser University Surrey Theatre, with the goal of focusing on the audio aspect of film and video. 

This is a critical but underappreciated aspect of filmmaking. An editor colleague of mine once expressed his disappointment at the realization that sound was actually more important than the visuals (which is what he primarily worked with). There is a dictum in the film industry that good sound can save poor visuals, but you can't save poor sound.

Here is their call for submissions:

CINESONIKA: The First International Film and Video Festival of Innovative Sound Design

The theme of this international film and video festival is to celebrate the soundtrack. Usually in cinema festivals there is a fixation on movie stars, or captivating imagery, or the literary qualities of screenplays, or the abstract concepts of film theory. Sound tends to be relatively unvalorized in moving-image making. The intent of the festival is to give attention to innovative work in the creation of film and video soundtracks, and to give due credit to the importance of audio in audiovisual media.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Film Review: Mao's Last Dancer

Writer: Jan Sardi; based on an autobiography by Li Cunxin
Director: Bruce Beresford
Producer: Jane Scott
Cast: Chi Cao, Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan, Joan Chen, Wang Shuangbao, Amanda Schull, Ferdinand Hoang
Drama, based on a true story
1 hour 57 minutes
English, Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles

China has always been an enigma to the west. Most of the anti-communist paranoia after World War II focused on Russia. Less was made of China because they were perceived as a minor superpower. Now they are ascendant and may soon dominate the international scene. The U.S. meanwhile is only able to maintain its position with loans from China.

China is a paradox. So too is our view of them. They are criticized for their determined approach to matters such as sports, yet there's no denying their success. Likewise, we may criticize their approach to the arts but it works, as we saw in the incomparable opening and closing ceremonies to the 2008 Olympics. Bruce Beresford's latest film Mao's Last Dancer looks at China's approach to the arts in telling the true story of Li Cunxin, who was trained in the old communist system and then forsook it to defect to the west.

Praxis Centre for Screenwriters - Fall 2010 Workshop

The Praxis Centre for Screenwriters has put out a call for submissions for its Fall 2010 workshop. The deadline is in late June 2010 (their website lists both June 25 and June 30 as the deadline). They only accept complete screenplays and select between four and six for the one-week intensive workshop in November.

Here are the details from their site

Spring/Fall Competitions
Praxis holds two feature film script competitions each year, one in the Spring (deadline November 15th) and one in the Fall (deadline June 30th).

We receive approximately 200 scripts a year. From each competition we select 4 - 6 scripts to be workshopped with a veteran story editor or screenwriter. Admission to the workshops is highly competitive.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Filmmaker opportunities: Canadian Film Centre

There are several upcoming deadlines at the Canadian Film Centre, a top film school comparable to the American Film Institute: CFC Features, Telefilm Canada Features Comedy Lab and the TELUS Interactive Art and Entertainment Program.

CFC Features (formerly the Feature Film Project) is a program that allows for the development and making of low-budget feature films. They have three deadlines a year. The next one is May 28, 2010, 5pm. The last film made through this program was Charles Officer's acclaimed 2009 film Nurse.Fighter.Boy.

Recently their application guidelines and process have been changed. You can read them here:

DOWNLOAD the Updated Guidelines
DOWNLOAD the Updated Application Package
If you have questions about the CFC Features, email or call (416) 445-1446 ext. 262.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Awards News: Hot Docs awards, pt. 2

On Monday May 10, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival announced the final results of the 2010 edition of the festival. In addition to the awards presented on Friday May 7, the winner of the Hot Docs Audience Award was Thunder Soul by Mark Landsman. The inaugural Filmmakers Award, as voted for by attending filmmakers went to Autumn Gold by Jan Tenhaven. The following is the full press release:

Toronto, May 10 2010 – Hot Docs has wrapped its most successful festival to date with audience numbers reaching an estimated 136,000. The 11-day event, April 29 to May 9, featured 275 public screenings of 170+ films on 10 screens across Toronto, three Critical Mass speaker series events, two Rooftop Docs screenings, an internationally renowned conference and market for documentary professionals, and Docs for Schools, a phenomenally popular education program for youth. A record 170 screenings went rush, and the box office saw a 10 per cent increase in overall sales. The Festival brought in more than 150 filmmakers and special guest subjects from across Canada and around the world to present their films and take part in special post-screening Q&A sessions with audiences. Official film selections were chosen from a total 2088 films submitted to the Festival.

Monday, May 10, 2010

NFTKK diary #5: the shot list and the tech scout

Last week, the big things we had planned were a preliminary meeting with our Director of Photography (D.O.P.) John Tran, followed by a tech scout and then a production meeting. All of that went fairly well.

When we met with John, he wanted to go over our shot list with us and to get a sense of what he would be required to do. Katarina and I scrambled to get it detailed enough for his needs. We never did get it fully completed as we wanted, but it was good enough for him to have an idea of what to expect. He liked a lot of our ideas and seemed excited at the opportunity to try out a few things.

The next day, one of the locations wasn't going to be able to accomodate us as originally scheduled. But we went ahead with the scout of the first location anyhow, and figured that we could have a long lunch and production meeting while waiting for the next location to be free for us. Our gaffer wasn't able to make it, but we still had our 1st Assistant Director (A.D.) Louis, D.O.P. John and Art Director Rose.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hot Docs review: The Parking Lot Movie

You wouldn't ordinarily think that a parking lot and its attendants would make for a compelling documentary. In most cases you'd be right. But the Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, Virginia is a parking lot like no other.

The Parking Lot Movie introduces us to the wide range of characters who work there over the last 20+ years, and we are drawn in to their mundane yet fascinating world. Those that work there are a privileged group made up of highly articulate college students, intellectuals and artists of all sorts. Somehow, their daily struggles take on a weighty yet comical significance and they earn our complete sympathy for the abuse and condescension they experience from the parking lot patrons.

Director-producer Meghan Eckman has done a superb job of taking a a seemingly boring and pointless topic and making an enjoyable, comedic feature-length movie. You get a good sense of how interesting people can be, even when their work maybe isn't.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Awards News: 2010 David di Donatello Awards (Italy)

On Friday May 7, the Accademia del Cinema Italiano presented their 2010 David di Donatello Awards, named after the famous statue whose likeness it bears. The 54th edition of the awards ceremony took place at the Auditorium della Conciliazione (Auditorium of Reconciliation) in Rome on May 7. There were big surprises on the night, as the awards were mostly divided between three major films.

The film that took the most awards was Vincere, based on the true story of Mussolini's first wife Ida Dalser and tbeir secret child, who were both sent to an insane asylum by the fascist dictator. It won eight of its fifteen nominations. But in something of an upset, the World War II drama about a Nazi massacre in the Italian village Marzabotto L'uomo che verrà (The Man Who Will Come) took the key Best Film and Best Producer awards. Top acting awards went to La prima cosa bella (The First Beautiful Thing) as well as the screenwriting prize. However, this was considered a disappointment since it had gone into the evening with eighteen nominations.

Best European Film went to The Concert by Radu Mihaileanu, while the Best Foreign Language Film was Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino.

Complete list of 2010 David di Donatello Award winners:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Awards News: Hot Docs awards

On a cold and rainy Friday night, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival held its Awards Presentation at the Isabel Bader Theatre in downtown Toronto. 

Ten awards and over $72,000 in cash prizes were presented to local and international filmmakers, including awards for Festival films in competition and those recognizing emerging and established filmmakers. The Hot Docs Awards Presentation was hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, host of Q on CBC Radio One.

The Festival's top honour for international films in competition, the Best International Feature Award was presented to A Film Unfinished (D: Yael Hersonski; P: Noemi Schory, Itay Ken Tor; Israel), a haunting visual essay that masterfully deconstructs a now-infamous, unfinished Nazi propaganda film about Jewish life in the Warsaw Ghetto. Jury statement: "Yael Hersonski’s film is a profound exploration of the testimonial value of the cinematic image, based on found footage of a Nazi propaganda film shot in a Warsaw Ghetto. This is a film for the ages." The award includes a $10,000 prize courtesy of Hot Docs.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hot Docs review: His and Hers; Steam of Life

Not all documentaries are simple narratives where a filmmaker takes us on a journey of theirs or someone else's. Some films are built around an idea or a process. Two films at this year's Hot Docs are a collection of tales told in similar circumstances: the Irish film His and Hers by Ken Wardrop, and Joonas Berghäll's Finnish film Miesten Vuoro (Steam of Life).

His and Hers gives voice to 70 women from the Irish midlands. Starting with the youngest and progressively moving to older subjects, the film shows females discussing the various males in their lives - at first they talk about brothers and fathers, then boyfriends, then husbands and sons (interestingly, filmmaker Wardrop is an openly gay male). They are interviewed in their own homes, with additional footage of them doing housework especially through windows or glass.

Though there are moments of tedium as you might expect, there are also brilliant flashes of humour as well as great emotional impact. Well-shot on Super 16 mm film he filming is quite lovely and earned an award for cinematography at Sundance, before going on to win the Best Documentary Feature award at the Irish Film & Television Academy Awards.

Hot Docs review: Gasland

Gas companies dramatically increased their drilling in 2005 when Dick Cheney and the Bush administration granted them an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act and other environmental protection laws. Filmmaker Josh Fox was approached to lease his property in the Poconos region of  Pennsylvania, and he considered it but instead went on a journey with his camera through 24 states to examine and explore the natural gas industry. The resulting film Gasland takes a hard look at the current natural gas drilling boom, the largest in American history.

Fix discovers a process developed by Halliburton known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," the companies pump 247+ toxic chemicals into the ground to extract the gas and wasted millions of gallons of water. The results are disturbing, as nearby residents become chronically ill, farm animals and pets lose their fur, and tap water becomes combustible and undrinkable.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hot Docs review: Bhutto

Easily one of the finest films I've seen at Hot Docs this year, Bhutto takes a close look not only at the life and legacy of Benazir Bhutto, but at her whole controversial family and the history of Pakistan. Directors Jessica Hernández and Johnny O’Hara provide a thorough and detailed overview of Benazir's upbringing under her father Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, her education abroad at Harvard and Oxford, her rivalry with her brother, and her groundbreaking reign as the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state.

There is epic scale about the whole dense and compelling story. The Bhuttos are comparable in many ways to the Kennedys. Zulfikar met John F. Kennedy in 1963, and when Kennedy remarked "too bad you are not American, because if you were, I would have appointed you to my cabinet." Zulfikar Bhutto famously retorted, "President Kennedy, that is very kind of you, but if I was American, I would not be in your cabinet but would be president of the United States!"

Benazir herself comes across as heroic and highly intelligent, as well as tragic. We get to hear many personal and moving revelations in her own words. She inspired massive throngs with her leadership, but also had many detractors. Her friends and family provide interviews that help put her life in proper context.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

NFTKK diary #4: pre-production meetings

So far, so good. Things are moving ahead with a short film project Notes From the Kuerti Keyboard. We've had a few more bumps along the way, but nothing too terribly out of the ordinary. In this last stretch, the worst thing was that our wardrobe person came down with a bad case of arthritis, which made his clothes shopping difficult if not impossible. Luckily for us, he already has some suitable items on standby in case he isn't able to go looking for anything else.

The biggest issues in these last few days has been scheduling. Most of us are very busy over the next couple of weeks before we shoot. The Hot Docs film festival casts a large shadow over us because many of us work in the documentary field as well. Not only does my co-filmmaker Katarina Soukup work mostly in the documentary field, but so do some of our crew members. Besides, not only are most of us filmmakers, but we are also avid filmgoers.

Nonetheless, this takes priority. Inevitably, we've had to schedule some meetings during the festival. Katarina is based in Montreal, but comes to Toronto today for both the festival business and our film shoot. We have our first meeting with our Director of Photography John Tran on Sunday, May 2. That happens to be his birthday, so we really appreciate him making the time for us to do a bit of work on such an occasion. We'll go over our shot list and get a better sense of how the days will flow, and how much equipment we'll need.