2020 was the first time since 2015 that I didn’t get to experience the change of season, from Summer to the Fall, in Toronto – between my regular visits to the many theatres that host the screenings of TIFF. As was the case with most film festivals throughout the year, the COVID-19 pandemic affected TIFF’s regular plans, but with months to prepare, the organization was able to adapt and create a hybrid event featuring live screenings (for the Torontonians), online rentals and a virtual library to replace the much-beloved P&I schedule.
The lineup, in general, had to be smaller than usual, and that change also affected the Short Cuts program, with only 36 films compared to 55 last year. Even though festing virtually has yet to be as fun as IRL… for the first time ever, as we reached the last Sunday of the festival, I had seen the whole program of shorts – helped by the shorter program, easier access and the fact that I was not functioning on just 4 hours of sleep a day for a week.
So, without further ado, here are our highlights of the 2020 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.
FEATURES FROM ALUMS
Before getting to the shorts, we quickly wanted to give a shout out to four of our alums that premiered their feature films at the festival.
- Good Joe Bell by Reinaldo Marcus Green (Stop) – featured on S/W back in 2015, Green follows up his 2018 festival hit Monsters and Men, with this Mark Wahlberg fronted tale of a father walking across America in honor of his son.
- Shadow in the Cloud by Roseanne Liang (Do No Harm) – winner of the People’s Choice Midnight Madness award, Liang builds on the impressive genre filmmaking on show in her kick-ass 2017 short with a feature focused on a WWII pilot trying to warn her obstinate male comrades of a sinister stowaway.
- Violation by Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli (Woman in Stall) – another film playing the Midnight Madness programme, the directorial duo’s deeply disturbing debut feature follows a betrayed woman looking for revenge and also stars S/W alum Anna Maguire (Your Mother and I, Constellations).
- 180 Degree Rule by Farnoosh Samadi – not a S/W alum as a director yet (but will be very soon with her short film Gaze), but anyone who likes Iranian shorts should be familiar with her work, either as a director or screenwriter (we have featured her work as writer with The Baby). Her feature debut was included in the Discovery section of TIFF.
THE SHORT CUTS PROGRAMME
As customary, the Short Cuts program included a few shorts from the Cannes line-up, which allowed us a glimpse of what could have been back in May:
And two films that also have the Telluride label
- David – the directorial debut of Silicon Valley’s Zach Woods
- Benjamin, Benny, Ben by Paul Shkordoff, winner of the Short Cuts for Best Canadian Film award.
Not much can be said without spoiling Shkordoff’s short, so all I’ll say is that it’s unexpected, captivating and a fresh take on the matter at hand.
NEW SHORTS FROM ALUMS
We were happy to see some familiar names in the program as well, with two S/W alums included with new projects.
- The Water Walker by James Bruns (We Live This and Revolving Doors)
- O Black Hole! by Renee Zhan (Hold Me (Ca Caw Ca Caw) and Pidge) – which got an honourable mention in the Short Cuts Awards.
Renee Zhan at her best, mixing impressive animation techniques with a super cool concept and a crazy, witty and entertaining narrative. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before.
RETURNING TO TIFF
The 36 film Short Cuts program included a raft of filmmakers yet to be featured on S/W (yet), but many for whom it was not their first time getting the prestigious TIFF laurels.
- 4 North A by Jordan Canning (and animator Howie Shia) – After playing the 2014 edition festival with feature film We Were Wolves, Canning was back at this year’s festival with this new short.
- Point and Line to Plane by Sofia Bohdanowicz – who was in the 2018 program with Veslemøy’s Song.
- Comme une comète (Shooting Star) by Ariane Louis-Seize – returned to TIFF for a third year in a row, after Little Waves played the festival in 2018 and Les Profondeurs (The Depths) in 2019.
AWARDS & SELECTED HIGHLIGHTS
Dustin by Naïla Guiguet got the Short Cuts for Best Film Award, while two new prizes debuted at this edition. The Changemaker Award went to Kelly Fyffe-Marshall for Black Bodies and the Share Her Journey Award went to Tiffany Hsiung for Sing Me a Lullaby. Below you will find a few more of our favorites – we couldn’t fit them all, but hope to share some with you in the upcoming weeks/months. For others you’ll have to be a little more patient, so keep an eye out for them at festivals!
Dir: Zhannat Alshanova
I discovered Zhannat Alshanova’s work earlier this year at Sundance, with her film Paola Makes a Wish, which is still on the festival circuit. Her newest film, History of Civilization, was already awarded the Silver Pardino in Locarno before making its way to Toronto. Cementing her reputation as a deeply talented director and screenwriter, she once again showcases a knack for shining a light on the importance of seemingly mundate moments.
Dir: Reza Riahi
Epic, yet realistic, this beautiful and enthralling love story has a historical background, brilliantly brought to the screen through the animation style.
Dir: David Findlay
Cleverly edited, the emotional growth of the main character is nothing short of fascinating, as we follow his journey of self-discovery.
Dir: Roman Hodel
We see them on the field with the players but have we ever wondered what it was like to experience a game in their shoes? An insightful and immersive glimpse into what it is like to be a referee.
Dir: Alex Anna
Captured with so much rawness and vulnerability, by adding animation to the documentary Anna adds a layer of authenticity to a story that I’ve never seen on-screen.
Dir: Sasha Leigh Henry
Witness a couple having probably one of the most honest conversations they have ever had – sharply written with extremely genuine performances.