“It ended with Brian De Palma,” Halima Ouardiri said.
Her ’nuff-said reply came in response to my query about how the first day of the Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) eighth annual Talent Lab had gone. Ouardiri and three other budding Montreal filmmakers – Omar Majeed, Catherine Chagnon and Mark Slutsky – are part of the four-day workshop that puts them and 20 other participants in close quarters with their idols.
Among Talent Lab’s guest speakers this year are Gus Van Sant, documentary icons Frederick Wiseman and Alfred Maysles, Fred Schepisi (Six Degrees Of Separation) and Davis Guggenheim (whose U2 doc From the Sky Down was the opening film of this year’s festival). But we’re getting ahead of ourselves – one at a time:
“(De Palma) was awesome,” Slutsky said, explaining how the director of such films as Scarface and Mission: Impossible had spent an hour with the group, sharing insights and telling stories. “He’s very, very smart – he’s obviously got a huge brain; and he’s pretty outspoken and honest.”
“He gave us notes,” Chagnon said, “very direct notes.”
“He said, ‘You have no excuses,’ ” Majeed continued. “‘You should all be going out and making movies.’”
Slutsky: “He also said, ‘If you can’t put a movie on a credit card, get financing from friends or make a movie with no money – give up!’ ” (General laughter.)
Day One also included a visit from Canadian director Sarah Polley and the crew of her new film, Take This Waltz.
“Her whole concept was discussing the role of director and how collaborative it is,” Majeed said.
Brazil’s Fernando Meirelles (City of God) made an impression.
“He was super gregarious – very chatty and funny,” Slutsky said.
“And truthful,” Ouardiri added. “He was very honest about his process and what he likes and doesn’t like.”
The day started with an introduction by the three governors of this year’s Talent Lab – Jason Reitman (Juno, Up In the Air), documentary director Jennifer Baichwal (Manufactured Landscapes) and industry veteran Bingham Ray – who split their charges into groups for smaller discussions.
“They didn’t seem too prepared,” Slutsky said. “It was more, ‘What do you want to know?’”
The informal atmosphere worked fine for the participants, who appreciated the chance just to share air with these people.
“That’s the nice thing about Talent Lab,” said Majeed, whose documentary Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam has toured the festival circuit since its release in 2009. “They’re very adamant that it’s not a pitching thing. It’s not about industry. It’s really about recharging your own creative process.”
The pitching is done elsewhere. Aside from having a film at this year’s festival (his short Sorry, Rabbi), Slutsky will participate in Pitch This!, a contest where the winning team receives $10,000 from Telefilm.
Chagnon has two short films at the festival – Tabula Rasa (for which she is a seller) and Hope (by frequent Robert Lepage collaborator Pedro Pires – on which she has credits as production designer, costume designer and line producer).
Ouardiri’s short film Mokhtar – based on a folk tale and shot in a Moroccan village – was shown at TIFF last year.
“It’s a step,” she said of Talent Lab. “And there will be many others.”
Montrealer Kara Blake wins TIFF’s RBC Emerging Talent Competition: After participating in last year’s Talent Lab, Kara Blake and her fellow Lab-mates were each given a video camera and $500 and asked to make a short film around the theme of Family.
Blake’s Next of Kin – about her relationship with her sister who lives next door – won the top prize of $15,000.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “I was really excited to be in the top five, and to be the national winner is (even better) … I’m just trying to get a new film project off the ground, so this is really going to help.”
Fellow Montrealer Gabriel Taraboulsy received an honourable mention and $10,000 for his film My First Movie.
By T’Cha Dunlevy
GAZETTE FILM CRITIC
September 9, 2011