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York alumni shine at Toronto International Film Festival

York alumni shine at Toronto International Film Festival

Avant-garde, thrilling, provocative, brainy and fascinating are just a few of the words used to describe films directed by several York alumni, as well as a current student, that are screening at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) .

The York talent among the 300 productions showing at TIFF Sept. 9 to 19 includes debut features by video artist Daniel Cockburn (BFA Spec. Hons. ’99) and Ryan Redford (BFA Spec. Hons. ’01), a film by veteran director Carl Bessai (MFA ’89) and three shorts. And more may still be announced.

Left: In Carl Bessai's film, Repeaters, a group of addicts in rehab find themselves in the same situation day after day with varying reactions

Bessai’s feature, Repeaters, screening as part of the Special Presentations series, is a tense action thriller about the price of freedom and the burden of taking responsibility for our actions. It follows three young addicts in a rehabilitation centre, taking viewers on a provocative journey through the personal hell of trauma and addiction. It starts when the residents of a rehab centre in British Columbia are granted a rare one-day pass to venture back into the world to make amends with those they have wronged. But each day, the addicts relive the same events over again – a situation each responds to in radically different ways.

Right: Ryan Redford's feature debut Oliver Sherman explores the question of responsibility

Oliver Sherman, in TIFF's Canada First series, is Redford’s first full-length film (he's directed several shorts, two of which played at TIFF in previous years). The central question Oliver Sherman explores is: Does saving someone’s life make you responsible for them? When Sherman visits the home of Franklin, a fellow soldier who saved his life back in the war, tensions begin to rise. Franklin has long since moved on – to a wife, two children and a reliable job, but the stability he has worked so hard to establish is soon threatened by Sherman’s presence.

Left: In Daniel Cockburn's feature debut You Are Here, the characters find themselves trapped in bizarre social experiments of their own making

Cockburn’s feature, You Are Here, also screening in the Canada First program, melds a series of intriguing and smartly crafted narratives that arise from a string of bizarre experiments. Office workers at a mysterious call centre inexplicably track the movements of several urbanites. An archivist opens a puzzling inquiry into her self-created library of found documents. A scientist constructs a working-model scenario for “what to do if they shove Chinese writing under the door.” At the same time, it is the birthday of one of the characters who has lost his computer password and is looking for an explanation for a door that shouldn’t be there.

Showing in the Short Cut Canada program are:

Left: The short film How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused By You is directed by Nadia Litz

How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You, directed by former film student Nadia Litz, takes a look at Sadie and Dennis, a seemingly ordinary couple with issues. However, rather than confront her negative emotions with Dennis, Sadie decides to extract them. It is a breach of trust, but perhaps not an insurmountable one if Sadie decides to open up. This is Litz’s directorial debut although she is already an accomplished actor having won a Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award for best supporting actress in Reginald Harkema's Monkey Warfare, which premiered at TIFF 2006 (see YFile, Sept. 20).

Right: The short film The Old Ways, directed by Michael Vass, is a black comedy and satirical look at the justice system

Directed by Michael Vass (MFA ’05), The Old Ways asks what it would take for a government to justify and enforce the death penalty for a child following a judge’s harsh sentence. The court then mitigates a public relations crisis with an elaborate and dubious scheme. The film offers a scathingly satirical response. It's a pitch-black comedy that frames the justice system as spectacle.

Left: York student Cam Woykin's short film Open Window looks at the reactions of partygoers after it's revealed that the birthday boy's parents are in an abusive relationship

Open Window is directed by Cam Woykin, a current MFA student at York, who made this film earlier this year as part of his course work. It’s about a casual backyard birthday party that is consumed with tension when an abusive relationship is revealed between the birthday boy’s parents. Told through cautious glances and wandering eyes, Woykin controls the viewers’ gaze partly through a homemade piñata which becomes a powerful focal point, symbolizing all the fear and helplessness felt by the party’s guests.

Screenings of TIFF films will take place over 10 days at a number of downtown Toronto cinemas. For more information about the festival and the complete film schedule, visit the Toronto International Film Festival Web site.

Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin,  with files from