T24 Project hosted by the Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival

Editor’s Notes: The 12 films that make up the T24 Project hosted by the Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival will be screened at Innis Town Hall, at the University of Toronto on March 1st.

Of the 15 participating teams, 12 were completed. Seven of the films met all the requirements and are eligible for the Visual Thesis Award. All 12 films are competing for the Audience Choice award. This year’s theme is about the representation of the city of Toronto in a cinematic genre. The filmmakers were challenged to show the ideologies of the city and the lives of people in it. Some films managed to be subtle in the dialogue with the references to the city’s neighbourhoods, while others were more obvious.The best films made you forget the intended theme because the characters and stories were so captivating and told in a unique way. They managed to showcase stories set in Toronto without it being forced into the viewer as a film about the city.

Chris Laxton’s Born in Bombshelter, a narrative that dwells into science fiction can be commended for daring to try something different from its competition. But it is not as effective as those films that integrated real life everyday situations that Torontonians could relate to.

Ryan Kirkpatrick’s T.wo Girls O.ne Bar, a film whose title says it all, subtly and appropriately references the city’s infamous snow storm in 2000, an event in which every Torontonian can remember. It was also successful in creating that lonely atmosphere that comes during a snowy night in the city. But the story and characters are not very interesting.

The most successful films connect to the viewer in a sentimental way. They are not exclusively something that only Torontonians can comprehend, but are films that all people regardless of where they live can relate to. The 12 films will be screened at Innis Town Hill, at the University of Toronto on March 1st. The following are reviews of the five films I feel were most successful in achieving the goal of the T24 Project:

1. Metro

Directed by: S. Jeysan and Adithya Addageethala, Teddy Chow, Theepan

Metro follows four different strangers in the city of Toronto: A college dropout, an interracial couple and a young businessman. In a narrative similar to Paul Haggis’ 2005 Oscar-winning film Crash, all four strangers come into contact with each other to some extent. Also similar to Crash are the sensitive issues explored, such as racism and prejudice.

The two places in which the four strangers coincidentally encounter each other’s presence are at a bus and train. Two forms of public transportation where people of all backgrounds use. This setting is a perfect place to tell the different stories and issues surrounding racism and cultural-clashes that people are afraid to speak about.

Through the metropolitan setting, the viewers are exposed to the internal issues each character struggles with. The established working man is Caucasian and has an issue of feeling threatened by minorities, whom he views with the stereotype of criminal acts. He encounters the young South Asian man at the beginning of the film, whom he assumes will steal his belongings.

We learn that the young man is a college drop out. This character goes into a bus where we meet the interracial couple: an Asian man and Caucasian woman. The couple’s issue is an imminent breakup because of cultural differences within their families.

Beyond the subway setting, we are introduced into the private lives and homes of each of the characters. Each of the stories is something anyone living in a culturally diverse city can relate to or may know someone in that situation.

The stories are showcased and edited seamlessly. The storytelling is so compelling that it lures the viewer into caring to know what happens to each character. It’s like watching an episode of a good television show or a part of a feature film.

The acting compliments the already captivating storylines. Lauren, who plays the woman in the multiracial couple, stands out with an emotionally powerful performance. Her eyes are so expressive that the viewer connects to her character the most. You feel her sadness at every moment. From the suffering of knowing she will break up with her partner, through to the moment she reminisces about the happier times of her relationship.

This film was the most successful in the challenge of using cinema to represent the issues and ideologies that comes with living in a multicultural city like Toronto. It deals with issues that are sensitive, but it never becomes preachy or PSA-like. It always feels so authentic. Because of this realness, it makes the viewer connect to the stories more.

2. Penny For Your Thoughts

Directed by: Joy Webster

Homelessness is one of the prominent issues in the city. A homeless person in the streets of a big city like Toronto is a normal sight. But rarely do people stop for the homeless and learn their story. The film begins with what appears to be a homeless man sleeping in a bench as people pass by. An unknown narrator speaks to the viewer, acknowledging the man who wakes up.

The film and its articulate narrator follow the man as he roams the streets of Toronto. More than one time, he picks up a penny and encounters a stranger, hoping to have a conversation. But nobody really stops to speak with him. The issue of homelessness in the city of Toronto is definitely present in the film, but it is not expressed in a way that feels like a lecture.

Towards the end of the film, the man finds a piece of cardboard from the garbage, and writes down the message: “A Penny for your thoughts.” Definitely a message you wouldn’t expect. But the film challenges the viewer to think about life beyond money. It asks the viewer to appreciate the world’s beauty and the stories of the thousands of anonymous faces we pass by each day.

The narrator challenges the viewer to think about the question: “If a stranger offered you a penny for your thoughts, would you accept?” Without feeling like a message is being forced upon the viewer, this film inspires and encourages thought and discussion.

3. Wake Up

Directed by: Roop Gill

Starbucks and Tim Hortons are two of the biggest coffee shop brands in Canada. In Toronto, they are an everyday sight. You can’t go too far in the city without seeing one. A cup of coffee is an ideal necessity for almost every working citizen’s morning.

Can coffee be compared to the ideologies of people living in the city of Toronto? The short film Wake Up convinces us that the answer is…absolutely.

The film challenges viewers to think about how they see Toronto by comparing it to the brands of coffee. Like these companies, Toronto is always seeking to be bigger and better than the competition or other cities.

Similar to companies with branding products, there has been so much focus on making Toronto into a New York City, that it’s losing its own unique identity. The narrator of the film asks, “When did Toronto stop being just Toronto?”

With visually compelling cinematography and images on screen, guided by an eloquent narrator, Wake Up successfully encourages the viewer to think about how they define the city. The film reminds us that ideologies are attached to Toronto, but like a cup of coffee it is subjective.

Each person makes their coffee differently based on their preference. Likewise, we each have different a taste of the city.

4. Jan. 31

Directed by: Andrew Milani

The date is January 31. The year is unknown at first, but for good reason. The film follows and parallels the day of two individuals, a young man and woman, in their own separate homes. It starts from the moment they wake up, as they get ready to go out on what appears to be a date with each other. It ends when they eventually meet.

The plot sound basic and uninteresting, right? But it’s not. There’s a twist that is absolutely smart and original. This twist makes the viewer re-evaluate everything that happened from the beginning. It’s a touching revelation visualized in a powerful way for the viewer. If the direction was poor, it would have been cheesy. But this unexpected turn of the narrative is completely authentic.

Jan. 31 is a great example of how to turn a simple narrative into something completely profound. Besides paralleling screens of two different scenes on the same shot, there are no flashy gimmicks. But those two contrasting settings alone are incredibly effective to the story.

There is no dialogue from the actors. But dialogue would be an unnecessary element for this story. This film is an example of actions speaking louder than words. The story is set in Toronto, and we certainly get a glimpse of the city as the two characters leave their homes. But the story’s theme of love is universal and will connect to all viewers, regardless of where they’re from.

5. Face The Strain

Directed by: Alex Kingsmill

Face The Strain tells the story of, Owen, a 27-year-old Canadian living in South Korea, who returns home to Toronto to visit his younger sister, Sara. Upon his return home, he brings along the emotional baggage of being lost and unsure of his future. He has no idea what to do with his life, both personally and professionally.

His sister, on the other hand, seems completely happy with her newfound freedom from her parents. She is stable and even starting a relationship with Owen’s former Philosophy teacher.

The two discuss their lives, catching up on what they’ve missed since being away from each other. The dialogue between the two characters is witty brother-sister banter that anyone can relate to.

This character-driven story is led by Owen Van Houten, who resembles a young Steve Buscemi. Van Houten shows lots of promise as an actor. He fully embodies his role’s characteristics and is a natural on screen.

He begins appearing lazy and unambitious. But later we get a monologue from his character. Going inside his mind, he speaks out loud to himself about his situation of feeling lost in life.

This film stands out since the protagonist speaks and relates to Toronto as an outsider, or a person coming home after being gone for so long. This outsider perspective of the city makes for a more interesting storyline and character.

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Ryerson University Journalism student, Muggle, Gleek, Career Tribute and film enthusiast.