The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has always been the talk of the town and been the center of the most exclusive and desirable parties. TIFF welcomes celebrities, top industry executives, influential media and other glamorous guests for a night of marvelous entertainment and fun.
Monday evening’s gala event, “The Big Splash” hosted by entertainment business solutions provider Liquid Media Group, boasted a guest list that included the best and brightest of the entertainment crowd.
Liquid Media Group has been shining the spotlight and sharing their expertise on important issues for independent producers through an exclusive series of TIFF panel discussions. Liquid’s Chairman Joshua Jackson (“Dr. Death,” “Little Fires Everywhere,” “The Affair”) and CEO Ronald Thomson were among the speakers on topics ranging from streaming in the new world and financing for independents to harnessing the power of media for social good. Their mission with Liquid feels wonderfully analogous with the aim of the non-profit cultural organization that operates the festival, which seeks to transform the way people see the world, through film.
The offering from Liquid Media Group is much needed to ensure independence for independents, explains Thomson, and will enable professional video (film/TV and video game) creation, packaging, financing, delivery, and monetization, empowering IP creators to take their professional content from inception through the entire process to monetization.
“Our company is addressing a significant challenge for independent creative professionals, “and there is no better way to celebrate the importance of that work and all that we have accomplished than to gather safely with the industry’s best and brightest.”
– CEO Ronald Thomson
“The Big Splash” took place at The Windsor Arms, an award-winning boutique hotel in the heart of the city. It included an open bar accompanied with tantalizing food to tempt any taste buds, and live entertainment. The Windsor Arms is known for hosting visiting royalty, aristocracy, stars of film and screen as well as heads of state and industry.
After walking the red carpet, guests gathered in the courtyard ballroom, one of the hotel’s most elegant spaces. Renowned DJ Samantha Michelle’s music enveloped the night as invitees were safely engaging with one another and enjoying their drink of choice at the grand bar.
Gift bags for Liquid’s gala guests included:
House of Waris Elephant Friendly Black Tea
Massawippi Mercantile Granola
David and Young Scarves
A Gift certificate from The Sailing Collective.
Also included in the gift bag were several digital gifts from the Liquid Media Group family of companies. These included Filmocracy One month free Indieflix gave guests a month complimentary access to their full expanse of virtual festivals. Slipstream gifted gift bag holders 45 days free access to their movies. iGems gave lucky guests both a discount on their renowned TV Film Festival mastery course as well as one month complimentary platinum membership.
Ultimately, the lively party was a splendid and sensational hit. Liquid Media Group carefully balanced the perfect amount of glitz, dazzle, glamour and excitement for today’s times, enchanting its attendees as a noteworthy addition to the 2021 film festival’s most memorable occasions.
When we consume media, we usually gravitate towards series or films that we can hopefully relate to. If we are lucky, we can find a show or film with characters who speak to us on a different level. That is why representation on-screen is important, whether there is a diverse cast, or stories that highlight different social issues. There are creators who highlight issues such as mental health, suicide, and depression. Not only do these conversations need to be had among friends or family, but it is important to show these conversations on-screen. The Canadian comedy series Ghost BFF tackles all this effortlessly and is nominated for four performance Canadian Screen Awards for stars Vanessa Matsui, Kaniehtiio Horn, Jean Yoon, and Angela Asher.
Ghost BFF is a dark comedy about depression, following two women, Tara (Kaniehtiio Horn) and Amy (Vanessa Matsui) – one alive, one dead – as they struggle to find themselves and right past wrongs following a suicide. The series shines a light on mental health, highlighting tough topics like depression and anxiety, suicide, treatment, and mindfulness, while adding some well-needed humour. Kaniehtiio Horn and Vanessa Matsui have incredible chemistry on and off-screen, they both understood the material and they created a very honest space, to explore their characters mental struggles. Matsui, who is also the showrunner, really wanted to bring these social issues to the forefront because of her personal connection to the subject matter.
Matsui wanted to make sure people, especially women, feel represented on-screen. She could see all these young women suffering and no one was talking about mental health,
“I wanted to make a show that used comedy as a bridge, to talk about something that at the time, was pretty taboo and arguably still is. At the same time, I wanted the series to make you laugh, so it’s not so heavy or difficult. And if you are suffering, that hopefully you feel a little less alone, after watching this show.”
– Vanessa Matsui, Ghost BFF
The reason why many can connect to this show is because of the humour that is added to painful, emotional moments when discussing these difficult subjects. Not everything has to be grim and dark; humour is sometimes the best release and as Kaniehtiio Horn said, it’s a way to cope during hard times. When asked about her connection to this character and to Matsui, she said that after knowing her for 15 years or so, that it was a collaboration in the making. Horn said that one evening, during TIFF, they connected and Horn wanted to audition for the project. Sometimes projects can choose the person, and in this case, Horn didn’t know how much she needed the character of Tara in her life, “It gave me confidence to start working on my own things. Just seeing my peers, these women who are my age making things happen and that really lit a fire under me.” The way Horn and Matsui came together and supported each other through this process is truly inspiring.
Since it is Mental Health Awareness Month, it is always important to shed light on these issues because these conversations need to be presented on-screen. Media has a wide reach, no matter what form it takes, and it is important that it connects with people. Whether it is because of diversity in its cast or social issues, these stories are important in order for everyone to feel seen. Matsui and Horn are both on the same page when it comes to representation in the media, “I think you realize once you start talking about it, or see what you might be doing, that it might be reflected back to you in the content that you’re consuming, you feel a little less alone.” Horn went on to say that she even started going to therapy and that working on this project allowed her to explore her own mind, while diving into the character of Tara.
The reason why diverse stories matter is because everyone can be going through something different. In one way or another, someone is struggling in their own way and it would benefit them, if there was an atmosphere to help them through. When making Ghost BFF it was important for Matsui to be inclusive and have a diverse cast. The industry has definitely shifted and as Horn put it, diversity is hot right now, which can also be a long-term issue. Matsui and Horn are both weary about what the future holds for the industry but they see the shift as a positive change,
“I used to feel so little and meek and just be thankful that I got the job. That’s how I used to feel. But now with all of these initiatives, I feel a bit more confident to say things and yes there’s a shift, and it’s amazing to see and I guess I feel like I’m a part of it in terms, on the Indigenous side of filmmaking and television and it’s exciting. But again there’s this underlining thing.”
– Kaniehtiio Horn, Ghost BFF
Matsui and Horn remain hopeful moving forward because there are still so many stories left to tell. And the push to have different stories in the Canadian film industry will always be relevant,
“My Japanese family has been here since the 1800s that’s a lot longer than a lot of white people who have been here and yet I’m always asked ‘Where do you come from?’ Why is that question even being asked to me when I’m from here? I think part of it is that we are not represented in the media, people have this really narrow version of what a Canadian looks like.”
– Vanessa Matsui, Ghost BFF
The most important thing that Matsui wants audiences to takeaway from this series is that hopefully people will feel a little less alone. That if you are going through a rough time, this show will bring you some laughter. Matsui went on to say, “If you are a young woman, or woman of colour and you might not fit into the perfect casting, I hope this inspires people to create their own work, especially young women.” Horn and Matsui have put so much of themselves in Ghost BFF and you can see the love for their characters on-screen.
Matsui is slated to make her directorial feature film debut very soon and she is currently working on the show Hot Zone. Horn has also been busy with guest starring on an American television show called, Reservation Dogs and will be turning her podcast, Coffee With My Ma, into an animated series!
If you want to check out Ghost BFF the first two seasons are online. And if you want to cheer them on during the Canadian Screen Awards it will be streaming live on academy.ca from May 17th – 20th.
Happy Oscar Sunday everyone! After a very long Oscar season, we are finally ready to award some great films. Truly never thought this season would be over. The work never stops though because we are always planning for the next season. I am very happy for all the nominees this year because there are some films that would normally fly under the radar and now they are getting recognition.
PREDICTION: Chadwick Boseman is going to win and deserves to win because his performance was on another level this year. It was incredibly moving and very emotional. You could feel his passion for the words through the physicality in his performance.
PREDICTION: Soul is the obvious frontrunner because it is a beautiful Pixar film and the animation is stunning. However, Wolfwalkers is unique and there is an appreciation for the three-dimensional hand-drawn elements in its animaton. So it is a close one.
Prediction: This is such a tough category and it is impossible to predict this year! I would be happy with either Davis or Mulligan winning but the edge on Mulligan.
Best Adapted Screenplay
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Nina Pedrad
PREDICTION: The TOUGHEST category because they are all strong in their own way. Since Emerald Fennell has been getting traction off her WGA win, it’s only fair to assume that she has sealed the deal. Personally Judas and the Black Messiah had an incredible screenplay because of how intricate the story was and the dialogue.
PREDICTION: Solely because of its Golden Globe win it is entirely possible that they follow suit. However, Leslie Odom Jr. created a beautiful song for One Night in Miami and if this movie wins anything, it needs to be this category.
PREDICTION: Nomadland has become the Oscar darling but it is not a well-rounded film. The technical aspects are the most important part of the film but the story was lacking. Minari was a well-rounded all American film with a beautiful family dynamic and it should be the winner this year.
PREDICTION: Sound of Metal is a lock because of how they switched the frequency when Reuben was losing his hearing. You could understand what he was going through because you could heard the shift. Incredible work.
PREDICTION: Realistically the competition is between Ma Rainey’s and Emma because they are period pieces and they looked beautiful on-screen. Do not keep Mank out of the conversation because it is old Hollywood glam.
PREDICTION: As I said the technical aspects in Nomadland will take the gold for sure and the cinematography was beautiful. She really captured the scenic landscapes across the country. I did think Judas and the Black Messiah had such a unique style and camera work was very strong.
PREDICTION: Again, it is Nomadland’s to lose because of the technical aspects. However, when it comes to editing pieces of music or instrumental scenes, I feel like Sound of Metal would be the better choice. Also, we can’t cancel out The Father either because of the cycle of consciousness fading in and out for the protagonist.
PREDICTION: Another Round has been taking the season by storm and the director is also nominated so that is saying a lot. However, after watching Better Days and interviewing the director, Derek Tsang, the execution and honest storytelling should give it the edge.
PREDICTION: The reason why The Father could win is because of how the production design changing paralleled the lead character’s descent into his illness. But, Ma Rainey’s design just felt rich in its colours and decoration with the only two rooms they had to work with. Again, do not count Mank out of the conversation.
If you haven’t voted yet, here is a prediction ballot link for the Oscars, thanks to The Academy. This is what it generated for me the other night. Yes, there are some changes but it’s still so difficult to choose.
Well there you have it! My full list of predictions. Let’s hope I get some right tonight. Let’s face it, even though we complain about the season, we always love to watch on Oscar Sunday.
The one thing that we can all agree on is that everyone has had their fair encounters with bullying. No matter how minor the bullying could have been, we can all acknowledge that it exists. People can be cruel, violent, and completely horrible. Bullying, can take many forms and sometimes it is impossible to get out of that position. In Better Days, something that really stood out to me was the line, “Either you bully others or you get bullied.” and no matter your position, there is some form of it every single day. Derek Tsang wanted to address this specific issue for many years and when his producer handed him the novel by Jiu Yuexi’s book ‘In His Youth, In Her Beauty‘, he could finally tell the story through a specific lens.
Tsang wanted to shed light on this issue because it was always a fascinating subject. He addressed social platforms like YouTube and Facebook having multiple videos of young children being bullied. Smartphones have made it very accessible for these traumatic situations to appear on any platform in the matter of minutes. “That is when it really shocked me, as to how these kids can do that sort of stuff to each other. The idea of making a film to personally address the issue has been there since. It has been around for a long time but I was always trying to find an angle to help tell the story.” Tsang said.
What can most definitely be appreciated about this film is Tsang being extremely honest with his audience. He did not shy away from showing the most violent, emotionally damaging and traumatic moments at all. I’m sure everyone will appreciate the fact that Tsang wanted to make it authentic as possible, “I really wanted all of the slaps, punches and hits to be real. So that the audience can really feel the pain.” When directing one of the harsher scenes, Tsang made sure that his lead actress, Dongyu Zhou, who plays Nian, was comfortable with this level of physical contact for the scene, “She was very professional, she said she wanted that as well because she didn’t want it to look fake.” There was a level of trust that was built on this set, among the entire cast and crew because of the story they were bringing to the screen.
What was really interesting to see was the budding relationship between Nian and Bei (Jackson Yee), they started out as a very unlikely pairing, meeting in an alleyway because some men were beating Bei. Nian, who had clearly seen enough bullying/harassment at that point in the film, goes to save him, even if she was manhandled, she wanted to save someone. Nian and Bei lived two very different lives, they are on opposite ends of the spectrum and they slowly become dependent on the other. There is a mutual respect and love for one another, given the cards that they were dealt in life,
“So we told them, not only do you guys have to treat each other like boyfriend and girlfriend, but I want you guys to be family, like a brother and sister, in which you would sacrifice yourself for the other, to survive. So that’s how we really approached that relationship. I mean it was really fascinating to watch the actors slowly getting into that trust and bond as well. We shot everything in linear sequence and it just worked it out perfectly.”
-Derek Tsang, Better Days
The performances from Yee and Zhou were incredible. You could truly see their connection become stronger as the film went on and filming it in linear sequence, presented a different feel to their relationship. Anyone can resonate with this kind of bond. Tsang said, “It was more like two people becoming one entity, in their belief, in their wish, or hope in escaping this situation, or the city itself.” Tsang also shows the class system very well and dives into the hierarchy in the education system as well. There are people who will always have an air of superiority and that is something that can only be dismantled, from within the system, which created that mentality.
When asked about how children can sometimes feel ashamed that they are being bullied, Tsang mentioned that it is a very difficult position to be in. Whether you are the child being bullied, or the authority figure trying to help them. Children do not want to admit that they are being bullied because they do not even know what the consequences could be after reaching out to someone. They live in constant fear of speaking out because they overthink what could possibly happen to them. “Kids in that situation a lot of times, they find themselves very helpless. In a way we kind of wanted to convey that message in the film, that’s why we have the point-of-view of the teacher and the parents.” Tsang said. He explored all avenues and wanted to present a whole piece about those who are suffering from bullying and how to help.
Even though the story was very bleak and poignant, the journey for Tsang and his crew was very memorable. When you bond over a mutual respect for an issue and a love for your craft, that bond is like no other. And Tsang was able to find both throughout his journey. He shared a memory with me,
There is one photo that you could find online, everytime I see that photo it always brings warmth and a smile to my face. There’s a photo of us, it was taken immediately after we shot the scene, when the actor and actress shaved their head. In solidarity, I told my actors, especially my actress because it’s a big thing for an actress to shave her head. So I said, if you’re going to do it, I’ll do it with you guys. I’m going to shave my head and it was just amazing bc not only me but a lot of the crew, we all shaved our head in solidarity with the actors.”
– Derek Tsang, Better Days
In the time they spent together, they became very close and in telling this brutally honest story, it brought them even closer. Better Days is a labor of love and audiences who watch this film will understand the message. Everyone needs a bit more compassion, empathy and most importantly love in their life. For a film to have this much support off-screen, for a serious subject matter like bullying, it can be very rewarding. The importance of addressing these issues authentically will help so many others in the long-run.
Woman in Car premiered at the Canadian Film Festival last week. It is such a multilayered film, that dives into the female experience through relationships, trauma and deceit. It is always interesting to explore the female characters in high society because there can be so much to unpack. It is an in-depth look at the psychology of past mistakes and how it can affect the future. The script is well-written and Vanya Rose peels back the many layers of Ann (Hélène Joy). There are so many things to unpack in this story and Ann’s experience as a woman is really interesting to dive into.
Rose wanted to explore this bourgeois society because of her interest in Edith Warton’s novels. Warton always wrote about it and more importantly she questioned it, even though she was a part of it,
“We have this neighbourhood in Montreal, called West Mount which is kind of what used to be the center of money in all of Canada. Montreal was the center of everything. It was home to the richest people in Canada. And so that interested me bc it had never been explored in Quebec at all. We see a lot of the working class films, which are great, beautiful films but we don’t really see how Montreal had that historically, and it’s still there.”
– Vanya Rose, Woman in Car
In order to understand Ann’s internal struggle, one has to understand the society she lives in and the family she is connected to. As we see in the film, Ann’s persona is quite different around her mother-in-law Charlotte (Gabrielle Lazure), stepson Owen (Aidan Ritchie), and newcomer Safiye (Liane Balaban). She hides pieces of herself from the people she meets with. The one thing that really interested me was Ann’s sense of control. Rose wanted to give Ann a passion, so she chose archery,
“I wanted Ann to have a passion. I wanted her to have something that she had given up. What’s amazing about these archers is not only are they complete perfectionists, like to the nth degree, they’re a little bit odd these people, they have a very specific skill that they developed. It’s a skill of shooting something directly on the nose and that’s all you do over and over again. You have to have a personality type, that’s just so foreign this desire and this training that goes into that.”
– Vanya Rose, Woman in Car
Archery has always interested Rose and it came through with the character of Ann. The way that the archery, can be interpreted through Ann’s character is that she always needs to be in control. Even as she was losing herself in her former marriage, she found something in her stepson to regain that control, even though the events made her spiral even further. She wanted to make decisions on her own but this society she was in, this family that she married into, wasn’t easy for her at all. We see that Ann has a clear shot at the beginning of the film, she was composed and reserved. She managed to hit the bullseye. Then towards the end of the film, she can’t even calm herself down in order to shoot the arrow at all.
Ann slowly unravels as the film goes on, and it is connected to her feeling neglected, in her relationship with her soon-to-be husband. When asked about showing that kind of emotional experience and why it is necessary to show on screen, Rose said, “I think that’s what art is right, isn’t art all about showing our human experience? I think that as a man or woman, though our human experiences, there is a lot of pain and I think joy is actually a very small part of all that.” She goes on to say that we all go through hardships, whether it be relationships or even pandemics, they impact us more than the greater joys in our lives, but that is what makes those moments special.
Woman in Car is all about human connectivity and relationships. Rose explores the way people treat each other and how they can change their perspective. Rose wanted to show a little compassion in this film, especially between women, “I think that’s the key. I think women have been traditionally pitted against each other because of competition and survival. What if we got rid of that? We don’t need to follow that old scenario, get beyond it and reach out to each other.” The relationship between Ann and the women in her life is very strained. There are vulnerable moments shared between the female characters in the film, where they each gain a deeper understanding of who they are. The film is multilayered, nuanced and incredibly sophisticated. It is a film that will keep you glued to the screen and will have you questioning what is possibly going to happen.