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This article was published 8/9/2017 (767 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The great thing about the Toronto International Film Festival is that it continues to be a place where an upstart local artist can make an impression in one of the biggest film fests in the world. It’s happened time and again, with recipients of TIFF attention including artists such as Guy Maddin, John Paizs and Deco Dawson.
In the festival’s 42nd year, Toronto began on Thursday receiving the usual invasion of stars including George Clooney and Matt Damon (Suburbicon), Steve Carell and Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes), Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany (Stronger), Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem (mother!), Ben Stiller (Brad’s Status) and Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game).
Officially, the made-in-Manitoba entries at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival are... minimal.
OK, it’s one very strange short film. It’s titled homer_b, and its three-minute running time consists of nightmarish, real-world fragments focused on people wearing masks from the TV show The Simpsons.
It’s a collaboration between Milos Mitrovic and Conor Sweeney, both of whom happen to be veterans of TIFF over the past three years. In 2016, Mitrovic premièred the short Imitations alongside collaborators Ian Bawa, Fabian Velasco and Markus Henkel. Sweeney, who appeared in Imitations, was already a veteran from the 2014 Midnight Madness film The Editor from another local film collective, Astron-6.
Sweeney still has fond memories of the TIFF experience.
"It was pretty incredible. We got the full red-carpet première treatment and felt legitimate for 15 minutes," he says. "And then life went back to depressing normalcy almost instantly.
"But hanging out with Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords and having him come to an Editor screening was pretty wild."
Sweeney says homer_b was born of his creative friendship with Mitrovic.
"Whenever Milos and I try to make each other laugh, we’ll come up with depraved scenarios for normal people or characters," he says. "We thought it’d be really funny to make a version of The Simpsons that exists in an alienatingly ugly, nightmare-logic world."
Mitrovic, who was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina, rises to the challenge of describing the film.
"When people ask me what the movie is about, I often tell them that its like this: Imagine you’re walking your dog in a forest, and suddenly the dog finds this wet plastic bag. You rip the bag out of its mouth and examine it to find a tattered old DVD.
"After finishing the walk with your dog you get home and your curiosity gets the better of you and you decide to put this unknown DVD into your player," he says. "The film starts, and it’s a movie from hell."
Even so, the film does spring from a shared passion for The Simpsons.
"The first eight seasons are probably my favourite stuff ever put on TV, along with Twin Peaks," Sweeney says. "I guess (this film is) a blend of both."
But even if the official Manitoba films are minimal, the province is represented in a couple of other films. Former Winnipegger Matthew Rankin brings a Winnipeg esthetic to his short film entry, Tesla World Light, a live-action animated fantasia starring Rob Vilar as the embattled electrical visionary Nikola Tesla, who alternates between giddy love (for a pigeon) and the depths of despair as he tries to convince American industrialist J.P. Morgan to fund his plan to bring free electricity to the world.
Following in the path of Maddin and Dawson, Rankin gives it the look of an ancient, lost film. Yet it has a feel all its own in its contemplation of Tesla as a visionary trapped in a world where vision is in short supply.
"In my book, this movie is absolutely a Winnipeg movie, even though it was 100 per cent produced in Quebec," Rankin says of the film, shot under the auspices of the National Film Board’s animation wing.
"What I would broadly identify as a ‘Winnipeg esthetic’ typically involves an abstract cinematic language that is reworked, in various ways, to tell a story or create an emotion.
"And the result is usually funny and strange and pathological," Rankin says. "For me, this would include everybody from Guy Maddin to Nick Hill."
The Manitoba-linked film most connected to the real world comes from documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin, the 85-year-old documentarian (Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance; Rocks at Whiskey Trench). Her latest feature, Our People Will Be Healed, takes audiences to Norway House, 450 kilometres north of Winnipeg, for a visit to the Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Centre, which educates some 1,300 students from nursery through to Grade 12 in a modern and well-equipped facility receiving a level of funding rare among Indigenous schools.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs until Sunday, Sept. 17.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.