TORONTO — Danny Schur is looking as cool as a September breeze in his tux. A line has formed in front of the Royal Theatre on College Street in downtown Toronto, awaiting the world premiere of Stand!, the movie musical Schur co-wrote about the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. Schur himself is waiting for his cast to arrive in a limo to make their red carpet entrances.
Just one hitch. They’re being held hostage.
Well, specifically, the limo driver has apparently informed Schur that he’s not putting the white stretch in drive until he has Schur’s credit card number.
Schur and producer Jeff Peeler take the hurdle in good humour, which you’d have to expect from the guys behind a movie extolling the right to collective bargaining.
Eventually, the limo arrives and the actors emerge. They include Winnipeg-born Glee star Marshall Williams, Laura Wiggins (Shameless), Gabriel Daniels and local actress Lisa Bell, who was gifted the title song from the film and emphatically makes the most of it.
The premiere is modest compared with the rumpus a few blocks over — where Joaquin Phoenix is doing the red carpet at the massive Roy Thomson Hall in support of Joker, one of the main attractions at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Stand! did not make the TIFF cut. But that didn’t stop Schur and Peeler from premièring their film anyway, at an old, elegant 380-seat house that once upon a time was something like a repertory grindhouse. After the première, Stand! is scheduled to screen two more times to pre-sold-out houses, totalling a solid 1,000-ticket run.
"The tickets were gone within minutes," Schur says. "And that’s just a subset of the 280,000 sponsoring union members in Toronto that are clamouring to see this movie."
While the film is a musical about a forbidden romance between Wiggins’ Jewish radical and Williams’ Ukrainian refugee, the depiction of the 1919 General Strike is what attracted the support and sponsorship of unions across the continent.
"Mel Gibson had the Christian churches, the affinity audiences for The Passion of the Christ," Schur says. "So we say we got the unions. That’s our base."
The turnout to the screening is all the more impressive considering the competition from TIFF.
"We just have to be here. We have an audience. And it’s proving to a lot of people that we have an audience, especially distributors," Schur says, later clarifying that Canadian audiences will see the film through the Cineplex chain, but an American deal has yet to be made.
"TIFF is one of the premier festivals in the world, and we’re wanting to get this film out to the largest audiences possible," says Peeler of Frantic Films. The fact that the film is screening outside the TIFF program speaks to the sense of anti-establishment rebellion that inspired the film in the first place.
"Danny as worked so hard every step of the way to put this film together and get to this point," says Peeler. "It doesn’t surprise me that this is the step we have now taken."
"I feel like we’re following in the footsteps of Guy Maddin and Tales From the Gimli Hospital," says Rick Chafe, who wrote the play alongside Schur in all its iterations, including the screenplay. Chafe is referring to the fact that Winnipeg director Maddin and producer Greg Klymkiw took Tales to Toronto in 1988, despite it being rejected by TIFF programmers.
"I really have no clue as to why we were overlooked on this one," says Chafe. "I do find it strange that you can make a reasonable budget movie in Canada that looks like it’s ready for a general audience and is going to attract all kinds of interest and it doesn’t make it into the Toronto Film Festival. I’m kind of baffled."
Making an end run around TIFF was the only logical move, Chafe says.
"It’s a story where people didn’t wait for permission, they just stood up and said, ‘Enough,’" Chafe says.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.