Every first Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival, a party is thrown at the Drake Hotel to honour the Manitoba-made films at the fest.
Some parties are more successful than others when it comes to feting homegrown product.
In 2017, the only official Manitoba film at TIFF was a six-minute experimental short titled homer_b, by fest veterans Milos Mitrovic and Conor Sweeney (Imitations, The Editor). Interesting film. But not exactly a big splash.
The 43rd edition of the Toronto International Film Festival offers up more prestigious offerings, particularly the closing-night gala film Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy, directed by Justin Kelly.
Starring Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Diane Kruger, Courtney Love and James Jagger (the son of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall), the film tells the story of how Stewart’s character, Savannah Knoop, was recruited to flesh out the fictitious role of the titular truck-stop male prostitute at the behest of her novelist sister-in-law Laura Albert (Dern).
Winnipeg’s Buffalo Gal Pictures was one of the production companies behind the film when it shot in town last summer. (Alas, because it’s the closing-night film, none of the actors appearing in it are likely to show up in town until Sept. 15.)
In the Short Cuts program of short films, Guy Maddin returns to TIFF with filmmaking collaborators Evan and Galen Johnson to screen the nine-minute film Accidence, a single-take homage to Rear Window in which the filmmakers tell a disjointed tale in a long voyeuristic gaze at 30 balcony apartments in a Winnipeg highrise.
It’s produced by Juliette Hagopian of Julijette Inc.
But arguably the best exposure for Winnipeg talent comes in the form of TIFF’s Rising Star program.
Designed to showcase Canadian and international acting talent, Rising Stars picks four young Canadians and four international talents for a shot at media exposure worthy of more established stars.
Representing our city in that program is Jess Salgueiro, a Toronto-based actress who was just 18 when she left Winnipeg to study theatre in Toronto. Ultimately, the move enabled a busy career in Hogtown: Salgueiro’s credits include series TV work on The Strain, Workin’ Moms (in a recurring role as "Mean Nanny"), Saving Hope and Orphan Black.
She is currently the lead on the feature film Canadian Strain, a comedy about the impact of marijuana legalization on her character, a caring neighbourhood pot dealer. Colin Mochrie also stars.
At TIFF, Salgueiro appears in the Patricia Rozema film Mouthpiece.
On the phone from her home in Toronto during a day off from filming, Salgueiro says the decision to study theatre was fraught with anxiety as the child of Portuguese immigrants "who work really hard and don’t have any ties with anyone who’s supporting themselves as an artist."
Prior to the move, she was working as a dance instructor when a fellow teacher asked her point blank: "Do you want to be an actress?"
"And I said, ‘Uh, yeah.’ She said: ‘You need to audition for this school in Toronto, and if you get in, you should go.’
“My father was maybe the least excited about my desire to be an actress and now he is probably the one person who would never let me quit. It’s a source of pride for him now that his daughter followed her passion.” -Jess Salgueiro
"And so I did and I got in," Salgueiro says. "And if she hadn’t given me that pep talk, I might never have left."
It might have been a tough sell for Salgueiro’s parents, who run JS Furniture stores in Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie. Fortunately, after completing her studies at Randolph College for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Salgueiro found work and even started a theatre company called Arts and Lives. In 2012, under the auspices of that company, she came to the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival to perform in a musical she wrote, In Adagio.
"That was such a beautiful moment in my life because here was this thing that I wrote and it had a lot to do with my Portuguese heritage," she says. "It was about a Fado singer, a Portuguese folk singer, and I felt like the Portuguese community in Winnipeg really rallied around me. It was a big theatre with 300 seats but it was selling out towards the end of the run. It was really amazing.
"To this day it’s my proudest moment," she says. "You know how proud Portuguese people are. The fact I was able to reinvent my family legacy and modernize it, it was really powerful."
Her parents, initially skeptical of her career choice, "have so beautifully come around and are now my biggest fans.
"My father was maybe the least excited about my desire to be an actress and now he is probably the one person who would never let me quit," she says. "It’s a source of pride for him now that his daughter followed her passion."
The Rising Star program allows Salgueiro to get some visibility in Toronto’s hyper-competitive theatre and movie industries.
"It’s exciting because they give us a publicist, we have tons of press opportunities, we get to walk red carpets, we workshop with casting directors and we get meet-and-greet with filmmakers," she says. "So the idea is it will expand our network and allow us access to people we might never have had the opportunity to meet.
"In a symbolic way, it does feel right for me in this point in my career because I’m a lot more clear about where I want to be and the people I want to work with," she says. "Rather than just taking whatever I can get or relying on luck, I feel more intentional about the projects I want to align myself with.
"It feels like it’s arriving at the right time."
The Toronto International Film Festival runs until Sept. 16.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.