ACTRA Toronto Performers Shine at #TIFF21

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) returns in 2021 with an expanded slate of films and a hybrid in-person and virtual experience. And we are thrilled to once again shine our #ACTRAspotlight on some excellent Canadian films starring numerous talented ACTRA Toronto performers. Read on to learn about the films that we’re most excited about at #TIFF21!

All My Puny Sorrows

Michael McGowan’s moving adaptation of Miriam Toews’ beloved novel All My Puny Sorrows is propelled by nuanced direction, an affecting script, and a truly stellar, fearless cast. The story revolves around the women of the Von Riesen clan: writer Yoli, who’s tormented by self-doubt and is going through a tough, protracted divorce; her sister Elf, a well-known concert pianist whose bouts with depression threaten to consume her; their steadfast mother Lottie; their no-nonsense aunt Tina; and Yoli’s precocious daughter Nora.

Featuring: Alison Pill, Sarah Gadon, Donal Logue, Martin Roach, Amybeth McNulty, Mimi Kuzyk, Michael Musi.

Charlotte

This stunning animated drama brings to life the remarkable true story of Charlotte Salomon, an enigmatic young German Jewish painter who created a sprawling masterpiece in the face of both private turmoil and sweeping global cataclysm. Featuring the voice of Keira Knightley as Charlotte, this is a heartbreaking tale of overcoming family hardship during a horrific time. With stunning artistry, Canadian directors Eric Warin and Tahir Rana bring justice to their subject’s work and deliver a powerful story of determination.

Featuring: Julian Richings, Henry Czerny, Tony Nappo, Scott McCord, R H Thomson, Jean-Michel Le Gal.

DEFUND

Starring in and directing their own razor-sharp script, the Toronto team of Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah and Araya Mengesha play twins trying to navigate their own, and each other’s, complex responses to both the lockdown and the fight for racial justice during the long hot summer of 2020.

Featuring: Araya Mengesha, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah, Karen Robinson, Getenesh Berhe, Anand Rajaram, Vivien Endicott-Douglas, Richard Lam.

Kicking Blood

Fusing the grittiness of George Romero’s Martin with the sly theatricality of Stuart Gordon’s early films (Re-AnimatorFrom Beyond), Blaine Thurier’s Kicking Blood reimagines vampire mythology by transplanting it to the bohemian world Thurier has satirized since he began making films. Instead of the usual desiccated, tormented aristocrats with impossibly innocent victims, Thurier’s undead are hipster scavengers and swingers, their victims luckless hangers-on and drunks.

Featuring: Alanna Bale, Luke Barry Bilyk, Ella Farlinger, Benjamin Sutherland.

Lakewood

Amy Carr is out for what should have been a restorative morning run when a friend calls with terrifying news: the local high school attended by Noah, her teenage son, has been besieged by an active shooter. Deep within a network of forest paths surrounding her home, miles from town and nearly overwhelmed by panic, Amy refuses to succumb to hopelessness. With her smartphone as her sole means of intervention, she will draw upon every resource she can think of to ensure that her son survives the attack.

Featuring: Colton Gobbo, David Reale, Alex Paxton-Beesley, Andrew Chown, Diane L. Johnstone.

Learn to Swim

The feature debut from Toronto’s Thyrone Tommy (Mariner, TIFF ’16) charts the stormy romance between two very different contemporary jazz musicians.

Boasting a fine cast and a sharp script by Marni Van Dyk and Tommy, and buoyed by Nick Haight’s smart cinematography — which evokes classic Blue Note album covers — Learn To Swim is a stellar debut that, like the music it champions, is sophisticated and evocative, equal parts melancholy and exultation.

Featuring: Thomas Antony Olajide, Andrea Davis.

Little Bird

Mi’kmaw filmmaker and actor Tim Myles pays a deeply moving yet often humorous tribute to his mother and his heritage, in this semi-autobiographical story of a young man fleeing his late mother’s wake as he attempts to come to terms with his new reality.

Featuring: Timothy Myles, Lisa Nasson, Cheri Maracle.

Night Raiders

Danis Goulet’s singular thriller draws on Canada’s ugly colonial legacy for a propulsive piece of genre cinema set in a dystopian postwar future.

After a destructive war across North America, a military occupation seizes control of society. One of their core tactics: taking children from their families and putting them into State Academies, or forced-education camps. Niska is a Cree mother desperate to protect her daughter Waseese. But events force mother and daughter to separate, leading Niska to join a group of Cree vigilantes to get her daughter back.

Featuring: Amanda Plummer, Gail Maurice, Suzanne Cyr, Birva Pandya, Eric Osborne.

Sort Of

A refreshing comedy about a young gender-fluid caregiver, whose life plans are disrupted when tragedy strikes the family they help to maintain. There are periods in one’s life that feel more stable than others, or at least they seem that way in reflection. For many, the last two years have been full of instability and transition. In the new series Sort Of, creators Fab Filippo and Bilal Baig embrace different forms of transition, exploring the themes of gender, love, sexuality, family, career, and landscape.

Featuring: Bilal Baig, Gray Powell, Grace Lynn Kung, Amanda Cordner, Ellora Patnaik, Kaya Kanashiro, Aden Bedard, Supinder Wraich.

The Middle Man

In a town plagued by disaster, one man has the job of breaking the worst news to its citizens, in director Bent Hamer’s wryly amusing absurdist drama.

Since his first feature, Eggs (which won the FIPRESCI prize at TIFF in 1995), Bent Hamer has specialized in tales of loneliness and isolation, his ostensibly sombre subject matter offset by his remarkable facility for deadpan, absurdist humour and a muted yet profound optimism. His latest, The Middle Man, has the added benefit of a stellar international and Canadian cast.

Featuring: Paul Gross, Rossif Sutherland, Don McKellar, Kenneth Welsh, Sheila McCarthy, Bill Lake.

Twelve Hours

The director of Benjamin, Benny, Ben, winner of the IMDbPro Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Film in 2020, Paul Shkordoff returns with a riveting drama about a health-care worker doing whatever she can to find a measure of relief amid unprecedented challenges.

Featuring: Evelyn Wiebe, Kelly Van Der Burg, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Oliver Dennis.

Wildhood

Link and his brother flee their abusive father and embark on a journey where Link discovers his sexuality and rediscovers his Mi’kmaw heritage.

Two-spirit Mi’kmaw teenager Link is just discovering — and asserting — his sexuality when his already volatile home life goes off the rails. His abusive father Arvin explodes after the cops bust Link and his half-brother Travis for stealing scrap metal. When he finds out that his supposedly dead mother Sarah may be alive, Link sets fire to Arvin’s truck and flees with Travis. Sparks fly in a chance encounter with teen drifter Pasmay, who shares Link’s Indigenous roots and offers to help find Sarah — but will Link’s (well-founded) mistrust of people ruin his potential new relationship and the group’s mission?

Featuring: Joshua Odjick, Michael Greyeyes, Steve Lund.

(Images and capsule descriptions courtesy of TIFF.)