#ACTRAspotlight on #TIFF20!

The 45th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival is quickly approaching, starting up on Thursday, September 10th and running until September 19th. As with much in 2020, this year’s TIFF will be quite a bit different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Film lovers can expect more digital experiences to complement traditional physical screenings, plus fun throwbacks such as drive-ins to accommodate the reality of today’s world.

But one thing that isn’t changing is our celebration of Canadian stories, films and performers and we’re thrilled to shine our #ACTRAspotlight on the features and short films screening at TIFF which were produced with ACTRA Toronto performers. Please see below for these titles, and click on their names for ticket and showtime details at TIFF.

So let’s celebrate Canadian film and follow along with us on social (Instagram, Twitter) for what promises to be a TIFF like no other!

Akilla’s Escape

Starring ACTRA Toronto members: Thamela Mpumlwana, Brandon McKnight, Colm Feore, Donisha Prendergast, Cassius Creightney, Shomari Downer, Ronnie Rowe, Olunike Adeliyi, Theresa Tova, Brandon Oakes.

When a routine deal goes bad, a drug trader tries to set things right while unexpected circumstances force him to confront his traumatic origins.

During what is supposed to be a simple, routine handoff, 40-year-old drug trader Akilla Brown is suddenly caught in the middle of a violent robbery. Narrowly making it out alive, he captures one of the thieves, a teenaged Jamaican boy named Sheppard. Under the pressure of the criminals who hired him, Akilla must set things right and retrieve the stolen goods over the course of one arduous night.

When Akilla discovers that Sheppard’s gang has ties to the Garrison Army, the same crime organization he fell into as a child, he has to confront his own traumatic origins and becomes compelled to help the boy survive — and possibly even make the escape that he never could. Set in parallel timelines in present-day Toronto and 1990s Brooklyn, Akilla’s Escape illustrates how the oppressive cycle of violence manifests in different generations and just how difficult it is to break.

Poet-musician-actor Saul Williams — who also collaborated with Massive Attack’s 3D on the soundtrack — brings a subtle gravity to the role of the film’s quietly tortured protagonist. Returning to the landscape of the urban drama that helped make his name with Nurse.Fighter.Boy (2008), award-winning writer-director Charles Officer circumvents the sensationalism of the crime genre in this intelligent, distinctive, and sensitively rendered neo-noir–meets–coming-of-age story. With Jamaican gang culture and the reach of its rampant international drug trade as a biting political backdrop, Akilla’s Escape is a wide-eyed look at social violence and the toll it takes on Black lives.

Falling

Starring ACTRA Toronto members: Hannah Gross, Gabby Velis, Grady McKenzie, Bracken Burns, Ella Farlinger, Alicia Turner (Stunt Coordinator).

In his feature directorial debut, Viggo Mortensen stars as a gay man on a patience-testing mission to care for his ailing, solitary, and homophobic father (Lance Henriksen).

Viggo Mortensen remains a marvel. A star who could simply have coasted on his big-screen luminosity, he has chosen instead complex character roles for David Cronenberg, lead performances in Spanish and French, and a vital body of work in poetry and painting. Now we learn he’s a hell of a director, too. Falling, which he wrote, directed, and co-stars in, is a crackling revelation of the wounds and responsibilities that come with family.

John was born into the storm of his father’s rage. His father, Willis, resents everything about his child’s presence, and what he sees as the trap of family life. Early on, the film shifts between scenes of John as a boy, forced by Willis into regular tests of masculinity, and John as an adult (Mortensen), living happily as a gay man. But when Willis (Lance Henriksen), now in the grip of dementia, descends back into John’s life, his usual vitriol and rancid homophobia flow unchecked. As a son still bound by duty, John must care for the man who hurts him the most.

Falling lays out this family’s emotional battleground with careful attention to nuances that complicate the conflict. Mortensen uses sophisticated visual and aural techniques to take us inside the experience of both son and father. Henriksen delivers a towering performance as a man roiling with rage he can barely understand, and Laura Linney is terrific as John’s sister, Sarah. Mortensen, working with longtime Cronenberg collaborators in production designer Carol Spier and editor Ronald Sanders, weaves the whole tale together to devastating effect.

Trickster

Starring ACTRA Toronto members: Anna Lambe, Gail Maurice, Kirsten Johnson, Craig Lauzon. Directed by ACTRA Toronto member Michelle Latimer.

Based on Eden Robinson’s bestselling novel, this series follows an Indigenous teen struggling to support his dysfunctional family as myth, magic, and monsters slowly infiltrate his life.

In myth and folklore, the character of the trickster is by turns cunning, foolish, and a devilish rule breaker. The shape of the archetype varies from one culture or community to another. For the Norse, the trickster is Loki. In Polynesian mythology, it’s Māui. For the Haisla, it’s Wee’git. Storytellers use the trickster to instill moral codes in younger generations; that includes award-winning Haisla and Heiltsuk novelist Eden Robinson (Monkey Beach), who celebrated and contemporized the figure in her 2017 novel Son of a Trickster.

Director and co-creator Michelle Latimer (ALIASRise) and co-creator Tony Elliott (ARQ, which premiered at TIFF 2016) have now followed Robinson’s lead by bringing Wee’git to the screen in the CBC series Trickster, the highly anticipated adaptation of Robinson’s novel.

The series follows Jared (Joel Oulette), an Indigenous teen whose extracurricular activities include a part-time job selling drugs at a fast-food drive-through, protecting his wild-child mother (Crystle Lightning), and financially supporting his father (Craig Lauzon), who is struggling with addiction. Although Jared’s routine seems unstable, it is very familiar to him. What is unfamiliar are the talking ravens, doppelgängers, and shapeshifters who start appearing at local bus stops, house parties, and Jared’s makeshift ecstasy lab. Are these drug-induced hallucinations, or signs that a mythical figure has invaded Jared’s reality?

Latimer’s young characters are multifaceted, her interplay between score and imagery sets an energetic pace, and, most importantly, her respect for the trickster in Indigenous storytelling is evident. If the archetype can truly impact younger generations, that respect is paramount — and Latimer’s version exemplifies why it matters who gets to tell the story.

Inconvenient Indian

Starring ACTRA Toronto member Gail Maurice. Directed by ACTRA Toronto member Michelle Latimer.

Michelle Latimer’s affecting adaptation of Thomas King’s award-winning book explores the cultural colonization of Indigenous peoples in North America.

Based on Thomas King’s award-winning 2012 study, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, Michelle Latimer’s equally essential documentary examines the ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples in North America. If early colonization depended on force, in more recent decades it has focused on Indigenous history, culture, and traditions. History has been wiped out or twisted to serve the absurd self-justifying fantasies of the colonizers; traditions, language, and religion have been systemically suppressed via state institutions, meaning current generations’ pursuit of their history is fraught with obstacles.

Latimer brings these issues to the fore through a profoundly compelling array of techniques, including a voiceover by King, movie and archival footage, interviews, dance, visual arts, and traditional customs like tattooing and hunting. Well-known figures like visual artist Kent Monkman and filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril are among her subjects, along with hunters, community workers, and emerging film artists such as Nyla Innuksuk and her collaborators, who adapt genre devices to tell their own stories.

While these pursuits of cultural memory and awareness are invigorating and touching, the film also takes direct aim at North America’s pernicious notion of history and truth. As King points out, the claim that previous generations were ignorant of the repercussions of their actions is disgracefully self-serving — and only allows those in power to return to the scene of the crime to continue stealing land and resources. King concludes his narration with a powerful exhortation that we can do what we want with his analysis, but we can no longer claim we were innocent or ignorant, making Inconvenient Indian one of the most essential films at this year’s Festival.

Sinking Ship

Starring ACTRA Toronto members: Masa Tani, Edsson Morales, Pip Dwyer, Madeleine Claude, Herschel Andoh, Lawrence Black.

With its boldly simple design, this smart and incisively scripted two-hander by director Sasha Leigh Henry dissects — over a double scotch on the rocks — the romantic power dynamics between a mature couple.

The Archivists

Starring ACTRA Toronto members: Noah Reid, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Bahia Watson, Duncan McLeod.

After uncovering a degraded vinyl album in an abandoned home, three musicians attempt to reimagine one of its songs. Shot on stunning 16mm, Noah Reid, Bahia Watson, and Maxwell McCabe-Lokos star in this wistful dystopian sci-fi that is both hauntingly eerie and will get your foot tapping.

Succor

Starring ACTRA Toronto members: Michaela Kurminsky, Farhang Ghajar, Ishan Davé, Erik Buckland. Directed by ACTRA Toronto member Hannah Cheesman.

Michaela Kurimsky (Firecrackers) and Deragh Campbell (Anne at 13,000 ft) shine in this endearing friendship drama about comforting heartache and the perils of online dating. Brimming with humour and authenticity, Succor marks director Hannah Cheesman at her best.

Every Day’s Like This

Starring ACTRA Toronto members:  Daniel Joshua Kash, Francis Melling, Krystina Bojanowski.

Intimate and poignant, and with an exquisite cast, director Lev Lewis’s film delicately captures a family coping with the ongoing health decline of a loved one.

Film descriptions and images courtesy of TIFF.