Hobnobbing, with king pins

Three fingers on my right hand are significantly longer thanks to Hussain Amarshi. The president of Mongrel Media threw his second annual bowling night in Toronto last month and many in the city's film and TV sectors came out to partake in beer and pizza and previously enjoyed shoes.

Three fingers on my right hand are significantly longer thanks to Hussain Amarshi. The president of Mongrel Media threw his second annual bowling night in Toronto last month and many in the city’s film and TV sectors came out to partake in beer and pizza and previously enjoyed shoes.

‘Threw’ is the operative word. Having never bowled 10-pin, my thumb, middle and ring fingers were unprepared for the weight. Hurling cannon balls at little white pins is an unnatural motion. I threw out my back, my right knee and am now permanently genuflecting. The bowling alley can bronze me for use as a garden gnome-cum-ashtray for the smokers.

Bowling is a good metaphor for the Canadian film business. There’s a lot of waiting. Then you have to find a project(ile) that not only fits your hand but that you can actually get off the ground. It swings there by your side for a spell, then you aim it at the small, passive audience at the opposite end of the proscenium and you either bowl them over or leave them standing there indifferent to your labors. Or, as is usually the case, it goes straight into the gutter and no one ever sees it.

On my team were Julia Sereny, the co-president of Toronto-based Sienna Films, Sandy Hunter, TV and movies programmer at iTunes Canada, Neil, an intern at Mongrel, and a woman named Deb who never materialized. Each team member was forced to take a few turns bowling as Debbie, as we affectionately named her. Somehow each of us saved our best work for our ‘Debbie-turn’ and she ended up with the high score. But she missed out on some social greasing.

When I saw the throng of frame-obsessed bowlers I could see how difficult it would be for a producer outside of Toronto to break into the club, let alone feel like a part of the community. Amarshi has cleverly concealed a networking event in a homely locale. A chance to say ‘It’s nice working with you,’ rather than gushing over how fantastic everything is and everyone looks. It was much more congenial than the Genies, an event that is all about being seen. On Mongrel’s bowling night, people looked genuinely pleased to be there.

After years of speaking on the phone, I finally met Stephanie Azam, Telefilm’s head of English-language feature film productions, who is not an imposing czarina but a very nice woman with a sense of humor. Producers weren’t lining up to ask her for financing. She was asking producers if they were applying.

Sereny and her producing partner Jennifer Kawaja were in a celebratory mood, having landed development financing from the Ontario Media Development Corporation for their project The Lizard Cage – now all they need is a director. David Miller, producer of Amal, has three features in the works. He was waiting for a phone call from Martin Landau’s people. I’d tell you about Danny Iron’s next project, but then he would have to kill me.

The lone holdout was my teammate Sandy: when he heard what I do for a living he explained that speaking to journalists is verboten in the Apple Empire. So he took off his iTunes hat and put on another. He is one of the producers on Peter Mettler’s Petropolis. He thinks they have a chance at the Genie for best short documentary.

Amarshi had warned me he would be wearing plaid, so I came prepared with a Hawaiian shirt. But his plaid was more of a lumber jacket: I was easily the most loudly dressed guest. Luckily the lights went down, the early 1980s soundtrack started booming and no one could see or hear anything but the crash of the hapless pins – and the gutter balls.

At the end of the evening, having travelled by transit, I offered Sandy the opportunity to give me a ride, which he gratefully accepted. Driving down Bathurst Street, he spoke of his excitement about attending the annual Comic-Con in San Diego, which has become a must-attend for content creators of every stripe. We noted that the world had turned on its axis, that the geeks are running the show. And bowling shoes are cool.