Toronto anthology runs gamut of genres

CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA: TORONTO STORIES

CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA: TORONTO STORIES

Writers/Directors: David Weaver, Sudz Sutherland, Aaron Woodley, Sook-Yin Lee
Producers: Jennifer Jonas, David Weaver, Suzanne Cheriton
Production Company: New Real Films
Cast: Gil Bellows, Sook-Yin Lee, Samantha Weinstein, Tygh Runyan, K.C. Collins, Joris Jarsky, Lisa Ray, Carly Pope, Toka Murphy
Distributor: Christal Films
International Sales: New Real Films

Lives intersect over the course of 48 hours in Canada’s largest and most culturally diverse city in Toronto Stories, a four-part anthology which runs the genre gamut.

Encompassing a love story, a thriller, a character study and a coming-of-age horror, Toronto Stories’ four yarns are connected by a young immigrant boy (Toka Murphy) who goes missing from Pearson International Airport, setting off an AMBER Alert throughout the city.

Penned and directed by four young Toronto filmmakers – Sook-Yin Lee, Sudz Sutherland, David Weaver and Aaron Woodley – the creators gave themselves only two basic rules to follow: the missing boy must make an appearance in each story, and the stories must be set in Toronto.

In Woodley’s segment ‘Shoelaces,’ two youths seek out the ‘Cabbagetown monster,’ and share some life-altering moments. ‘The Brazilian,’ a romantic comedy by Lee, sees strangers try to overcome their urban isolation with a few dates. Sutherland’s thriller ‘Windows’ finds two former criminals staring down a cop’s gun – and thinking about their choices in life. And character study ‘Lost Boys’ by Weaver delves into the life of a homeless university professor fallen from grace.

FILM DIARY

March 2006: It all started during a film launch party at Toronto’s Drake Hotel, when director Aaron Woodley (Rhinoceros Eyes) got to talking with filmmaker David Weaver (Century Hotel) about the future of Canadian cinema. Then things snowballed.

‘We started drinking and talking about how we’re part of the next generation of Canadian film – about telling stories about our city, which isn’t done often enough in film,’ Woodley recalls.

Riding the subway the next day, Weaver’s thoughts turned to a collaborative T.O. feature involving Woodley.

‘I looked around at the faces on the subway, the stories to be told. That’s when it really hit me,’ explains Weaver.

Days later, Woodley’s phone rang. It was Weaver pitching Toronto Stories – four different directors’ voices telling four Toronto stories. Woodley was on board immediately. ‘It was a story I’d wanted to make forever,’ he explains.

Woodley, the nephew of filmmaker David Cronenberg, and Weaver, the son of Robert Weaver, a vanguard Canadian publisher, know a thing or two about the business of telling stories. They also knew this film would be embraced, but they were nervous.

‘I think everyone wanted this to happen, but I think they wanted the Rozemas and Cronenbergs to do it,’ said Woodley. ‘But they didn’t, so we did – and you could feel the pressure.’

March to May, 2006: Producer Jennifer Jonas at New Real Films comes on board, jumping at the chance to try to capture for Toronto what 1991′s Montréal vu par… did for its city.

Jonas sees great promise in a collective-based film about such a multicultural city.

‘It’s important, with the current push towards genre, that more directors get to tell their stories in these types of omnibus films, especially when they get to tell stories about Toronto,’ Jonas says.

They short-listed directors at similar stages in their careers.

‘People who’d done a bit of work and had some exposure, but who might not have been as well-established,’ says Weaver.

Sarah Polley signs on in late-March, as does Scarborough, ON native Sudz Sutherland (director of the upcoming CBC mini Guns) in May. The four begin writing separately, and all find the stories come quickly, often from their own childhoods.

Weaver writes the opening scene, which connects the film anthology’s various episodes.

‘Toronto is inventing itself right before our eyes. I wanted to start at the airport, at the place that people arrive,’ he says.

Semi-regular meetings start at the Lakeview Lunch restaurant, where the filmmakers go over their segments, talking about the logistics of the project and offering feedback.

‘We didn’t ‘work-together, work-together,’ so much as tell each other what we were doing,’ explains Sutherland. ‘We all had drafts, kept up on the others’ progress. It was a different, very open process.’

‘We wanted four voices, but not a mishmash,’ adds Weaver.

Fall 2006: Polley backs out, as commitments to her feature helming debut Away From Her take up more of her time. Working on the draft, the group passes around other names, including that of Vancouver transplant Sook-Yin Lee, who acted in the feature Shortbus.

January 2007: Home from a New Year’s trip, Lee – who’d resolved to make more films – finds a message from Weaver.

With a budget of $1 million, the decision is made to use one film crew, taking them across the city to capture each segment back-to-back.

Aug. 17, 2007: Funding from Telefilm Canada comes through.

Oct. 16, 2007: Shooting for Woodley’s ‘Shoelaces’ begins. Filmed in parkland and ravines, production goes smoothly.

Oct. 22, 2007: The crew moves to Kensington Market to film Lee’s ‘The Brazilian,’ her first time working with 35mm. She points to Tygh Runyan’s comedic performance as a breakout. ‘It’s a ‘trying really hard to find love’ story,’ she says.

A week of interstitials and the opening airport shots follow.

Nov. 5, 2007: ‘Lost Boys’ starts filming at Union Station under Weaver.

Nov. 12, 2007: Sutherland begins shooting ‘Windows,’ having just wrapped Guns. ‘It was a little crazy,’ he says. Filmed around St. Clair Avenue and Vaughn Road, Sutherland sees his set invaded by a homeless, legless man he’d met before.

Nov. 26, 2007: Editing begins with Kathy Weinkauf (Monkey Warfare), wrapping in January 2008.

June 23, 2008: They submit to TIFF.

September 2008: Toronto Stories makes its world premiere at TIFF.