Avoiding ‘The Downfall’

"The present generation of filmmakers is incredible," offers Calum deHartog. "There is a wave of freshness in Canada right now. The next generation is here and they are itching for the opportunity."

“The present generation of filmmakers is incredible,” offers Calum deHartog. “There is a wave of freshness in Canada right now. The next generation is here and they are itching for the opportunity.”

True, Canada may currently be discovering its greatest generation of filmmakers, with rising stars like Dolan, Tierney and Villeneuve making waves around the world. But that’s not who deHartog is talking about.

The producer, who works under his Team Seven Entertainment shingle, set his sights elsewhere, and the pay-off will be demonstrated at a special screening November 16 at the Bell Lightbox.

DeHartog is a filmmaker and a cop, part of Toronto’s Special Weapons Team 7 of the Emergency Task Force. The mission he set out for himself was simple enough: “I wanted to tell stories about the street.”

“As a filmmaker and a police officer I’ve worked with people within the community, and I’ve always been fascinated with telling stories about the city we live in,” he says. “I did some research but hit a dead end. Until I ran into the Remix project.”

The Remix Project is a social program that uses arts and culture to engage young people in priority neighborhoods in Toronto. They look for raw artistic talent, partnered with drive, and try to help young people make it out of what can be dire circumstance.

DeHartog approached Gavin Sheppard, executive director of Remix, and the two hammered out an initial plan that would see young filmmakers given a chance to tell their own stories.

But, says an ambitious deHartog, “I wanted to make it bigger.”

That meant soliciting help from the industry. His next stop was David Fortier and Ivan Schneeberg, co-presidents of Temple Street Productions. They bought in to the idea immediately, bringing in Michel Pratte, manager of business development at Temple, to act as project executive director, while deHartog oversaw things as creative director.

Temple was sold on the idea but, as deHartog recalls, “they really wanted to put the emphasis on mentoring.”

So, the partners handed out fliers in the target neighborhoods, visited schools, did outreach on radio like Flow 93.5 and pushed the idea on blogs, eventually landing 50 applicants who wanted a chance to get practical experience in filmmaking from industry experts.

Every candidate was interviewed, before the group was culled to 10 finalists, each of whom demonstrated a strong vision for their film. All ten were then given the opportunity to workshop their scripts with industry pros, and receive hands-on experience in everything from sound and costume design to post and graphics.

“The barrier to film is that it’s so expensive,” notes Temple Street’s Pratte. “We wanted to be a bridge for these talented young people… And we wanted to allow them to tell personal stories that would open people’s minds and broaden the dialog between the city’s often polarized communities. If you engage smart, interesting people, you can make a difference.”

The project formally kicked off in September 2009 with initial outreach. Interviews were conducted in October, and workshops ran November/December. In January 2010, the 10 finalists met with Temple Street creatives, leading to a formal pitch in February.

Three finalists were chosen to make their 10- to 15-minute films, and then the ideas were developed further with the help of mentors such as Clement Virgo, Charles Officer, Karren Walton and Calum deHartog. Other finalists and applicants were brought back throughout the production to broaden the experience as much as possible.

Two-day shoots in September were posted the next month, and the films are ready to roll at Lightbox next week.

“It was a pile of trial and error,” recalls deHartog. “We wanted to give our filmmakers real experience in front of real people… put them through workshops with writers and filmmakers like myself. They had to come up with an idea and they had to be able to pitch it, and be confident in their vision.

“My goal was to let these filmmakers know what it’s like to be on the set, running out of daylight or dealing with difficult talent. [And] they’ll leave with a finished project; tangible work that they can build on.”

But it was a big ask. “There were many times when I left the room scratching my head, thinking: ‘How am I going to do this?’” admits deHartog.

To accomplish the task, Pratte says Temple had to “leverage the good will of the community.”

Industry support came from William F. White, Technicolor, Panavision, Silent Joe and Urban Post Production.

DeHartog, who also does commercial work, pitched and won over ad agency Leo Burnett, which stepped up to do the promo artwork (left) and create the gripping trailer (above) for the project. The promo centered around the idea of The Downfall – the movie that was never made.

When asked what’s comes next, Pratte echoes deHartog’s first instinct: make it bigger.

“We see the Lightbox premiere as our first step. The finished films represent the hard work of our young participants and our entire team, but by no means does their completion mean an end to the project. Through community screening, film festivals, television broadcast and online streaming, we’ll use these films to inspire and educate a new breed of filmmaker, and spark a social dialog about issues that all cities face.

“Oh, and we’re going to do it all over again next year.”

For a run-down of the films and their creators, and more information on City Life Film Project, visit citylifefilmproject.com.