Thursday, 4 September 2014

Indie films peering out from TIFF shadow


TORONTO – There were no pushy paparazzi in sight, no garish stretch limousines dropping off Robert Downey Jr. or Kate Winslet, no mainstream media feverously hovering about in the lobby or frantic crowds dying for a glimpse of their favorite stars.

A few miles down the road, north of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2014, 25-year-old local filmmaker Robert Gulassarian didn’t appear to mind very much. Making his grand entrance, fashionably late at the Carlton Cinema, he was on top of the world.

Why not? His first feature, a gripping little 83-minute long comedy/crime/drama Rearview, was the opening feature for the 5th annual Toronto Indie Film Festival. Wearing multiple cinematic hats – those of writer, director, executive producer and film editor he had shot it on a shoestring budget of $25,000.

Now it was the kick-off movie for a 10-day cinematic festival.

Gulassarian seemed almost overwhelmed with the turnout to his film’s premiere, no less at an event that has been steadily gaining public recognition over the past five years, peering out from behind the shadows of its glitzy older sister TIFF.

“This is the first step,” he said. “Friends and family are here and I’m feeling very positive about the film’s potential. Right now I just want to enjoy the support of those who came out tonight to share my happiness.

Festival director/founder Steve Vearle was equally enthusiastic; pointing out that the indie event was attracting a younger crowd than TIFF and was the only venue where the work of struggling filmmakers with few financial resources and no backers could be seen by the public.

“For 10 days we feature a wide range of dramas, documentaries, shorts and feature films,” he said. “The committee really liked Robert’s work. Members thought it had some real excitement and could generate a great buzz for this year’s festival. It provides a good indicator of what we have to offer, so it’s the lead-in.

“Hollywood only releases 160 films a year, yet there are between 5,000 and 6,000 produced annually in North America. Everyone wants to see the big stars in movies with big budgets. But where are the outlets for these talented people to show their stuff? Well, it’s right here. Some of our filmmakers have gone on to get European releases of their work.”

What’s next for Gulassarian? The young Torontonian has found a mentor in veteran actor/filmmaker Nick Mancuso (Ticket to Heaven, Under Siege, Real Gangsters), who stars in his second feature Born Dead, currently in post- production and tentatively set for release in 2015.

“It’s a metaphor for our times,” said Mancuso. “I play myself as an actor. After years in the business and three decades of sobriety, I fall off the wagon and decide to jump off the Danforth Bridge.

“I run into people from my past, meet a fellow (played by Siberian actor Lazar Rockwood) who is being pursed. I convince him to also end his life. It’s a fascinating slice of neo-realism, with shades of early Jean-Luc Goddard, It’s A Wonderful Life and even a sequence that harkens back to Lindsay Anderson’s metamorphic O’Lucky Man.”

Meanwhile, after soaking up the cheers and applause for the premiere of Rearview, Gulassarian said, “It’s very gratifying to see this kind of response. Next year, well who knows, maybe TIFF.”

Awards for this year’s indie festival are expected to be announced within the next three weeks.”

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