A Conversation with Bea Pizano on CAMINOS 2017

The CAMINOS Festival kicks off next week at Aluna Theatre in conjunction with Native Earth Performing Arts. The festival showcases works-in-progress by local artists who work to push the boundaries of dance, theatre, and performance art. Each night of Caminos Festival offers something new for its spectators. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.

We had the opportunity to chat with Aluna Theatre’s Artist Director, Bea Pizano about what to expect with this year’s lineup.

Kimberley Drapack: How is everything going at the moment?

Beatriz Pizano: It’s busy but you do accumulate knowledge during festivals. We’re in a better place than ever. We have a great list of artists that are showing their work so I am really excited.

We open on October 4th and we’ve been seeing a lot of artists because part of what we offer, because they are works in progress, is rehearsal space. We see them coming into our studio. Also, if they need any dramaturgical support, any consultation on direction, or design, we’re available for them. We want to make sure these pieces don’t die after a presentation.

This is just the second Caminos festival for the works in progress. We started in 2015 and back then, I invited some artists to present. This year, I put a call out and we got over 40 applications. This year is quite curated because what I saw in the first festival was a great forum for the work. Six or seven of the artists managed to get a grant based on the work that they presented. We provide them with a totally professional videotape of the work that they present. We don’t present readings, we do full performances for 20 minutes with design elements so they look really good.

One of the things that I find with people who are trying to enter the grant system, it’s really hard to have a body of work if you are just beginning. Most of them don’t have a really good record of anything they have done. Just the fact that you’re presenting in a curated festival makes it better, but if you can present 20 minutes of really great work, the possibilities open up.

K: It must be hard going through the application process.

BP: We try to keep it small, but it’s really hard to say no. Although we live in a time where more grants are given, there are a lot of artists. I really focus on people that I believe are going to take the work to the next stage. After many years helping, because we have put so much investment into artists, it’s OK. Some people try it and they decide that it’s not for them.

At this point, we’re at an important phase in our community that is really exploding. I am putting all the support into people that I know are going beyond. That’s what guided me this year. Those are the artists I’m fascinated to be around. I don’t like the word “hungry”, but they really believe in what they are doing.

We take care of their publicity and marketing to give them the chance to concentrate on the presentation. We take the heavy load.

We’re trying the same format that we tried last year. We present about three pieces per night. This year, we found that with this festival, that the Cabaret is a really important part of our festival. It starts at 9:30 on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and they are free. We discovered that it was important to have things that we can offer that are of no cost. We present stand up, short pieces and burlesque, and people who are experimenting and of course, we have to dance. We have really fantastic DJ’s and live music.

We have very affordable liquor thanks to our sponsors, so I’m trying to keep everything as afford as possible. You pay for one ticket for the entire evening, but if you only want to come to the cabaret you don’t have to pay for anything.

K: CAMINOS 2017 will also feature an international conference on Performance and Human Rights titled, ‘Unsettling the Americas: Radical Hospitalities and Intimate Geographies.’ Can you tell us what to expect from the conference?

BP: The conference is about how art talks to the outside world and to the community in which we live and to the world community. These conversations about performance and human rights have always been really important to us. This year, the graduate drama department at York University came to us and told us about a gathering they do with academics, registered students from all over the Americas every year, and it takes place in a different country. This year, they’re doing it in Toronto and they said they would love to partner with us.

We’re partnering with them, and the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics in New York. 150 graduate students are coming from all over the Americas and the conversations begin at 2:30 in the afternoon. They are free to the public on Thursday and Friday. They are bringing amazing panelists from all over the countries and will bring really good discussions about things.

This year we are talking a lot about the Latinx community. The Spanish language has a gender, things are either masculine or feminine, so this movement that has been gathering a lot of strength in the states and now in Canada, where they put an ‘x’ at the word ‘Latin’ so you don’t have to define your gender. I’m very excited about their proposals. We have one night that we are calling the ‘Latinx’ night, on the Thursday.

K: What else should we expect at the festival?

BP: We’re very lucky to have Lido Pimienta presenting her one-woman show, We’re in a Non-Relationship Relationship. She just won the Polaris Prize. She has played in all her festivals and this week she just received the most prestigious prize in music in this country, but she’s going to be acting. She’s hilarious. Lido is fearless. Every time I see her on stage I think she has so much guts.

We are also presenting part of our new work which is going to be produced next year at the theatre centers. Everybody has a little bit of everything which is really cool. Most of the pieces are from 20-25 minutes so that we can present many pieces during the night.

I also got a call from a dancer from Mexico, and I thought, this isn’t an international festival, but she sent me a tape and her work is really good so I am having her as a special guest.

I am also bringing a company from Montréal. As we grow, we want to keep grow this idea of Pan-Americanism and Canada is part of Pan-America. We are all part of it, we produce Indigenous, Latin, Latinx, and Canadian artists.

We are trying to expand these perspectives little by little.

K: It seems very inclusive.

BP: When I say that my Pan-Americanism includes Canada, it also applies that Canada includes the world. We’re all a Pan-American community. It’s really exciting. After I saw that we had over 40 applications, I understood that we were on the right track. Our sponsors have responded really well again and we’re starting to gain support.

Everything we do and all the support goes to the artists. That’s what it is for. The jump from being able to produce is the hardest, you may have a great idea but the production side is really hard, especially those who don’t have a body of work yet.

A festival of works-in-progress is a very beautiful place to present because audiences are very engaged. They really feel that they are part of the creation process. They’re crucial. In the exercise of presenting 20 minutes, you really have to distill what the piece is about. It really helps you to understand what you are doing with a piece.

K: It’s also a great beginning for an artist. You’re giving them the opportunity to develop an idea, one they may not have had the opportunity to fully develop into something yet.

BP: In a very professional manner. The competition out there is getting really tough. We have so many great artists in Toronto. You can apply for a grant and there are a lot of other people doing so. With younger artists who are starting out, sometimes they don’t look as good because they haven’t been able to develop their production value yet.

We try to emphasize that we try to bring as much professional support to the artists as we can. Everything isn’t just in the writing in theatre, it’s in the magic of all the elements coming together. I want everyone to feel very supported when they go on the stage because they deserve it.

K: How did Caminos first begin and what have you learned in the past few years of the festival?

BP: In 2014 we realized that our community of artists were not producing work because Aluna is about the only Latin-Canadian company that produces work. Aluna is a small company that can only produce about two shows a year, and I wondered what we could do with all these great artists that need to help to produce their work?

We thought it was important to maintain the presence of a festival, but how do we keep this momentum going? The first Caminos was so much fun. I didn’t expect to have such a great time, it was short and manageable and a lot of great new audiences came. It was a community.

We saw a mixed-audience. Contrary to belief, our audiences have been mostly Canadian. The last six years we have worked to build the Latin American audiences. This is the same with the artists.

My dream one day is to not have to speak about diversity anymore but that we all see each other’s work and we all work together. The divisions are necessary at the beginning, but for me, Canada is an exciting place.

The conversations that I see the conversations taking place in Toronto aren’t happening everywhere, but we are speaking a lot about diversity of perspectives and inclusivity. You never know how this opens doors for an artist.

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A Conversation with Maestro Kerry Stratton of TO Concert Orchestra

Casa Loma

There’s little doubt that Mozart is not coming back as the hottest producer any time soon. Yet, for many, his name is not only familiar but also synonymous with grandeur, quality, and a kind of genius our culture continues to celebrate. That his is the music and style whose vestiges are still engrained in our culture is a testimony to its power and endurance. And that is even if not many listen to it — we will long deliver eulogies to Mozart and his music, and many like it.

But Maestro Kerry Stratton and the Toronto Concert Orchestra is trying to change that. They want to bring back out to the streets from their mausoleum classical music, symphonies, and the genre’s particular genius and ability to move and connect us.

Over the course of the summer, at the beautiful Casa Loma, Maestro Stratton and his orchestra delivered on their promises to make the genre relevant again. Downright rejecting the culture of exclusivity associated with orchestral music, Symphony in the Gardens attracted a motley audience of old and young, connoisseurs and those simply intrigued; during intermission, conversation flowed between parties and in line to get second glasses of wine.

I spoke with Maestro Stratton over the phone prior to meeting him in person. In both, he was candid and jovial about his love of and his misgivings about the way we appreciate music. His affection for his players and the music was contagious.

Maestro Kerry Stratton

Hoon: You’ve led orchestras in a number of different cities, Budapest, Prague, Seoul, among others. Can you speak to Toronto’s orchestra or classical music culture, and how it’s different from others and if it has a potential to grow here?

Kerry Sratton: Well, I would say that the first potential for growth for any orchestra anywhere in the world is the growth of its public. That’s one that comes to mind. But there is another kind of growth, the growth that comes because no matter what we do, we can improve upon it. That’s the kind that every orchestra, truly great ones, understand — they know that they must continue to hone their art. That’s what makes them as wonderful as they are. This is not an art form for the complacent.

H: How do you think the public can be engaged with Toronto’s orchestras and their growth? It’s not the most popular form of entertainment for the public at the moment.

KS: First of all, I absolutely adore your choice of words, “entertainment”. I have colleagues who regard that as, for some reason or another, well, say, a dirty word. And I don’t feel that way. I feel that if there’s anything that we must remember about the great composers is that they understood that they must entertain and they must entertain with considerable immediacy as well.
For some reason or another there are artists who disdain that. But it was certainly well known to Mozart. It was well known to Beethoven and many other composers who sought to…. Handel was told once by somebody departing a concert, “We were well entertained.” And Handel’s answer was “My lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wish to make them better.”
That’s what I think, if you asked me the question “what do I want for the public.” It’s not really that they should buy a ticket (though that’s a marvellous thing and we need them badly). It’s that they should leave better than they arrived. That’s what I think it should do. Yes, it should uplift us, no doubt about it. But it should also entertain and I do not regard that with any kind of disdain whatsoever.

H: Thank you for your candor.

KS: Well you know I’ll put it to you this way. If you want a motto from my orchestra it would be “you pay admission not tuition”

H: What would you say differentiates classical music in terms of the connection between performers and the audience?

KS: Well, that’s a very good question because it’s an enormous question, and the key aspect of it is that the connection is something you cannot manufacture. I think it is the strength of the performer’s personality, and will always be a matter of the strength of personality. I don’t think it will ever change. In one way, the public is infallible — they truly are. I forget who said it but, “Do not disdain popular culture”: to disdain popular culture is to make a huge mistake. Nobody can tell you who the speaker of the house was in 1935 but they can all tell you who Shirley Temple was. It is the humanity that makes the connection — the human to human connection is what makes going to one of our concerts far better than the best thing you can find. It’s not a human being with an electronic machine.

H: There are certainly stereotypes about classical music and going to concerts and listening to a symphony — that it’s expensive and you have to dress a certain way, be a certain kind of a person.

KS: I would put it to you this way: Who better to dress for than Mozart? But instead of worrying about that, I think the public should come looking for that humanity I mentioned in my previous answer. Some of the great symphonies, you need life experiences to appreciate, but that’s not something that should hold you back. There are things that you tell someone at different stages in their lives. Some are ready earlier, some are not ready until they’ve gone through certain stages. The lines are entirely clear. I think we are still hung up on the Hollywood version of classical music and its culture, which is all rubbish. Hollywood never gets it right. Ever.

H: Do you think there is a way to ‘modernize’ or otherwise make classical music more relevant to today’s audience?

KS: One of the things I find very tiresome these days is that there are all kinds of articles about ‘Look, Franz Liszt was the Mick Jagger of his time” or so and so is the someone of his time. No, they weren’t, I find that very tiresome. Franz Liszt was like no one else, Franz Liszt was like Franz Liszt, and he swept people away with the power of his play, his delivery, and his genius. So he doesn’t need to be compared to somebody modern. Franz Liszt will speak to you as Franz Liszt.

H: Is there something that a Toronto orchestra is doing to attract a more younger or diverse audiences than the standard ones?

KS: Well that seems to be the Holy Grail for orchestras everywhere not just Toronto. I would say if you want a younger group, then you better start getting a board of directors for the younger demographics and an orchestra that can engage in what you’re doing. And I have a young orchestra and they are very much engaged in what they do, and you cannot hide that from the public. It is as obvious as a fresh hair cut. These young excellent players fully engage in what they are doing. It is contagious! It is utterly contagious to the public and that’s what brings people back. We’re finishing out fourth summer at Casa Loma and I tell you, it has just been a revelation. There is no single demographic. We’ve got everybody, we’ve got people of all ages and ethnicities. Truly, I can say this and invite anybody to come and experience what I can say. If I’m saying this to a reporter who might check me out, you’d be damn sure I’m telling the truth. [I am and did, and found this to be true.]

H: Classical music is often associated with the past. How do you conceive of its future? Where is classical music going? Not just in Toronto but in general.

KS: ‘Classical music’ is a horrible misnomer. You take classical music and the first thing that comes to mind is ‘dead white guys.’ I’ve got some wonderful young composers that I have been featuring. They’re alive, they walk the earth, and to deny them an opportunity to be heard is to deny the chance of making the spirit of Beethoven dwell within them. And I am perfectly willing to hear these people. And it isn’t out of some sort of charity — you can forget that aspect. I am entirely convinced of what they are doing. If the conductor is convinced about the piece, then he can convince the players, and the players will convince the public. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. I found composers that I think are absolutely convincing. What I cannot abide is the pseudo-complexity of too much modern music. It is ridiculous how serious they can take themselves. My only question to that is, and this is not rhetorical, Who do you think you are? Please answer my question, I want to know.

H: I think people (myself for one) think of themselves simply as an audience member. It is more of a passive role for most people. It’s sometimes hard to see or remember that the audience is just as important in creating a culture.

KS: I’ll tell you something and you probably already know this so I’ll remind you. My choice of words is that I will remind you. When you’re on stage, I don’t care if it is to announce, to sing, to act, to read a poem you know if the audience is with you or not, and you feel it. It comes off like paint. You cannot not know if the they’re with you, and it’s the greatest feeling when they are and you should be covered in sweat if they’re not. I will put it to you this way, what we look for in a concert, in a performance, in an art- they are all the things that can’t be taught. And if a performer cannot truly experience from her experience, learn how to do it, then some other line of work should reckon as soon as possible.

H: If you had a particular favourite when you’re at Casa Loma, the people should look out for or if t changes all the time.

KS: Oh no, I’m afraid my love for music is quite promiscuous. There’s that wonderful line in that I forget which Broadway musical it was but the guy said, “when I’m out with the girl I love, I love the girl I’m with” — absolutely true. One night if I I’m with Beethoven then I love Beethoven but if it’s Mozart the next night, then Mozart is my true love, and on it will go. And that’s the only way it should be. You cannot be playing one composer and wishing you were playing somebody else, that’s the route to failure.

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A Conversation with Ronnie Rowe Jr. on Black Cop

Every September, Torontonians eagerly wait for the arrival of TIFF and its noteworthy films and spectacular talent. This year, TIFF mounted over 336 films through a range of genres and early releases. It’s my favourite time of year. Not only are stars brought in from all over the world, the festival is special in that it is a great place for new and emerging talent to shine in. Some are right from our own backyard. Ronnie Rowe Jr. is a Toronto native who is hot on our radar. He stars in his first feature film Black Cop, which premiered at TIFF, a spectacular feat for someone new to film.

I caught Ronnie Rowe Jr. on his way to a fitting for a TV show in Toronto that he can’t quite talk about yet, but something tells me that Black Cop won’t be the last we see of this talented individual.

Photo Credit: TIFF

Kimberley Drapack: How did you first get involved in acting?

Ronnie Rowe Jr.: I was actually forced into acting funny enough, because of a grade six teacher. He was really into musical theatre so he forced all the grade sixes to audition for these plays. One of them was Oliver Twist, another one was Greece, and another one was the Sound of Music. Through this opportunity, that’s when I fell in love with acting. I got to play Danny Zuko, so I might have been the first black Danny Zucko. I got to play Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist, I was the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz.

I thought it was amazing that I could remember the lines. It never felt like I was memorizing.

K: Did it feel like second nature to you?

RRJ: Yeah, I thought it was so much fun and the most fun I’ve had. I got to be free and do it in front of people and they enjoyed it.

The lights really helped. I got nervous at one point, and thought, “oh, I can’t even see anybody.”

Photo Credit: HO-Cylla von Tiedemann

K: What has it been like building your career in the Toronto film and theatre scene?

RRJ: I just came off a theatre tour with Soulpepper, we remounted Kim’s Convenience. We got to go Off Broadway because of it.

I started doing independent theatre about five or six years ago with Unit 102. Through that, more people in the theatre scene started to see me. I got invited to audition for Tarragon, which I booked, but funding fell through.

I did a play with Obsidian Theatre and over at Theatre Passe Muraille and from that, I got to tour Canada with Kim’s Convenience. I got to tour Halifax, Montréal, Toronto, and Off Broadway all this year. It’s been a great year so far.

K: You’ve hit all the major Toronto theatre venues.

RRJ: I love theatre so much. Every time I come off of a theatre run I become this different tool. You get to work the same material for so long and you can’t get bored with it, you have to become fascinated with it, dig deeper, find more things and keep it fresh. It’s a great teacher for me.

K: Do you feel as though it builds a different skill set as opposed to preparing for a film scene?

RRJ: I feel as though it sharpens my actor because of the repetitions. Anytime I’m doing a theatre run I’m always working that material. You discover so many things. The more you say something, the more it comes to life. I love the process of theatre because it’s pretty long.

I think film is like that as well. You get to draw out certain aspects, and you’re trying to find these within the character and the themes. Those processes feel very similar to me.

Photo Credit: @RILEYSMITHPHOTO

K: Does one feel more like home than the other?

RRJ: I feel very comfortable in both theatre and film, and I love them both for different reasons. With theatre, it’s the immediacy, and the intimacy. With film, it’s that it’s so character and story driven. It’s about those moments and that’s where the similarity lies. These moments are so key in theatre and in film.

It’s the same with TV, but I feel as though you get to flush out a bit more with those two mediums.

K: It’s nice to have that immediate connection with your audience through theatre.

RRJ: There’s nothing like it. Whenever there is that first joke in a play, to kind of catch the audience within that state of performance is amazing. Then, you just dance with it for the rest o it. 

K: So you’ve been a natural since the beginning?

RRJ: It just really makes me happy, being up there and expressive and vulnerable… I love it because it’s so scary. 

I found that within the journey of self-discovery and trying to find out who you are, I always needed art to be part of what I do, whether it’s poetry or acting, I need to be artistically expressive.

K: Do you write poetry as well? Did you start as a kid?

RRJ: I do. I’ve been doing it for awhile but it’s just now that I’ve started sharing my pieces more.

K: Do you remember the first time you showed someone a poem?

RRJ: For sure. I’m pretty sure it was a female. 

It’s always nice to get feedback and when people resonate with what you’re saying. Just like with acting or any other form of expression.

K: What is it like to have a film premiering in TIFF?

RRJ: I haven’t seen the film in its entirety yet, so the premier will be the first time I’m actually seeing it. It’s a weird thing, where I’m going to be judging myself…

I’m from Toronto and to have my first feature film premier at home. It’s pretty epic. I have such a great support base and family and friends that are so excited to see the film. I get to experience this first thing with them. It’s pretty awesome.

K: Tell us about Black Cop. How did this collaboration first begin?

RRJ: The movie is a satire/drama. It’s a man’s struggle between his duty and who he is as an individual. Through every day life, he experiences profiling, or being profiled by a police officer and it sets him over the edge to take things into his own hands and set out on a path of revenge.

K: What were your first thoughts on the script?

RRJ: I’ve worked with Cory Bowles (director) before on one of his short films called Free Throw. That was four years ago, and he always told me that we were going to work together again. Last year, I get a call and he says he has a script that he wants me to look at.

I read it and thought that it was dangerous. He asked me to come in and tape and to show the producers what I could do. Then they said they wanted me to do the damn thing.

We filmed it in twelve shooting days on a micro budget. I’m really happy with the things I’ve seen based on what we had to work with. It’s pretty amazing.

It’s a dream come true. Most actors I know want to be a lead, but a lead in a feature film and one that has life, a real story behind it. For it to be premiered at home… I couldn’t have wrote it any better.

K: How does it feel to be a leading man?

RRJ: It feels fantastic. It’s something that I was always capable of being and now I’m thankful for the opportunity to showcase that and for other people to see what I already believed.

K: What can Black Cop tell its audiences, especially considering the current political climate around the world and issues around profiling?

RRJ: I feel as though it’s a very timely film. I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to tell you something, but what it does is allow you to observe a different perspective. A perspective that I’m sure that not everybody considers. Based on how things go down, you know that not everybody is considered, or else things would be different if they did.

This film will start conversations and open up conversations that you may have not started before.

Photo Credit: TIFF

K: Black Cop reveals its protagonist as “calculatingly taking control of terror rather than submitting to it.” Is that part of the revenge story you were talking about? What does this mean for your role?

RRJ: Definitely. It means that he begins to profile the profiler. We have heard or seen things through social media, and some of these things may be what you encounter with this gentleman, because he’s heard it. He’s thinking, “let’s see how it feels when you go through it.”

It may promote empathy. It’s easier to sympathize with something, when you see someone like you go through it. The film gives you this opportunity.

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A Conversation with Peter Kuplowsky on Midnight Madness 2017

Midnight Madness is certainly not for the weak of heart. But those who were feeling a little brave this year decided to take part in the Toronto International Film Festivals lineup of horror films, led by Peter Kuplowsky. No stranger to the festival circuit, Peter trained under Colin Geddes for four years before taking the reins himself.

At just 30 years old, Peter already has quite an impressive resume. He is not afraid to take risks and, because of his meticulous planning, creates a safe space for a memorable movie-watching experience for all to enjoy.

We had the opportunity to chat with Peter about this year’s lineup, and to see where we can find him next.

Kimberley Drapack: How did you first become involved in film?

Peter Kuplowsky: I’ve always been interested in movies and I’ve always wanted to make film. When I was eleven years old my mom took me to the TIFF offices back when they were at 2 Carleton and I interviewed Steve Greystock, not realizing that over a decade later that I would be working with him. TIFF seemed in the cards for a long time.

I was an undergrad student at the University of Toronto specializing in Cinema Studies and at the same time I was helping out with an emerging festival called Toronto After Dark. I enthusiastically volunteered after just having come back from Montréal and experiencing the Fantasia Film Festival. It was an eye opening experience to me and was my first introduction to film festivals because back then Toronto was an 18+ festival and I couldn’t get into any screenings, although I definitely tried and was turned away.

U of T had a student union that had a very generous budget to rent movies so I became a programmer there, selecting films to the student union to show other undergrads. I heard that Colin Geddys, who used to run the midnight madness program, had a large kung fu film collection and I was really into Hong Kong cinema, I reached out to him and started renting prints from him and at the same time I was working at the Bloor cinema as a concessions jockey. I really wanted to start putting on movies there, specifically this one film, Troll 2, considered one of the worst films ever made. I found it so entertaining. I ended up booking the Bloor and putting on a screening of the film there, it was a big success and got Colin’s attention, and he referred to me as the “T2 kid.” We organically began to hang out in the same circle and he noticed my enthusiasm for film programming and putting on shows and eventually asked if I wanted to be an assistant and help him on some of his projects. Initially, it wasn’t Midnight Madness, we collaborated on a festival in South Carolina called Action Fest, I think it was sort of a trial run. We worked on the festival for two years and then after that, I had just finished another job and didn’t know what I was going to be doing and that’s when he suggest I start working with him on the Midnight Madness program.

For the last four years I was the the programming associate, working with Colin. In January he retired, and he generously passed the position to me, which I was completely thrilled about. As bittersweet as it was, I’ve been such a huge fan of this program since I first started attending, I’ve always felt that it was kind of a state of the union of genre films for the year because it was so tightly curated and it spans such a diverse array of different type of genre films, not just horror movies, but martial arts films, films from the around the world… it’s surreal to have that responsibility now but it’s something that I feel really privileged and excited about.

K: Your goal for Midnight Madness over the next five years is to create a lineup of not only horror films, but also a broader genre of films and to emphasize movies that discuss important hot topics. What does this mean to you?

PK: My favourite kinds of genre films or “movies to watch at midnight” are movies that really upset expectations because one of the attractions or appeals of great genre cinema are not really their generic properties, or the generic formulas you expect, it’s the stuff that you don’t expect and the fun is watching the movie that starts in a very familiar place, as many horror movies and action movies do, but it’s how those movies subvert the formula and subvert the expectation of what people are really looking for when they watch genres. They’re looking for something that’s recognizable and familiar but they’re looking for something to surprise them and I think the best genre films do that. I’m very interested and passionate about the films that go out on a limb and take those risks and try to challenge expectations and transgress those boundaries. In putting together this year’s lineup, I was really interested in finding a mix of film makers who had a history with the program and filmmakers that were brand new and trying new things. I think I achieved that with films like, Let the Corpses Tan and The Crescent, respectively, one is an action film and one is a horror film but they are told in very esoteric and eccentric ways. The style and form in which they articulate and express their story has it’s own identity and is not something you can compare easily to other films.

K: It’s great that you found films that deliver important messages and aren’t just there for their jump-scares. 

PK: It was important for me to deliver a wealth of different experiences. I have a film such as David Bruckner’s, The Ritual, which is a traditionally scary movie about campers getting lost in the woods, it’s also from an emerging filmmaker who has spent the last ten years has making a number of short films and anthology projects but he has yet to make a feature. He was someone I wanted to support but his film differently assumes a traditional trajectory, where as, a film like The Crescent is a lot more esoteric and psychedelic and unpredictable.

K: When putting together the line-up for this year, or previous years, is there a certain way in which you go about choosing your films?

PK: I think that a good programmer, especially one that is putting a section together that is as tightly packed as something like the Midnight Madness section, it’s something that I learned from Colin, you have to consider how they flow together. You don’t want a program of ten zombie films or ten martial arts films. You want to deliver a different experience each night and in putting this line up together I was thinking about how I wanted to start, what I want to do in the middle and how I wanted it to end. There is an audience that tries to come every single night so I’m very considerate of their experience each night so I want to change things up.

In terms of how I found these films, you watch a bunch of films that have been submitted to the festival and you’re watching films that you have been contacted about, sometimes by the filmmakers themselves, or their sales agents/distributors. We’re also going out in the world and looking for these movies. I have a background in short film programming, I programmed short films for the Toronto After Dark festival for eleven years and I currently do short film programming for Fantastic Fest. One of the other things that I do when I first started working on the Midnight Madness program was that I emailed a lot of short film makers that I had been a fan of to see if they were working on features and a few said they were, such as David Bruckner.

I try to be thoughtful in terms of putting things together. For instance, it was very important for me that the first film be something that would have a lot of impact, and the film that I chose, Joseph Kahn’s Bodied, is a movie that I thought wouldn’t make sense to have anywhere else but at the start of the festival because I think it’s a sort of film that can start a conversation that can carry through the festival.

I wanted to end the festival on a lighter and fun note, and Vampire Clay ended up being my choice because I really like the story behind the making of the film, it’s the first feature of a filmmaker who is in his late forties, and has worked in the industry of special effects and as a makeup artist on much lower budget productions and I have seen some of his short films and I was really impressed with them and excited to see what he would do with a feature. I found the film really resourceful and fun and unpretentious. I think it is a great counter note to some of the other films in the program where this is a fun way to end the festival experience, not a heavier way.

K: Do you have a particular film that you are most excited for audiences to see this year?

PK:  I’m excited to see how the audiences will react to Brawl in Cellblock 99, simply because I’ve broken the tradition. Historically, every Midnight Madness film begins at midnight, or 11:59 PM, but I’m starting this film at 10:45 PM. The reason is that I really feel that the first hour and seven minutes are not really delivering the Midnight Madness experience. It’s more of a gritty crime drama that’s rather sober and measured and deliberately paced, but about halfway into the movie, a big plot detail emerges that begins to escalate and bring a momentum to the story that makes it feel a bit more Midnight Madness oriented. When it finally gets to the climax and delivers a really brutal and bloody sequence, that I think is going to shock and satisfy the Midnight crowd. I’m looking forward to see how that plays in the room, the steady escalation where people aren’t going to be sure of where the movie is going and then what the movie will deliver in its final scene.

K: Are there any current trends in the horror genre that you were hoping to include or avoid within the lineup?

PK: It’s interesting, while watching the submissions this year, I did see a few trends emerge. I think that you can look at a number of films this year and see a lot of parables of broken masculinity taking place. At the same time, what I was hoping to see more of is women working in genre, and I did see a small, but a presence of women that is just great. A lot of this is a systemic problem where a lot of emerging female directors just aren’t getting a chance to make that jump from short films to feature films as quickly as their male peers are. Last year, we had the amazing film, Raw, directed by Julia Ducournau, and this year we have Hélène Cattet returning for Let the Corpses Tan along with Coralie Fargeat’s debut, Revenge.

A really common genre that gets submitted to a genre festival is the rape-revenge film, or a sort of female-vengeance story, but the fact that this was directed by a woman had me really interested and I think Coralie gives you a really new perspective on how this story gets told, specifically in how she puts the scrutiny and the gaze of the film more centred on male bodies than female bodies. In a rape-revenge story, that’s a really substantial detail.

I’m hoping for the industry to allow more voices to tell stories, because I do think we are seeing the same story over and over again. The amount of times I’ve seen a horror movie or action movie hinge on a protagonist that just wanted to ask a girl out and the whole movie is just so that he can win that girl… it’s a trope and it’s been around for hundreds and hundreds of years and there’s nothing wrong with that type of story, but there’s more than that.

I’m encouraging filmmakers to think about their films and if it’s a story that’s already been heard before, then why do they feel they should tell it again? What do they want to add to the conversation? That’s something that I’m interested in finding in future editions of the program.

K: Along with your many years of experience as a festival programmer, you also have a lot of producing credits, such as: Manborg (2011), the concluding segment Z is for Zygote in the anthology film The ABCs of Death: Part 2 (2014), The Interior (2015), The Void (2016), and the short film adaptation of Dave Eggers short story Your Mother and I (2016). Do you see yourself more as a producer, or would you rather be programming festivals?

PK: Both roles I’ve stumbled into somewhat organically. I’ve always wanted to make movies but early on I found myself more preoccupied with showing other people’s movies. While doing that I’ve made a connection and friendships with short film makers and then those friendships eventually turned into collaborations where I asked a short film maker what they were working on and they would start talking about their process, and because I was gaining contacts and experience working alongside distributors and exhibitors and sales agents and financiers, I was able to parlay some of that experience and some of those contacts into helping some of these short filmmakers make new projects including features.

I found that in my desire to want to make movies I feel like I realized that maybe I’m better at other people make their movies. I really enjoy that sort of collaborative process. Career wise, I’m trying to see if I can balance programming for festivals six months of the year, and helping people get content and getting their films off the ground the other six months of the year.

The most valuable thing about programming is seeing what other people are making and the quality. A lot of the stuff I’m seeing, by objective or conventional standards, might not be up to snuff, or “great works”, but I feel like they’re always teaching me something or establishing trends, some to potentially follow or some to maybe avoid. They are also revealing filmmakers, actors, or cinematographers that I may want to work with. It’s one of the reasons why I want to continue programming other festivals because I feel by watching short films, it’s allowing me to see a couple years into the future because I’m looking at filmmakers that are starting out. I hope to notice them and put them in touch with people that can help them make their films.

K: You’re part of that process with them.

PK: A lot of programmers see a movie well before it’s finished. A few of the films I saw this year, in their assembly versions, or their first drafts. There was a back and forth between me and the filmmakers and their producers about what I thought was working and what I thought wasn’t. While I never intend to say, “I think you should do this,” I try to be candid in terms of what my reactions are. Sometimes it has an effect on someone and sometimes it doesn’t. There’s a real feedback loop between festival programmers and filmmakers these days.

K: It’s always best to do what you love.

PK: Fortunately enough I still like movies. There’s always that period where I’m in the eye-of-the-storm watching stuff and maybe haven’t seen something in three weeks that I’ve liked, and that’s when you get worried because at that point if something good comes around you’re not sure if you’ll notice it because you feel so beaten down. The thing is, every time I’ve gotten that feeling, every time I do see something that I think is strong and good, you notice it within a few seconds. It can be the subtlest decision on the director’s part but I feel that it’s so apparent. As subjective as it may be, there is a way to direct a movie or a way to tell a story that can immediately convey to the viewer that someone is in control and steering the ship.

When someone asks me what I consider as constituting a good film, or what I look for as a programmer, it sounds like a simple thing, but I look for direction. I look for a film that I feel is articulating it’s ideas of clarity. Whether it’s the movements of the camera or the staging factors, I don’t feel like things are arbitrary or left to chance. Even if it’s a movie where things are improvised, or a documentary, the assembly or decisions that are made in putting the package together just feel like decisions.

I like hearing the voice of the filmmaker or the collective voice of the team that has made a certain movie.

K: It must be like a lightbulb that comes on when you do see something special.

PK: When I do see something I like, I have a tendency to stand up and start pacing a bit. I get rather excited when that lightbulb goes off.

K: It must be really exciting to be in the screening and to see the same reactions that you first had.

PK: I love watching the audience watch something in a program. Going to Fantasia in Montréal and then my first Midnight Madness in 2005… it’s the reason I do this. I love sitting in an audience that for ninety minutes or two hours there is a feeling of complete unity where everyone is in line or joining the wavelength of the story being told.

I think Midnight Madness is one of the programs that really delivers that because it often plays with big emotions and is able to create that feeling to get everyone as energized and charged.

K: What’s next for you?

PK: I go straight into Fantastic Fest where I do a shorts programme that is broken up into three sections. There is a horror section, a general comedy section and a section of more experimental, arthouse genre exercises.

After that, the machine sort of beings to start up again for next year but before it does, in earnest, I will likely be trying to work on my many projects with various filmmakers and it kind of depends on what is ready and what needs the help.

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A Class By Herself: A Conversation with Actor, Writer, and Producer Kelly McCormack

Kelly McCormack is not an overnight sensation.

Such a thing doesn’t even exist, not really. Not even in this age of instant fame via Instagram. For people like Kelly, it’s about a lifetime of work that gets them to a point where success is suddenly found. The actor, writer, and producer who stars in the third season of the hit sci-fi show Killjoys, is filming a feature film she penned for next year and recently travelled to Taiwan for an opera. A quick internet search has Kelly showing up everywhere, but as she told me over the September long weekend, her wild amount of on-the-go projects lends itself to years of diligent work.

If you were looking for a Cinderella story, this both is and is not it.

Natasha Grodzinski: 2017 has been and continues to be a big year for you. What do you have on the go right now?

Kelly McCormack: From my perspective, I’ve been so busy for so long working on a lots of different projects. You put irons in the fire and it just so happens that 2017 was the year they all exhibited. It’s been a bit hilarious because my acting career, my writing career and my producing career have all coalesced for this one year of bananas. I’m on the show Killjoys which is a huge deal. I went to the audition — it was the first audition of the year, I booked it, and that kind of changed my year, because I was shooting the series from January to May. The TV show I produced for the CBC, The Neddeaus of Duqesne Island came out. We found out we got to moved forward with my feature film Sugar Daddy and I went to Taiwan for this opera. It’s been a little bit absurd, but amazing. I’m a total workaholic — I get stressed out when I have time off to relax. So, it’s been a lot of fun.

NG: Being idle isn’t something you do well?

KM: Oh my god, no. Laughs. I say that so honestly. When I was seven years old, they asked me to do a project on a superpower I wanted. There were lots of powers I wanted, but when I was seven I wrote I didn’t want to have to sleep because I wanted to get more work done. When I was younger one of my uncles told me you sleep for half your life. I was so devastated by that. I don’t do holidays well. The best kind of holiday is how I went to Taiwan for this opera, where I have to perform a bunch but can explore in between. I can deal with moments of high pressure and I feel like that’s when I’m the most myself and the least stressed. You know, I was the girl who rearranged her room every month and had all these decisions about what she was going to do. All of my bucket lists were books. That’s it.

NG: I would say that’s working out well for you now.

KM: Yes, I suppose. I’ve always wanted to be an actor. I started my academic life of writing in university. Producing I just love. I love putting pieces together and making stuff happen. But those were all done in the service of telling more stories and getting busier. In my film Sugar Daddy I play a musician as I also came up through music. I didn’t mean for it to boil over like this but it’s great. Like I said, I don’t do holidays well. I like being able to turn off my phone for  a day, but then I think, “Oh god, there’s all these things I should’ve been doing.”

NG: You touched on one of those aspects of storytelling I wanted to talk about, which is starting your own production company.

KM: Well, it kind of came out of nowhere. About three years ago I was supposed to be in this play, but it fell through. I did have this sweet part-time job at Seneca College. You know I always say artists live or die by their part-time jobs. People are always trading advice and secrets.This one was sweet, it was the holy grail of part-time jobs, but I got laid off there and a bunch of things just fell though. I had a super busy summer, then my slate was wiped completely clean. I was so stressed because it wasn’t where I saw things going. Then Ingrid Veninger, a very well-known DIY filmmaker in Canada, was doing this challenge for filmmakers to make a movie for only $1000. I was hanging with my friend Kristian Bruun, we were just talking about it and I thought, okay, screw it, I’ll write a feature film, the two of us will produce it and we’l put our friends in it. It was this really sweaty, insane summer exercise. I wrote it in two weeks, we shot it in two weeks and we produced the whole thing for $1000.

NG: Holy god.

KM: Yeah, it was crazy. The way that we cast it, with a budget like that, the more creatively involved you have to keep people. Everyone thinks you have to call in all these favours — don’t get favours, get people who are so hungry to make something happen. The way we assembled this cast and crew was like this: I asked Kristian, “Who would you not make a movie without?” He said, this person. Then we asked that person the same question and so on. We assembled this ride or die clan of people. Kristian and I didn’t sleep for two weeks, I sublet my apartment to pay the $1000, because even with a low budget like that it’s a lot of money. We produced this film called Play the Film. It’s a comedy, it’s really weird. It’s about these actors who aren’t booking work so they put on this play. Very meta about our lives, you know. It goes horribly wrong and they end up improvisation stage and making the most offensive play every to be put before an audience. It ended up doing really well and went to festivals around the world. It happened that I needed to put a company name on this film. I have this super righteous dog named Floyd and for some reason we call him Floyder. I wanted to immortalize him so I called the company Floyder Films.

Of course as the acting, writing and producing are going well, I’m thinking, what else can I do? I’ve started thinking about how I can grow the company and about better ways to monetize my ability to bring people together who love to tell stories and hopefully bring in some business-minded people, and hopefully, you know, just be a really powerful CEO one day. Laughs.

NG: One step closer to world domination.

KM: Yeah! I can say these things in interviews, like over the phone you know I’m not saying it in a different way, but I’ll see myself on paper saying, “I want to change the world!” I think, “Yeah, I sound really full of myself.” I’m sure lots of men say stuff like that and don’t worry about it.

At the same time, I am an outspoken feminist. I care about the representation issue in the industry. I care about telling stories that represent women and casting and hiring people of colour. The impetus from wanting to be successful with my production company is because I want to invigorate and hire people who may not normally get that opportunity, I want be a change in the industry. I’ve started trying to option books, which is a really fun thing. You get to read your favourite books and stalk the author and publishing company to try and convince them to give you the rights. Doing that is fun. I’m a big sci-fi reader and am always thinking of how I can make this story into a movie.

NG: Science fiction is a really fantastic space for progression.

KM: For sure! And you have all these people watching Star Trek or Star Wars where there are futures where race and gender don’t mean a thing. Mothers are realized to be at the centre of societies. I was finishing Dune over the weekend and mothers who reproduce and populate civilization are gods. There’s this future that we could be heading towards but it’s like, come on people! Sci-fi’s already there! That’s what great bout being on a show like Killjoys. I get scripts for my character and you don’t get the same ick factor as you do reading other scripts, when you’re thinking, “Ugh this is so gendered and so mildly racist.” It’s a wonderful space.

NG: Is that a direction you want your company to go in?

KM: I do talk about this a lot, about making movies without gender pain, without the ideas of the expectations we put on masculinity and femininity. I have a documentary I’m working on, and another series, and they centre around that topic.

NG: In your own writing, you have the film Sugar Daddy, which had a very familiar concept to me, having heard about it at school, but I wanted to talk about writing the stories you want to see.

KM: Well, Sugar Daddy is, first and foremost, about this up-and-coming musician. And she’s trying to make it. She’s broke and has yet to cross that threshold where she’s making money or getting noticed. Even without the sugar daddy, that’s not a story we see often. There are so many movies about artists trying to make it, and they’re all men! There’s this obsession with the male artist and the tortured, struggling musician. We’ve seen so many movies like that.

[Sugar daddies, at the basest definition, are rich men, usually older, who pay younger women to date them.]

She learns to package herself for all these other men in different ways. Then she learns how to package herself for the already sexualized music industry. It’s about the commodity of art and self-worth. It’s about sex as a commodity and generally the sexual politics that every single woman has to negotiate on a daily basis. You know, “Oh, this guy bought me a drink, do I need to talk to him now,” or, “This guy bought me dinner on a date, do I have the sleep with him now?” The things that half the population has to think about on an hourly basis is really what the film is about. It’s told through the eyes of this artist who is then regurgitating it into her music.

When I was in New York and had a million part-time jobs and all my friends were trying to make it on Broadway, a bunch of my friends did this. This was years ago, before it became the cultural phenomenon. My first reaction was disgust, but it took five or six years of being a producer in the industry and going to these parties to see how you don’t really have a choice in being commodified.You have to go through that stuff anyway.

NG: When you’re looking at roles you haven’t written, what are you looking for?

KM: In general, the type of roles that inspire me, whether I get offered them or not, are depictions of women we don’t see a lot. I like playing characters that have endgames, motivations and locations that are not not involved with them falling in love with a man, though I’m not saying I wouldn’t do a romantic comedy. Laughs. Like Zeph, for example, the character I play on Killjoys, she’s a science nerd. That’s her passion, her focus, her drive. In Sugary Daddy, she’s an artist, that’s her drive.

In terms of types of characters, I want to play the most opposite of the one I just played. I would love to have a career where someone calls me a character actor. I don’t really have an interest in defining this “Kelly brand” and delivering this ongoing character of myself. I became an actor because I love pretending to be other people. I’ve had some opportunities to play bizarre characters and I hope when I get to put them together, people don’t recognize me part to part.

NG: One of the weird characters I had to ask you about, and I watched the whole thing last week, is on The Neddeus of Duqesne Island.

KM: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. That show is probably one of the most proud things I’ve been a part of in my life. I produced that series and it’s written by Aaron Schroeder who came to me a couple of years ago with this crazy idea of making a faux NFB documentary. We shot it in the fall, and I also had the opportunity to be in the series as Eloida, the demonic twin. It was so much fun to be in. The whole point of the series was to mimic that ultra-naturalism from the documentaries, so it’s not about what you’re saying, it’s about the action and what you’re doing with your hands in the moment. The director Sam [Zvibleman] was really good at making sure the actors were not performing. I had this badass 70s costume that made the twins looks like the twins from The Shining. We went up into the woods in the fall and made this weird-ass show. The director would have us do the scene over and over again and improvise and by the end of the day, it didn’t feel like we were performing.

But yes, she was weird character. The dialect was weird and the way she stood was weird. She’s another interesting character where her motivation is actually world domination. That is Pinky and the Brain right there. Her interests are simple: she wants to rule the island and kill her brother. And going back to the roles I want to play, I don’t want to recognizable. I don’t want them to say, “Oh that’s Kelly McCormack.” I want them to say, “Who’s that weirdo? Oh, it’s Kelly!” Laughs. “Who’s that weirdo?” Those are the roles I want to play.

NG: If there were to be a brand, that would be it.

KM: Yeah!

NG: So with all the excitement this year, and with everything happening, where do you see these projects going?

KM: Oh my gosh good question. You know, as busy as it is, I have a constant fear that it will just end. As great as all this is, the upkeep is something that will require all of my energy. Killjoys got picked up for two more seasons, which is incredible. I don’t know what the means for me, but I didn’t die at the end of season three, so…

NG: That’s always a good thing in sci-fi. I didn’t die!

KM: Exactly, so who knows? Sugar Daddy is in the works and I have a couple of other TV shows I’m writing and pitching. I’m always upping the bar for myself. My standard and bucket list is growing. In terms of what’s next… I really want to focus on my production company and the types of films I’m developing. Because for me, I always say, I wanted to be an actor when I was seven and having this life of art was a dream. Then it became my life. It suddenly happens where you work hard and don’t have to do any more part-time jobs, you’re just supporting yourself off of your art. To me, that’s making it. That’s it.

Interview has been condensed for print. You can follow Kelly on Twitter here and Instagram hereContinue following our fashion and lifestyle coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.