Chevalier (Poster)

Athina Rachel Tsangari pro­duced sev­eral of Yorgos Lanthimos’ films, not­ably Dogtooth (2009) and Alps (2011), both of which I’ve seen and enjoyed. I missed her last fea­ture Attenberg (2010), but it’s clear that she and Lanthimos share a cer­tain absurd sens­ib­ility: they create their own worlds in which very par­tic­ular rules apply. These rules, in fact, are often made up by their char­ac­ters as a form of game-playing or a way to con­trol other char­ac­ters. Chevalier is no different.

A group of men, con­nected through family, work, or friend­ship, are enjoying a vaca­tion together on a yacht in the Aegean Sea when they come up with an idea. A con­test to determine who is the best of them all. The winner will wear a dis­tinctive signet ring on his pinkie, but the com­pet­i­tion will be fierce.

Chevalier (still)

Tsangari’s film is a hil­arious sendup of male insec­urity, vanity, and com­pet­it­ive­ness. We’ll see aggres­sion but only of the passive variety, as modern mas­culinity is put under the micro­scope. And watch for an amazing scene involving the assembly of IKEA fur­niture. This is satire of the highest quality, poking fun at the absurdities of “man­hood” while still main­taining sym­pathy for its characters.

It’s not­able that Tsangari’s co-writer is Efthymis Filippou, who also co-wrote all of Lanthimos’ recent films, including The Lobster, which is also playing in this year’s TIFF lineup. Filippou has a rather inter­esting web page.


Brooklyn (Poster)

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done a TIFF pre­view, and I don’t know how many of these I’ll be able to squeeze in before the fest­ival starts, but this morning’s press con­fer­ence con­tained some exciting stuff and I’d like to stir up a little excite­ment (even if just for myself) ahead of September.

One unusual announce­ment was the appear­ance of John Crowley’s Brooklyn which premiered at Sundance way back at the begin­ning of the year. It looked familiar because, of course, I was at Sundance but I never got to see it. Lots to love in the trailer that was shown. It’s the story of an Irish immig­rant (Saoirse Ronan) who arrives in New York in the 1950s, falls in love, and then goes back to Ireland for a funeral, and falls in love again. Based on a novel by Colm Tóibín, and with a screen­play by Nick Hornby, it’s sure to have a cracking script. And the casting is great, too. Ronan impresses in everything she’s in, but this also fea­tures Domhnall Gleason, Jim Broadbent, and Julie Walters.

Still from Brooklyn

I was actu­ally for­tu­nate enough to meet Saoirse Ronan back­stage in 2013. I was working as a venue liaison at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (look for me there again this year!) and she was here with How I Live Now. She impressed me with her pro­fes­sion­alism and low-maintenance style (no heels!), and we chatted about Ireland. I men­tioned I was born in Dublin and she wanted to know in what neigh­bour­hood. She intro­duced me to her father and uncle, who were trav­eling with her, and we had a really nice talk. Not only is she a great actor, but she has no celebrity ego at all. What I just dis­covered is that she was actu­ally born in New York City to Irish par­ents, who took her back to Ireland when she was three years old. So this film must have a spe­cial res­on­ance for her and her family.

I’m hopeful this will screen at my venue, so I can meet her again, but regard­less, I’m going to add Brooklyn to my list of must-sees at this year’s TIFF.



Disclosure: FilmFreeway is the exclusive sub­mis­sions plat­form for my short film screening series Shorts That Are Not Pants, but this inter­view was unso­li­cited and I received no com­pens­a­tion or advantage for con­ducting it.

In just over 18 months, Vancouver startup FilmFreeway has done some­thing that seemed impossible a few years ago: they’ve made a sig­ni­ficant dent in the market share of film industry giant Withoutabox (WAB), the biggest sub­mis­sion plat­form for film fest­ivals in the world. WAB is cur­rently used by all of the most important fest­ivals (Sundance, Cannes, TIFF), but maybe that’s soon to change.

WAB was founded as a startup itself back in 2000, but in 2008 was acquired by IMDb, another startup which had been acquired by Amazon in 1998. Since becoming an Amazon busi­ness unit, WAB has been the sub­ject of con­stant com­plaints from film­makers and fest­ivals for its cum­ber­some web inter­face and busi­ness prac­tices that some con­sider pred­atory. It seemed that David had become Goliath. In February 2014, another David came along, and has now attracted more than 2,500 fest­ivals (though none of the biggest ones, yet) to use its service.

I spoke to founder and Chief Technology Officer Zachary Jones about his company’s suc­cess and plans for the future.

James McNally (JM): Tell me how FilmFreeway got started. Had any of you had exper­i­ence in the world of film or film fest­ivals previously?

Zachary Jones (ZJ): We cre­ated FilmFreeway as a free and modern altern­ative to Withoutabox. At the time of our launch, WAB was char­ging $3 each for SD online screeners with extremely anti­quated tech­no­logy and vir­tu­ally no cus­tomer sup­port what­so­ever. We were the first to intro­duce free HD online screeners and WAB was forced to follow. WAB still charges film­makers $400 for “dis­count packs.” FilmFreeway never charges film­makers an added fee for our ser­vices. On a $20 entry, FilmFreeway is still more than 7 times cheaper than WAB from a fest­ival standpoint.The dif­fer­ence is night and day. A few of us had prior film exper­i­ence, but we’re mainly engin­eers and designers.

JM: Several chal­lengers to WAB have tried and failed to make a dent in their dom­in­ance. What makes you guys different?

ZJ: FilmFreeway has been suc­cessful because we have a very high quality product and we back it up with per­sonal cus­tomer sup­port and a fair busi­ness model. It’s still not pos­sible for a film­maker to get a sup­port rep­res­ent­ative from WAB on the phone and it often takes three days to get a reply from them via email. That’s just not acceptable.

JM: You’ve been quite cheeky in com­paring your offering with WAB in your mar­keting mater­ials. Are you wor­ried about WAB hit­ting back, either through mar­keting or through legal threats?

ZJ: No, we did our home­work before we entered this space. As long as FilmFreeway con­tinues to push WAB to reduce their pri­cing and improve their product, then we’ve done our jobs. When sub­mis­sions plat­forms com­pete, film­makers and fest­ivals win. Monopolies are illegal for a reason.

JM: WAB recently redesigned their inter­face, which you see as a reac­tion to your increase in market share. Are you wor­ried they might be able to adapt and steam­roll you with their fin­an­cial resources at some point?

ZJ: They had a 15-year head start and unlim­ited resources. If that wasn’t enough to win, copying our designs and fea­tures won’t do them much better.

JM: What have been some of the chal­lenges of your rapid growth so far?

ZJ: Hiring is always tricky because you want to make sure you get the best people that are the best fit for the cul­ture of the com­pany. We’re still a bit under­staffed but we’ve brought on some great new people to the team and we love coming to work each day to con­tinue to work on the best sub­mis­sions plat­form in the world.

JM: How close are you to get­ting one or more of the major film fest­ivals onboard? Is that some­thing you’re act­ively pursuing?

ZJ: We’ve already got 15 Academy-accredited fest­ivals on board and some of the biggest names in the industry including the Student Oscars, Slamdance, Palm Springs, Raindance, and many more. Every day new fest­ivals sign up. It’s an exciting time.

JM: After signing up more than 2,500 film fest­ivals in less than two years, you must have received a lot of feed­back and hun­dreds of fea­ture requests. What are some of the most sur­prising things fest­ivals and film­makers have told you?

ZJ: The sup­port we’ve received from film­makers and fest­ivals has been over­whelming. We never ima­gined we’d be embraced by the com­munity in the way that we have. We’re humbled and incred­ibly grateful for the sup­port. We’ve cre­ated a page on our site where we embed the won­derful feed­back we receive from fest­ivals and film­makers on Twitter here:

JM: Can you give us any clues about upcoming features?

ZJ: We’re very excited about some new fea­tures we’re working on that will provide addi­tional tools and resources for film­makers to fur­ther pro­mote their work online and max­imize the vis­ib­ility of their films.


As I was about to pub­lish this today, it was announced that Charlotte Cook would be leaving her post as Director of Programming for Hot Docs after four fest­ivals. I want to wish her well per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally, and I’m looking for­ward to what the next few months has in store for my favourite local film festival.

For the very first time, I’ve com­piled a spe­cial edi­tion of the CAST Awards, just based on what people saw during Hot Docs. Here are the CAST Top 10 based on the votes of 13 sub­mitted bal­lots. Voters ranked up to 10 films on their ballot from top to bottom, with first choices receiving 10 points, second choices 9, etc. The Points column lists the total score for each film, Mentions indic­ates how many voters included it in their Top Ten, Average is the average point score, and Firsts shows how many voters chose it as their favourite TIFF film.

In the case of points ties, the film with the higher number of first-place votes is listed first, then by highest average score. Because our sample size is quite small, these “rank­ings” don’t actu­ally mean much, but I thought it would give a good idea of what this par­tic­ular group of fest­ival­goers enjoyed this year. I’m curious to see how many of these show up in our reg­ular year-end CAST ballot and how they do.

Raiders! - Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen
Listen to Me Marlon - Stevan RileyHelp Us Find Sunil Tripathi - Neal Broffman
The Barkley Marathons - Annika Iltis and Timothy James KaneBest of Enemies - Robert Gordon and Morgan NevilleThe Amina Profile - Sophie Deraspe
The Queen of Silence - Agnieszka  ZwiefkaThe Wolfpack - Crystal MoselleThe Nightmare - Rodney AscherT-Rex - Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari
1. Raiders! 35 6 5.83 1
2. Listen to Me, Marlon 34 6 5.67 1
3. Help Us Find Sunil Trapathi 30 4 7.5 0
4. The Barkley Marathons 29 4 7.25 1
5. Best of Enemies 28 5 5.6 2
6. The Amina Profile 28 4 7.0 0
7. The Queen of Silence 25 3 8.33 0
8. The Wolfpack 24 5 4.8 0
9. The Nightmare 21 3 7.0 0
10. T-Rex 21 3 7.0 0


Here is a PDF with each person’s ballot and the full col­lated res­ults, with a few more inter­esting stats included.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

On behalf of the other mem­bers of the CAST junta, I’m very pleased to announce the res­ults of the 5th edi­tion of the CAST Awards. I received 38 com­pleted bal­lots from film lovers in the Greater Toronto Area. Here are the CAST Top 25 voted from among all films that had a the­at­rical or fest­ival release in Toronto during 2014. Voters ranked up to 10 films on their ballot from top to bottom, with first choices receiving 10 points, second choices 9, etc. The Points column lists the total score for each film, the Mentions column indic­ates the number of bal­lots it appeared on, and the First column indic­ates the total number of voters who chose the film as their top choice. We are very proud of the group of critics we’ve gathered, even though I’ve described us else­where as “a ragtag group of semi-professional film blog­gers, pod­casters, tweeters and Lightbox lobby loiterers.” 142 dif­ferent films received at least one men­tion this year, although 81 of those received only one mention.

Boyhood - Richard Linklater
The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes AndersonWhiplash - Damian Chazelle
Nightcrawler - Dan GilroyUnder the Skin - Jonathan GlazerBirdman - Alejandro González Iñárritu
Gone Girl - David FincherMommy - Xavier DolanInherent Vice - Paul Thomas AndersonForce Majeure - Ruben Östlund

1. Boyhood 138 19 7
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel 136 21 6
3. Whiplash 93 14 2
4. Nightcrawler 88 15 0
5. Under the Skin 76 10 3
6. Birdman 76 10 1
7. Gone Girl 74 14 1
8. Mommy 60 8 4
9. Inherent Vice 52 10 0
10. Force Majeure 47 11 1
11. The LEGO Movie 43 8 2
12. Wild 41 7 1
13. Horse Money 34 4 2
14. Interstellar 32 4 1
15. Enemy 32 5 0
16. Snowpiercer 29 6 0
17. Only Lovers Left Alive 28 6 0
18. The Overnighters 27 7 0
19. Mr. Turner 25 4 0
20. Citizenfour 25 5 0
21. Leviathan 23 4 0
21. Foxcatcher 23 4 0
23. What We Do In The Shadows 22 4 1
24. Dear White People 21 3 0
25. The Immigrant 21 4 0
25. Winter Sleep 21 4 0


Here is a PDF with each person’s ballot and the col­lated res­ults, with a few more inter­esting stats included.

And here is a very nice list on Letterboxd of the entire list of films, roughly ranked.
And for those still reading, here is my very own CAST ballot, with my top ten from 2014.

My CAST Ballot

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  2. Inherent Vice
  3. Actress
  4. Nightcrawler
  5. Under the Skin
  6. The Overnighters
  7. Mommy
  8. We Are The Best!
  9. Song of the Sea
  10. Rich Hill

{ Comments on this entry are closed }