TIFF 2015 Preview: Chevalier

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.

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TIFF 2015 Preview: Brooklyn

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.

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Interview: Zachary Jones (FilmFreeway)


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: https://filmfreeway.com/pages/love.

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.

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2015 Hot Docs CAST Awards Announcement

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 Hot Docs 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.

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2014 CAST Awards Announcement

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
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