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Toronto’s Next Generation of Filmmakers Gets a Friend in the Business

College Street Pictures, a new distribution company, wants to foster Toronto's next new cinematic wave.

Still from Tower.

The mid ’80s were a big moment for Canadian cinema, partly thanks to the Ontario Film Development Corporation, a funding body that helped cultivate Ontario film culture as we’ve come to know it. One of the OFDC’s accomplishments was the rise of the so-called Toronto New Wave, a loose coalition of Toronto filmmakers like Atom Egoyan, Patricia Rozema, and Bruce McDonald—most of them twentysomething firebrands, fresh out of film school and eager to cut their teeth on each other’s projects.

While the OFDC nurtured a host of young talents by setting them up with basic funding, College Street Pictures, a new distribution company that is releasing Kazik Radwanski’s celebrated Tower today, wants to help its filmmakers actually get their films into theatres. A boutique distributor based in The Royal, a repertory theatre on College Street, the company is run by longtime Royal programmer and former Whistler Film Festival artistic director Stacey Donen.

Donen brings a curator’s taste to the selections he wants to put before local audiences. They’re narrative films with distinct sensibilities, whether it’s the Toronto-centric worldview of Tower or the Guyanese mother-son duet of Christy Garland’s The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song.

Though he recognizes similarities between the bold personal visions of talents like Radwanski and the old New Wave, Donen points out that things have changed since those directors made their first films. “Financing scenarios now look much different from the mid 80’s Ontario,” he points out. “But the process of filmmaking can cost much less.” More importantly, the democratization of digital filmmaking and the increasing influence of film-school culture has made it possible for young auteurs to develop individual voices that only want for an audience.

You see that idiosyncrasy in the College Street Pictures films, especially Tower and Igor Drljača’s Krivina, which played at The Royal in January. In anticipation of each release, Donen programmed a selection of both filmmakers’ earlier shorts for The Royal’s audiences, and it’s easy to see why. What’s striking about both films, as feature debuts, is their stylistic maturity despite the youth of their makers. It isn’t just that this newest wave of Toronto filmmaking is defined by the accomplished long takes and deep characterization we tend to expect of more seasoned directors, but that you feel the artists’ earlier stylistic and thematic preoccupations pay off on the larger canvas.

Fostering that sense of authorship has been key to College Street Pictures since its first project, last summer’s $1K Wave series, co-conceived with Toronto filmmaker Ingrid Veninger. Veninger used her Jay Scott Award from the Toronto Film Critics Association—an award given to emerging filmmakers—to fund five micro-budgeted feature films by local filmmakers, while Donen offered the Royal as both a post-production facility and an eventual screening venue for the finished programme. The goal was simple, Donen admits: to instill in talented filmmakers the idea of “going off and making movies.” You could think of College Street Pictures as the next step in the plan. It’s building those filmmakers a home to come back to.