So this week we’re looking at Toronto films, and there’s lots to talk about.
In Geoff Pevere’s ‘Toronto on Film’, the conversation begins with a consideration of what Toronto is (and what it isn’t). Toronto doesn’t have a Montmartre, it isn’t surrounded by seven hills. It “lacks Montreal’s Mont Royal or the dual wonders wonders of mountains and ocean that make Vancouver so distinctive.” He calls the city “flat and featureless” (but he does go on to talk about the ravines adding a certain geographical identity to the city.) Later in the book he talks about how “Toronto had no particular power of natural setting’, and referencing Glen Gould, talks about how “one of the few things that all Canadians…can honestly say they share is a powerful dislike of Toronto.”
Aspects of these essay reminded me of Amy Lavender Harris’ piece on ‘The Imagined City’, which contains some pretty remarkable quotes: “This city, unlike New York or Montreal, has created no myth for itself to hold the people.” (Cary Fagan) “Toronto is a city that exists in no one’s imagination, neither in Toronto, nor in the rest of the world.” (Bert Archer) “Everybody hates Toronto, Even people who live in Toronto hate Toronto, and if they’re writers they would rather write about Uganda or Bolivia or Manitoba than the city they inhabit.”(Philip Marchand)
Both Pevere and Harris go on to talk about how attitudes are shifting, that we are writing new chapters, about how there is a new freshness and new energy appearing in works that are not only using Toronto as a backdrop but celebrating the city (in the same way that Lawren Harris did through his paintings).
I spend a great deal of time thinking about these things. I remember going into one Telefilm pitch meeting trying to argue that Toronto has no ‘Manhattan’ or ‘Annie Hall’ or ‘Frances Ha’ – we don’t have any iconic movies about young people struggling with their career or finding love against the backdrop of High Park or Bloor Station etc.
And then I saw ‘Diamond Tongues’, and realized that maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention to what’s going on in the city. David Davidson’s writings about the local Toronto film scene have really opened my eyes to the fact that there are young people who are writing new chapters in the city’s cinematic history, people who are either subtly or overtly taking to the city’s streets and celebrating the city through their art.. The movie really reminded me of Frances Ha but a much much more cynical, jaded iteration. I was talking to Calum Marsh at your BBQ and he mentioned that sometimes movies with unlikeable females get low ratings (especially in comparison but movies about unlikeable men) and I took this into consideration while watching the film. I actually really sympathized with Leah Goldstein’s character, weirdly. The Toronto world captured through Moondi and Robertson’s film was very dark and in keeping with the Pevere’s writings on filmmaking in Toronto from 1964 to 2002. As Steve Gravestock states, “Pevere finds that Toronto is frequently characterized as a place of estrangement, where interpersonal connection are fraught with difficulty and families are fractured.”
I think this is an attitude I’d like to fight against in my own filmmaking practice. I mean, I want to acknowledge the reality of isolation and estrangement, but I want to ultimately find connections, warmth, joy, celebration. The script I sent to you, Undertakings, deals with that isolation – I wonder how I can knit more of the city into it.
Your own films are set in Toronto – I have a few questions for you about your decision to have your stories play out in the city.
Anyways, lots to talk about. This was a really exciting week for me!