Struggling behind the scenes


For aspiring filmmakers and cinema fans, TIFF’s Higher Learning: First Things First open forum unspooled the reels to show what it’s like to create a coming-of-age film.

Source: TIFF Trailer Sleeping Giant, Director Andrew Cividino

Source: TIFF Trailers.
Sleeping Giant, Director Andrew Cividino

“You hold the film in your mind and your heart and you know it has unique qualities and it deserves to be told,” said Andrew Cividino, director of Sleeping Giant, a TIFF debut film.

“But finding a way to communicate what about it is actually different, in a way that will be meaningful, is very complicated.”

On Jan. 15 four directors and one executive producer from Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival of 2015 spoke about their experiences of pitching a unique story, finding inspiration and overcoming audience perspectives.

Pitching the coming-of-age film to a distributor was agreeably one of the hardest parts of bringing each of these films to life.

Source: TIFF Trailers.  Closet Monster, Director Stephen Dunn

Source: TIFF Trailers.
Closet Monster, Director Stephen Dunn

“When you try to pitch the story you can’t even say the words ‘coming-of-age’ together, because once you do, your distributor just falls to the ground,” said Niv Fichman, executive producer of Closet Monster

The coming-of-age theme is common among many directors breaking into the film industry because at a young age it is the only experiences they have to pull from.

Although these films bring insight and touching memories to the audience, writers need to recreate them in a new light.

My American Cousin director Sandy Wilson, whose 1985 film was picked for the Canadian Open Vault selection, talked about the number of times her first feature was turned down.

“It was probably two years of hearing ‘no’. They would say ‘This has not been done before and no, you are not going to be the first to tell the girls side of the story.’”

As an executive producer, Fichman explained that the most important thing in pitching a story is making yourself relatable and showing the emotion you have for the story you are telling.

Being inspired by a personal experience plays out in each of the films through the location they were each filmed in.




“I wrote the characters around a vague assembly of the people around me growing up,” said Kyle McDonnell, director of student short Menesetung.

“It was sort of a typical reflection of that environment and that location in rural Canada, rather than a direct copy of my own life.”

Director of short film NINA, Halima Elkhatabi said, “It was important for me to find the actor for NINA in the neighbourhood where the story takes place. We spent a lot of time in the apartment where she lives, spending it trying to understand the situation.”

Cividino agreed.

“It seems like it has to be tied to a place because that’s the one thing you have no freedom over when you’re that age. You are stuck where you are.”

Fichman explained, “Coming-of-age is coming-of-age in a place, because it’s an inner expression of usually younger, emerging filmmakers.”

For Elkhatabi, living in the community in which the character NINA came from, connected her strongly to the characters.

“I had this contact and developed a relationship with these youth, but it’s not about me. I think we have a part in every project and creation we make though,” said Elkhatabi.

Cividino spoke out more so about feeling torn between sharing his story and hiding his personal experiences from the audience.

“When I first started writing I thought people are going to see this movie and know it’s them, or see me in it,” said Cividino.

“I’m behind the camera for a reason, I want to share this but I don’t want people to know what’s me and what’s not.”

McDonnell also felt that people would assume the film he created was autobiographical and see the main character as a portrayal of his own life experiences.

“It comes from within, a story that you know. In the minds of the filmmakers that create them, the place is just so strong that you can’t sort of extricate it,” said Fichman.

Screenings of Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival for 2015 took place Jan. 8 to 17. Available on iTunes is Stephen Dunn’s Closet Monster and through Amazon, Sandy Wilson’s My American Cousin.

Watch the live stream below, courtesy of TIFF LIVE, for the full Higher Learning: First Things First open forum.