Taking We Love Moses to Toronto
Dionne and Georgia at Toronto's famous CN Tower
Director Dionne Edwards and producer Georgia Goggin recently took their short film We Love Moses to Toronto. Georgia blogs about their experience at TIFF, from buzzy networking to the quiet of the cinema.
We Love Moses is a short that we made in 2016 with Film London’s London Calling Plus scheme, Signature Pictures and the Sugar Films Lab.
Our dream was that We Love Moses would premiere at the BFI London Film Festival in 2016. It did. And then we didn’t wake up from the dream. The festivals just kept on coming. I struggled to keep up with the materials, we made several more DCPs, we had to decline going to Hamburg so we could go to Miami… and just as we thought it was coming to an end, TIFF programmer Danis Goulet invited us to Toronto.
TIFF is vast and hectic. The printed programme could tip a person over their baggage allowance. For the first weekend, a long section of King Street West in front of TIFF Bell Lightbox and the industry hub at the Hyatt hotel is closed off to traffic. It heaves with professionals and fans hustling for tickets and necking cups of free McCafé. The queues are legendary. Inside the Scotiabank Theatre, a garish multiplex with sticky carpet and super-sized fountain drinks, the lines curl around each other into one tangle. Only the volunteers, in their bright orange T-shirts, know where each line starts and ends and what it’s even for in the first place.
We were staying at the east end of Dundas Street, on the other side of Moss Park where I discovered that Toronto squirrels are as black and glossy as the Suburbans parked at the red carpets. Between jet lag, screenings before 9 in the morning and parties at 12 noon, time becomes meaningless at TIFF. We ate and slept strange hours. Each day started with a zig-zag walk from our dusty neighbourhood through the steel and glass financial district and into TIFF-town to get a bagel at Second Cup and get stuck in.
Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t dread networking? Who doesn’t pause in the doorway to take a deep breath and give themselves a stern ‘get on with it’? It’s effort and it’s exhausting. Even when they put ‘cocktail’ on the invite or call it a party. But network we did and – as always – it was worth it.
TIFF is talk. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. I had inspiring conversations, conversations that made me feel like I was nowhere, conversations that boosted my confidence. I eavesdropped on a male Miranda Priestly icily telling his junior, “well do you think we can have the report before the eOne meeting so they don’t throw something in our face?”. I got talking to people in queues, in coffee shops, on rooftops, in lobbies, in bathrooms, in lifts. TIFF can be a bit shark-y – everyone has one eye out for a more powerful person to meet and the other on passing canapés – so when you do make a real connection with another filmmaker, it’s exciting.
When we could, we retreated from talking into the quiet of the cinema. Press & Industry screenings are silent and focused. Buyers sit on the aisles; if the film isn’t for them, they need to be able to exit. Everyone is Busy and Important. They’re on their phones until the last second. Public screenings are the opposite. They’re full of fans who want to fall in love with a film. They’re willing it to be good. When Dee Rees walked onto stage at the Princess of Wales theatre after Mudbound, the audience went nuts for her and her white dungarees. Mudbound was brooding and tragic, with that feeling of steady, ever-tightening inevitability you get reading Of Mice and Men. The atmosphere of it soaked into my dreams for two nights. It’s on at this year's LFF and is so, so worth queueing for.
We have watched We Love Moses countless times with an audience but I’m never completely relaxed about it. I always think I’m fine and then I hear the sound of kids jeering that opens the film and I get a jolt of nerves. Our first TIFF screening was unusual because We Love Moses screened very dark. A lot of the film takes place at night and all the lead cast are black so it just got lost. We spoke to the projectionist afterwards and he told us that the Scotiabank Theatre we screened in had a dark bulb. Every film was screening way too dark and there was nothing they could do about it. As always happens though when filmmakers freak about some technical detail, the audience doesn’t notice at all. We had a huge round of applause and people coming up to us after to say they loved it. There were some beautiful films in the programme and it still feels so unlikely and so lucky that Danis and her team chose We Love Moses from amongst the 4,000 plus short film submissions TIFF receives every year.
As a short filmmaker at TIFF, you’re mainly left to your own devices, more so than at other festivals we’ve been to. Though that’s daunting, it’s a smart choice from the organisers because there’s also a kind of freedom to it. We had time to just wander and observe. Dionne described TIFF as an onion and I agree. There’s layers to TIFF. We had a strong feeling that the TIFF we were having was not the same as the TIFF of the buyers or of the feature filmmakers or of the super famous. It was a privilege to go to TIFF when it counted but not too much. We were able to try TIFF without the pressure of a big spotlight or specific objective so when (fingers crossed) we go back with a feature, we won’t be blinded by the lights, the scale or the black squirrels.
In a few days, we’re travelling with We Love Moses again, this time to Festival du film Britannique de Dinard (or just "Dinard" for short) in France. It could hardly be further from TIFF. Instead of a city on North American scale, it’s a little French town, showing barely a handful of films by comparison, all of them British. We’ll take the lesson from TIFF with us: get stuck in and talk to people. And then after that, it’s time to get off this merry-go-round and make the next film, before we forget how.