ARTS · The Blast Radius: Brian Baker September 3rd, 2014

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Midtown has a place at TIFF

THRILLING RIDE: Drew Taylor, far right, is joined by his fellow producers on the Our Man in Tehran documentary Larry Weinstein, left, and Elena Semikina. Taylor has travelled the world promoting his film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013.
BRIAN BAKER/TOWN CRIER THRILLING RIDE: Drew Taylor, far right, is joined by his fellow producers on the Our Man in Tehran documentary Larry Weinstein, left, and Elena Semikina. Taylor has travelled the world promoting his film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013.

Brian_Baker_columnWhen you cover a beat for an extended time you begin to see a network of people manifest before you.

I’ve been covering arts in midtown for a year and what I’ve discovered through my interviews with musicians, painters, writers and actors is there is an incredibly deep network.

Art, no matter how small or large in scale, calls midtown home.

And if you dig further into something as macrocosmic as the Toronto International Film Festival, you’ll discover just how big a role midtown has in one of the world’s largest pop culture festivals.

Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman is an Oakwood Collegiate alum. Actress Malin Akerman attended North Toronto CI. Then there’s actress Sarah Gadon, who hails from North Toronto, and attended school at Vaughan Road Academy.

Last year, I sat down with Leasider-turned-Yonge and St. Clair resident Drew Taylor, who produced Our Man in Tehran, a documentary on the role of Canada in the rescue of six American diplomats from a politically destabilized Iran in 1979.

I spoke with Taylor in mid-August about his experience, and the success of his documentary.

“Sometimes there’s a fear that you get lost when you have so many films at a festival, especially if you are making a documentary or a short film,” he shared with me. “I was really impressed with the amount of attention that they paid to everything they accepted, especially the Canadian content.

“There are a lot of different programs at TIFF that people don’t even realize.”

One, Taylor notes, is Next Wave, which promotes movies selected by a youth-driven committee.

And there’s TIFF’s Rising Stars, which Gadon was named to when it started in 2011. It’s a program that connects Canadian actors with casting directors, fellow thespians and directors.

My TIFF-related interview this year was with one of the four named Rising Stars, Shannon Kook, of The Conjuring fame.

He lives in the Bathurst and Dupont area, and through our hour-long interview/photo shoot he managed to share that he still has former roommate, and Vampire Diaries’ actress, Nina Dobrev’s bookshelf.

And that Reign actress Katie Boland is a good friend.

“I’m extremely proud of the fact that TIFF is doing [Rising Stars] because Canadians tend to leave once they get to a certain point in their careers over here, and to be backed up by our own industry is a great thing,” he told me on a sunny patio in Korean Town.

One of my biggest beefs with Toronto is its insular nature. But when TIFF comes to town it’s something that unifies Torontonians, no matter if they’re from Leaside, Mimico, Guildwood, Newtonbrook or Forest Hill. The neighbourhoods evaporate.

Sometimes we forget just how vital the arts are in our lives, especially since we’re mired in bad news, gossip and the perpetual losing seasons of our pro sports teams.

TIFF’s Next Wave or Rising Stars programs are positive reinforcement that every kid or aspiring actor waiting tables in this city has a shot at success.

Even midtowners like Taylor and Kook.