The Toronto International Film Festival has begun, and as always, with it comes a bounty of red carpet parties to toast nearly 400 films and 11 eventful nights.

At the tops of our fest fête list is the Birks Diamond Tribute, TIFF’s annual gala reception celebrating women in film. Hosted by Telefilm Canada and Birks, the event—currently in its fourth year—continues to grow, and this year has expanded to include scriptwriters among its roster of 12 honoured guests, alongside actors and directors from the Canadian industry. “It is essential to promote the dynamism that these women bring to cinema, both at home and abroad,” says Carolle Brabant, Telefilm Canada’s Executive Director. “They are true stars and we want all Canadians to be proud of them!”

To echo Brabant’s sentiments, we’ve rounded up a handful of honourees from this year’s golden dozen to talk women in film and TIFF 2016.

 

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ABOUT: Critics love her and audiences can’t get enough of her; Sandra Oh is beloved by the Canadian film community. The longevity of Oh’s success in film and television can be deduced from examining the variety in her projects. From portraying Thomas Haden Church’s fiery love interest in Sideways to a sensitive bereaved parent in Rabbit Hole (based on the play by Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer, David Lindsay-Abaire) to her recent role as a well-heeled, no-nonsense boss in Refinery29’s web series Shitty Boyfriends (from executive producers Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky), the versatility of Oh’s dramatic skills is undeniable.

Renowned for her role as Dr. Cristina Yang in the Golden Globe-winning series Grey’s Anatomy, Oh’s performance on the show earned her the award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series at the 2006 Screen Actors Guild Awards, as well as a Golden Globe that same year within the television category for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role.

A true Northern star, Oh has kept a firm foot in the Canadian film industry, boasting two Genie awards for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for the coming-of-age drama, Double Happiness (1994) and Last Night (1998), the award-winning comedy by Don McKellar.

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival sees the premiere of the actress’s latest films, the animated drama, Window Horses directed by Ann Marie Fleming (who took home Best Canadian Short Film at TIFF in 2002) and the comedy Catfight, which sees Oh cast opposite Anne Heche in role of a former friend turned rival.

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Why is the Toronto International Film Festival important to the Canadian film industry in particular?

TIFF is the one of the largest and most important international film festivals and by far the most prominent in Canada. All Canadian film roads pass through TIFF. It is the largest and most prestigious showcase of Canadian Film talent and launches Canadian artists to the world.

Of all the years you have attended TIFF, which moment stands out as a favorite?

It’s not one moment, but a whole year and that was with my first film at TIFF, Double Happiness by Mina Shum. It was the feeling—all the excitement and possibility and introduction to the international world of film that was so thrilling for me. It was a community I knew I wanted to be a part of.

What inspired your career path, and when were you positive that the world of film was for you?

I’m not really sure what inspired my career path. Ballet? The television show Fame? The Canadian Improv Games? But most likely, the lack of seeing faces like my own on screen. I’m not sure you can call that an inspiration—but more like a deep calling to right things.

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In your personal experience, would you say that female professionals working in film and television receive equal treatment in comparison to the industry’s male professionals?

Women are not treated equally in this society and it is no different when you’re talking about the world of film. The paradigm of the industry is white and male, so anyone who falls outside of that is given the short shrift. But, this doesn’t have to be a hindrance when it comes to the bigger questions in life—for example: Who are you? What do you want to say? What truly matters to you? The challenge can actually push us closer to answering those questions. The unfortunate consequence of working so hard just to be able to do your work is that the world is denied so much talent, so many interesting stories, so much life of those women who choose not to continue.

What film is at the top of your must-see list at this year’s TIFF?

I’m very excited to see La La Land because my dear friend Rosemarie DeWitt is in it—also the singing and dancing!

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ABOUT: At the beginning of this year, Irish-born, London, Ontario-based novelist and screenwriter, Emma Donoghue enthralled global audiences with Room—her powerfully evocative story about a woman held captive with her son in a confined space for years, until finally breaking free. Based on her book of the same title (which won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for best Canadian novel and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize), Room’s unparalleled mother-and-child story—uniquely told from the child’s perspective—earned the writer (who also acted as an executive producer on the film) an Oscar-nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 2016 Academy Awards and a win in the Adapted Screenplay category at the 2016 Canadian Screen Award, where Room swept, taking home nine awards, among them being Best Motion Picture.

The author of internationally acclaimed novels including, the Irish/Canadian-inspired love story, Landing (2000) and most recently Frog Music (2014)—a mystery inspired by a real-life unsolved murder in 1876 San Francisco—Donoghue latest project is an adaptation of the latter book for Monumental Pictures.

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Why is the Toronto International Film Festival important to the Canadian film industry in particular?

It’s early, it’s big, it’s got a quality of tingling excitement to it, and TIFF audiences have a knack for picking winners.

Out of all the years you have attended TIFF, which moment stands out as a favourite?

Though I immigrated in 1998, showing Room to a massive crowd… 2000 I believe… at TIFF ’15 made me feel truly Canadian at last.

What inspired your career path, and when were you positive that the world of film was for you?

I’m a writer who works in many genres; I’d made a few halfhearted nibbles at film, but only when I’d finished writing Room the novel did I have a sudden conviction that the story could be magical on film, and that I had to be the one to write it.

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In your personal experience, would you say that female professionals working in film and television receive equal treatment in comparison to the industry’s male professionals?

The figures suggest no: the percentages of films directed and written by men remain horribly high.

What film is at the top of your must-see list at this year’s TIFF?

La La Land  because Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash was such genius.

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ABOUT: There is nothing “yesterday” about April Mullen’s creative vision as a director. An industry innovator, Mullen arrives at this year’s festival with a feature helmed by an all-female crew entitled, Below Her Mouth (2016). A daring and provocative drama, Below Her Mouth is the story of an electrifying romance, unexpectedly sparked between two women.

Being a maverick, Mullen has a habit of forging new paths—a predisposition that can be trace back to her 2012 film, Dead Before Dawn 3D. History remembers this one as being the first film to see a woman direct a live-action stereoscopic 3D, Mullen—who also starred in and produced the film—of course being that woman.

Having begun her career in acting, it’s not unusual to see Mullen featured in her own films—a pattern that begun with her directorial debut Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way of the Tosser (2007), a comedy for which Mullen shared directing credits with fellow actor, Tim Doiron. For Badsville, Mullen’s next film, the director stays behind the camera to capture a greaser gang love story with Prison Break’s Robert Knepper fueling the action.

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Why is the Toronto International Film Festival important to the Canadian film industry in particular?

The Toronto Film Festival has provided a spotlight for Canadian film and talent, which is crucial to our growth and to celebrate our achievements. The festival also introduces our filmmakers and local audiences to world cinema and new talent, which constantly keeps us current and inspired.

Out of all the years you have attended TIFF, which moment stands out as a favourite?

I’ve watched TIFF grow from the ground up, as I’ve grown in my career. While at Ryerson and new to Toronto, I used to watch films across the street from the theatre school, where I studied. I also experienced the anticipation for the TIFF Lightbox grand opening, while it was under construction. Once it did open, Dead Before Dawn 3D premiered there as part of the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival, which introduced me to so many young, talented filmmakers. I have to admit though, the best moments are yet to come! When I got word Below Her Mouth was officially accepted to TIFF this year, it was surreal, and I’m beyond thrilled to be a part of it and all the excitement that goes along with it.

What inspired your career path, and when were you positive that the world of film was for you?

Life inspired my career path. I am obsessed with visual images, human behavior, unique characteristics and connections between people—those heightened circumstances and experiences that keep us all connected. I am fascinated by every part of life and love so much to recreate it in stunning moving pictures that will hopefully inspire, entertain and enlighten audiences. The constant challenge of capturing moving moments of time, people and memories keeps me motivated. I love a challenge, and the challenge of filmmaking is a life long endeavor. I was certain the world of film was for me because of the sheer size and [unwieldy] nature of this moving beast. The creative process with film is uncontrollable in a lot of ways, and the collaboration of trying to bring it all together is always intriguing. I love diving into a strong story and creating compelling visual pictures that deliver a “feeling” to audiences. Creating is my addiction.

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In your personal experience, would you say that female professionals working in film and television receive equal treatment in comparison to the industry’s male professionals? 

This questions is a difficult one for me to answer, as I can only do so from my perspective and experiences. I entered the industry over two decades ago and have always been a major minority. To be honest. I always just had my head down, working my ass off, while I was trying to keep afloat in this crazy industry, so I was never really noticing or defining myself by my gender. I can say, it’s been a long, uphill battle, and major sacrifice has always been involved. Of course, there is an obvious lack of women in the industry, but I strongly believe there is a surge and a movement now to get more women involved. I choose to celebrate and support the women that are taking action and creating new work.

What film is at the top of your must-see list at this year’s TIFF?

I’m going to see as many films as possible! Looking forward to Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, I’m a huge fan of his work. Also looking forward to Catfight, seeing [as] I just finished working with Anne Heche on Aftermath and adore her.

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ABOUT: Getting her start at CBC Radio, where she produced an acclaimed lineup of shows, including Tapestry—the thought-provoking weekly series examining “what it takes to be human”—Ann Shin transitioned into documentaries by way of television. Since starting, she has garnered awards from international festivals the likes of SXSW and the Tribeca Film Festival. In 2014, Shin distinguished herself as one of the nation’s most promising documentary filmmakers, when she took home the award for Best Documentary and Best Direction in a Documentary Program at the Gemini Awards for her film, The Defector: Escape from North Korea (2012).

Most recently, the filmmaker adds an Oscar nod to her growing list of accolades with her documentary short, My Enemy, My Brother (2015), which was short-listed for the 2015 Academy Awards. The short also received the Founders Prize for Best Documentary Short at last year’s Traverse City Film Festival—the Northern Michigan festival established by Michael Moore.

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Why is the Toronto International Film Festival important to the Canadian film industry in particular? 

TIFF is such a great festival, drawing people from all over the world, bringing together a cool, eclectic mix of independent films and premieres of big blockbusters… you couldn’t ask for a better venue to premiere a film. For Canadian filmmakers, it provides great exposure to audiences, agents [and] producers. You meet interesting filmmakers at the festival too, as well there are the master classes and other programs like TIFF Top Ten, which takes Canadian films across the country.

Out of all the years you have attended TIFF, which moment stands out as a favourite?

Hmmm… there are several moments! I remember watching an Act of Killing and walking out with my friends speechless. We sat for an hour at Second Cup, just completely blown away. It’s wonderful being able to see seminal films like that at TIFF. Another moment I remember—which was not a favourite necessarily, but one I’ll never forget—was working on my birthday at TIFF one year. I was working on a show that had me filming Johnny Depp, Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter at a party. Of course, they arrived really late, so I was sitting there, like the rest of the paparazzi, waiting to film them, well past midnight. That’s how I spent my birthday that year.

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What inspired your career path, and when were you positive that the world of film was for you?

I’m a writer at heart, and started making documentaries as I worked at CBC Radio. I was crafting radio documentaries, shaping the stories, working with sound samples and music, spending hours alone in the studio tinkering. I loved shaping the stories, working with different textures and soundscapes and knew I wanted to do it full-time… and to work with visuals too, as I had many visual ideas as well, so I decided to transition to film and TV. As I worked on my first film documentary, I knew this was what I wanted to be doing. I’ve made a bunch of docs since, and I’m now starting to tinker with dramatic film, too.

In your personal experience, would you say that female professionals working in film and television receive equal treatment in comparison to the industry’s male professionals? 

As a documentary filmmaker, I’d say I feel that I receive equal treatment in comparison to men in my field. I’m able to get to commissioning editors and broadcasters, pitch and sell and produce the films I want to direct. But, I hear it’s not quite the same in the dramatic feature world. I’m going to find out!

What film is at the top of your must-see list at this year’s TIFF? 

Okay, there are a number of films I can’t wait to see, but I’ll talk about Deepa Mehta’s new film An Anatomy of Violence, which I’m looking forward to watching because I’m interested in how she’ll take the real story and make it into a fiction film. As a documentary filmmaker straddling fiction, this, of course, interests me a lot.

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ABOUT: As an actress, Christine Horne’s range has seen her career flourish in film, television and theatre. Possessing a mysterious charm reminiscent of Mia Farrow, Horne’s screen/stage presence holds audiences captive.

In 2007, the York University theatre alum, announced herself as one-to-watch with her outstanding performance as Young Hagar in The Stone Angel, starring Ellen Page, Kevin Zegers and Ellen Burstyn in the role of Hagar, Horne’s mature counterpart in the film. Balancing her career between screen and stage, Horne has become a staple of Canadian theatre with a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female in a Principal Role; a honour she won in 2010 for her performance as the Governess in DVxT Theatre Company’s production of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

This year, Horne cemented her status as one of the county’s leading young actresses with her Canadian Screen Awards win for Best Performance in a Guest Role for her appearance in the medical drama Remedy. The win follows her nomination for Outstanding Performance by a female in Hyena Road (a 2015 TIFF selection directed by Paul Gross) at last year’s ACTRA Awards. Horne was nominated for the same honour the previous year for her performance in the sci-fi short, Entangled (2014).

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Why is the Toronto International Film Festival important to the Canadian film industry in particular?

I think it provides a really incredible networking opportunity for Canadian filmmakers to have so many people from the international film community in our city. And so many Canadian films get such a limited distribution, it’s an opportunity for the ones programmed at the festival to be seen by not only other industry professionals, but by regular movie-goers, as well. I think the exposure for short films is especially valuable.

Out of all the years you have attended TIFF, which moment stands out as a favourite?

In 2008, I unexpectedly ended up on a red carpet with Ellen Burstyn—who I’d worked with a couple of years earlier on The Stone Angel—at the gala premiere of The Loss of A Teardrop Diamond. I thought I was going to be meeting her manager for a ticket and head in with the rest of the regular audience, but they pulled me into the car and before I knew it I was on the carpet with her. I was completely underdressed and carrying a Toronto Public Library tote bag. Photographers obviously assumed I was some sort of assistant and kept shouting “brown jacket!” at me, which meant “move, we can’t see Ellen!” It was my first time in that kind of red carpet environment with someone of that level of stardom… very surreal.

What inspired your career path, and when were you positive that the world of film was for you?

I wanted to work in film since I started watching movies as a kid, but when I went to university to train as an actor, I turned into a total theatre geekthat really held my heart and my focus for a long time. But, my love for film slowly and steadily returned, as I worked more and more in this industry.

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In your personal experience, would you say that female professionals working in film and television receive equal treatment in comparison to the industry’s male professionals? 

No. That this is even a question means that we are not receiving equal treatment in the industry. No one would ever ask me how I feel about having a female dentist, you know? I look forward to the day when this isn’t even a conversation anymore because it will have become so run-of-the-mill. My first film job was The Stone Angel directed by Kari Skogland, and because I was brand new to film, there was nothing remotely unusual to me about having a female director. Now, ten years later, knowing how infrequently it actually happens, when I have a female director, I notice it. It shouldn’t be something I notice.

What film is at the top of your must-see list at this year’s TIFF? 

I am looking forward to Below Her Mouth by fellow Birks Tribute honouree, April Mullen.

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