TIFF 2018: Ekran Talk’s to Polish-Canadian Filmmaker Aaron Ries
It’s that time of year again! The Toronto International Film Festival is gracing our city and we are beyond excited for this year’s selection of impeccable filmmaking. TIFF has a reputation as being a launching pad for many Oscar winners. Our favourite to date is 2015’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida. Pawlikowski returns to Toronto this year to screen his latest, Zimna Wojna (Cold War). Zimna Wojna won Best Director this year at Cannes.
Besides having our eye on Zimna Wojna, we are watching the short film Dziadzio. This independent and dark comic drama is a creation by Polish-Canadian filmmaker Aaron Ries. Ries is bang on with his 12 minute film depicting 20-something year old Stefania living in the Canadian burbs with her elderly Dziadzio. The cultural and generational tension between the two at times makes us cringe and is can be embarrassingly relatable.
Ekran had the chance to chat with Ries about his film and what it’s like to have Dzidzio debut at TIFF 2018.
Ekran: So why did you make a film about a 22 year old college student living with her Dziadzio? What’s the inspiration behind it?
Ries: I lived with my Dziadzio one summer during university in North York. It was a great summer, and I love him very much. While I was there I was inspired by the landscape of North York, and intrigued by the idea of setting a story there. The expansive landscape of endless concrete, streets of quiet houses, furious highways and yet still expansive nature was at both times beautiful and haunting. Unlike what you’d expect a suburb to feel like, North York is alive and buzzing with energy and change, that is distinct from the downtown core of Toronto. The narrative of a young woman living with her Polish grandfather, and the lonely fantasy she slips into came out while writing. For myself, as a Polish Canadian, who’s been immersed in Polish culture since birth, but never been there, I drew on the idea of heritage that connects the children of immigrants with their homeland, and their unique view of it, living in another country from a removed perspective. That idea is a central force to the story of the film. North York and the other inner Toronto suburbs are full of stories, that we don’t often see on screen – despite being some of the places that make Toronto so unique. People from all around the world have made it home, living in a community that is like any other in the world.
Ekran:TIFF 2018 is the film’s world premiere! Where were you when you found out the good news that the film was accepted into the festival? What happens to your film after it’s screened at TIFF?
Ries: I was at a lake preparing to go for a swim when I found out that we were accepted to TIFF, and it took my by serious surprise. I am so thankful to the programmers at TIFF – Lisa Haller, Jason Anderson with Anita Tavakol – for supporting Dziadzio, and believing in this short. It’s an honour to premiere the film in Toronto, the city in which it was set and shot, in front of a hometown audience. Even more, I’m humbled that we’ll play at a Festival with exceptional films from around the world, and one that I’ve enjoyed as a film goer for many years.
After the Festival we aim to screen at a number of Festivals around Canada, Europe and the United States. Specifically, we hope that this film will be able to play for audiences in Poland, so fingers crossed.
Ekran:What advice do you have for any young/aspiring directors who want to get their film into TIFF?
Ries: Creating a short film without the support of large financial resources is hard, but a very possible endeavour. As a filmmaker trying to make a short film, I think it’s important to just go out and do it if that’s what you want. I don’t claim to have it figured out at all, because I am a beginner myself (this is my first short film), but for me, working with a team that shares the vision of the film, and strives to create something to be proud of worked very well. Dziadzio was created as a collaboration with many people who I admire, trust and who’s creativity enlarged the scope of the film beyond anything I could dream.
Ekran:Your film is only 10 minutes. Was it hard to edit? Are there any scenes that you had to leave out of the film that you’re still thinking about today? Can you tell us about it?
Ries: We edited the film at length and over several months. The editor – John Gallagher – did a fantastic job of crafting this story, and brought its energy to life. The editing process took us through many phases of reforming and tweaking the story to what we thought was it’s best form – and in that process we had to cut several great scenes out, to serve the overall narrative. Stefania and Dziadzio had more conversations, at length in the car and later at dinner that we were sad to see cut, but in the end worked better for the story we were trying to tell.
Ekran: Did your ACTUAL Dziadzio see the film? What are his thoughts?
Ries: He has seen it, and enjoyed it. I was worried because it’s not a film that would normally be in his tastes – but he enjoyed the ride and appreciated all the details about how a production like this was made. It was nerve-racking to make a film that was inspired by my family experiences – although it’s plots are completely fiction – but they have been very supportive.
Ekran: Any other films at TIFF 2018 you’re looking forward to see? Give us your top 3.
Ries: Jasmin Mozaffari’s feature debut Firecrackers is going to be an absolute riot – a story about two girls trying to escape their oppressive small Ontario town is going to be real and raw in a way we’re not used to seeing Canada portrayed in film.
Peter Strickland’s film In Fabric, the follow-up to the incredible The Duke of Burgundy is a World Premiere and he has consistently created the eeriest, spookiest film playing on screens in the last several years and it looks like the only way he can go is up.
My Boy – a Quebec short film about a young boy tagging along on his older brothers bachelor party – is another one I’m excited about. Quebec cinema is always ambitious and raw and I’m excited to see this short film continue that tradition.