All aboard the bus to TIFF!
Bus Stop Films Ambassador Joni Campbell shares her experience attending Toronto International Film Festival for Kids (TIFF Kids)
I was invited to attend Toronto International Film Festival for Kids (TIFF Kids) for 5 days from Tuesday 6th March until Sunday 11th to take part in a Q&A Session with Genevieve Clay-Smith about the Inclusive Film Making program run by Bus Stop Films. I was also lucky enough to be able to bring my Dad along and share the experience with him.
Our first event in Toronto was attending the Speakers Dinner, which is where the festival organisers and all the industry people presenting at the two day TIFF Kids Industry Forum got together. It was a wonderful evening with delicious food and wonderful company and a great start to an amazing trip.
During the week both my Dad and I went to the TIFF cinema. We saw a collection of short films under the category “Where I Fit” which was aimed at ages 12-13. The films were about young people exploring identity and diversity, often under challenging circumstances. We got to watch the films with a number of school groups who were visiting TIFF Kids on a school excursion. At the end of the program of films the children had the opportunity to ask the filmmakers themselves about the films they had just seen. The films were all very interesting and the children asked lots of questions.
We also watched another collection of short films under the category of “Adventures Around The World” where Genevieve Clay-Smith’s short film “Inclusion Makes The World More Vibrant” premiered. It was a beautiful film about a little boy whose mum is vision impaired and how, during a visit to an art gallery, he is able to bring the art works to life with his words for his mother to enjoy. It was extremely touching and don’t think there was a single person in the theatre who didn’t shed a few tears.
On the Thursday Genevieve gave the keynote address on the Inclusive Film Making program run by Bus Stop Films, at the end of which I took part in a Q&A session with Genevieve. I was a bit nervous before hand but once I got on the stage I gave it my all and had so much energy. In the documentary “I am Black and Beautiful” the roles that I took part in were direction, first assistant director, and production designing. My favourite was directing as I was able to help out the actors if they forgot their lines or just needed someone to make them feel comfortable and relaxed. It was such an amazing project to be part of. I really enjoyed the Q&A and received such lovely feedback. After the Q&A, I had the chance to have a well-earned glass of wine and talk to people from the film industry – an amazing opportunity to connect with industry professionals who were really interested in me and Bus Stop and the film making course. I also had another opportunity to connect with my inner child when having fun with interactive exhibits created from people from around the world in the TIFF Kids “Digi-Space”.
Part of our research for making our documentary “I am Black and Beautiful” involved watching the film “War Dance”. It is a documentary about children about children growing up in war torn Uganda who take part in a music competition. The film featured three young teenagers, Dominic Akena who was a talented xylophone player, Nancy who was a phenomenal dancer and Rose who sang like an angel. They each had very hard childhoods and experienced many heart wrenching things, yet the way they remained so positive and managed to have a smile on their face, I found truly inspirational. Sarah Jane Johnson and Hawanatu Bangura organised a surprise meeting with Dominic, who is now living in Toronto. It was a beautiful moment and I was fortunate to sit down and chat with him for an hour and learn more about his life in Uganda and his new life in Canada. He was telling me how he didn’t have much of an education and it makes him really sad when he hears people complain about having to go to school. It was really fantastic to meet someone who I had got to know from a film and find out that they were just as inspirational in real life and were continuing to do many amazing things. It is a moment that I will remember forever.
Later that night we also got close and personal with REAL huskies that were promoting the film ‘White Fang” which was the opening film of the festival. They were as gorgeous as ever and enjoyed a bit of a cuddle.
On the Friday we all went to the Sesame Street Pitch. It was an opportunity for people to give a short presentation on their ideas for a segment on Sesame Street. It was great listen to everyone’s suggestions and they were all so different and very talented. I knew one of the people doing a pitch, Daniel Fernandes, whom we had met at the Speakers Dinner earlier in the week. His idea was to present a man dressed up as a girl because there are little boys out there that like to dress up in girls’ clothes and wear their mothers’ lipstick and he wants those boys to know that there is a place they can go, feel safe and express themselves. It’s hard to choose which pitcher was my favourite, as they were all so passionate. The Film producer for Sesame Street, Kimberly Wright, was at the pitch and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet her at the Speakers Dinner. I thoroughly enjoyed attending my first pitch.
On our last full day in Toronto, Hawanatu, Sarah, Genevieve, her husband Henry, my dad and I spent a full day out exploring Niagara Falls which was just mind blowing. We wanted to go out on the boat under the falls but couldn’t as the weather was just way too cold but instead got to walk in the tunnels behind, and at the bottom of, the falls. We all had an amazing time learning about and observing these beautiful falls. Something interesting that I learnt about the falls was that 154 million litres of water flows over the brink of the falls every minute – which is a whole lot of water!! We also brought out our inner child whilst playing in the snow, having the occasional snowball fight. After the falls we went to a wine tasting and tried what they call “ice wine” which is dessert wine made from frozen grapes. What a great day we all had.
On the Sunday morning before my Dad and I caught the plane back to Sydney we went up the CN tower which was 145 floors high. Of course we didn’t walk up all the floor, we took an express lift all the way to the top. The views were unbelievable and it was amazing being up so high. On one of the levels you could walk on the glass and see everything through them. We learnt that the surface of the glass is built to withstand the weight of 14 hippos. It was freezing when we walked around outside, but managed to conquer it and take a selfie. This was a great way to end our trip.
Recently Genevieve asked me to be an Ambassador for Bus Stop Films. I feel incredibly honoured and privileged and look forward to the opportunity to share all that I have experienced as a student at Bus Stop and the positive impact it has had on my life. I have always believed that having a disability doesn’t mean you can’t do it and you should never let it define you and stand in the way of your hopes and dreams.
When Genevieve told me I was going to TIFF, I couldn’t believe it and thought I was dreaming. I was so exciting and just busting to go as I’ve never been to a film festival and whilst I’ve travelled overseas several times, I’ve never to Toronto or Canada. So it was very exciting for me and a pretty big deal.
The best part of the trip for me was having the wonderful opportunity of meeting Dominic Akena, participating in the Q&A with Genevieve and exploring Niagara Falls.
The trip was also a real eye opener, demonstrating that in this industry you often start off doing small things and you never know where it may lead to or where you will end up.
By Joni Campbell
Joni’s Dad Pete, sums up his thoughts about TIFF!
What an experience! Joni and I were made to feel welcome from the moment we arrived and throughout the festival we were challenged, engaged, educated and got to see some really good children’s cinema, some of which really pushed the boundaries. We also got to see how these films were received by their intended audience (i.e. school children) by taking part in the Q&A sessions with the Film’s producers following the screening of the films.
Joni in particular got to meet many interesting and talented people and gained some appreciation for the things that go on before a cast and crew is ever assembled and after the filming is finished. We found that all the delegates were not only very friendly but were very open to sharing their thoughts and ideas which created a great collaborative atmosphere that permeated throughout the Festival.
It was with a real sense of pride that I got to see Joni take part in the Q&A Session following Genevieve’s Keynote address at the festival, spreading the word about the Inclusive Film Making Program run by Bus Stop Films. The presentation and Q&A Session were very well received as evidence by the many follow-up discussions that were had with people from all across the industry.
The organising team behind TIFF Kids should be congratulated for putting on such a well-run, informative and enjoyable event.
Thanks Joni and Pete for sharing your experience with us!!!