The top film directors from Toronto prove this city is rich in cinematic excellence in more ways than just TIFF. From mainstream movies to indie classics, the cinematic contributions made by our city's most eminent filmmakers owe much to Toronto's thriving film community, a little bit to luck, and that rare flicker of greatness.
Here are my picks for the top 10 film directors from Toronto.
Forty years of consistently shocking, original and challenging films including A History of Violence, Dead Ringers and The Fly is what puts David Cronenberg at the top of this list. Cronenberg also founded the Toronto Film Co-op with Ivan Reitman, and is a staunch supporter of Telefilm Canada and government funded film projects. He has received the Cannes Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2014 was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. We're still waiting for his park.
Norman Jewison is perhaps the most highly acclaimed Canadian filmmaker of all time. He began his film career as an assistant director at the CBC and in the four decades since has directed 42 feature films including In The Heat of the Night, The Hurricane and Moonstruck. The director's legacy has been cemented with his films receiving 46 Oscar nominations including 12 wins.
Stylistic and moody, the films of Atom Egoyan embody Canadian art-house cinema. Early films like The Adjuster and Speaking Parts gained him international attention, and his non-linear narrative style was refined with Exotica and won the International Critics Prize at Cannes. The Sweet Hereafter is Egoyan's most critically successful film earning a Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director nod at the Oscars.
Over the course of her 25 year career, Mehta has proven herself to be a master storyteller presenting characters in lush, emotional landscapes punctuated with rich details and vibrant cinematography. Her debut feature Sam & Me was a runner up for the Camera d'Or at Cannes, and Water, the final installment in her Elements Trilogy garnered nine Genie nominations and an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
Born in Kingston, Bruce MacDonald attended North Albion Highschool. Feature films like Roadkill, Highway 61, and Hard Core Logo have established him as the King of the Canadian Road Movie. He directed the Broken Social Scene pseudo-concert doc This Movie is Broken, and 2008's Pontypool was nominated for three Genies including Best Director. More than anything MacDonald is, perhaps, the punk-rock of Canadian cinema.
Intelligent, poised, focused - these words can be used to describe Sarah Polley's acting as much as the films she's directed. Her debut film, Away From Her received eight Genie awards. She followed this with the charming, set-in-Toronto romance, Take This Waltz and her documentary Stories We Tell which won Best Feature Length Documentary at the Genies and gained international praise. Polley has proven herself to be a deft, accomplished storyteller. Her directing career has only just begun.
Born in Czechoslovakia but raised in Toronto, Ivan Reitman and business partner Dan Goldberg were the first Canadians to be convicted under Canada's decency laws for producing a movie called Columbus of Sex. They were fined $300. This smut-pioneer went on to direct Stripes, Ghostbusters, Twins, and Kindergarten Cop - collectively known as the best movies ever made. He helped launch the careers of Eugene Levy and Bill Murray, and made Arnold Schwarzenegger (intentionally) funny.
Born in Montreal, Ruba Nadda attended York University. After taking a six-week film production course at the Tisch School in New York, she began her career with a series of 13 short films produced between 1997 and 2004, which have been shown in over 500 festivals around the world. Among her four feature-length films, Cairo Time starring Patricia Clarkson took home the Best Canadian Feature Film award at TIFF and was the best-reviewed romance on Rotten Tomatoes in 2010.
Born in Toronto and more or less a fixture in Parkdale, Don McKellar began his career writing, directing, and acting in plays as part of the Augusta Company - a theatre group he founded alongside Daniel Brooks and the late, great Tracy Wright. His directorial debut, Last Night collected many awards and accolades including the Toronto Film Critics Award for Best Canadian Film. He's directed two features since, Childstar, and The Grand Seduction.
Michael Snow creates challenging works of avant-garde cinema - non-narrative pieces that toy with conceptions of time and space. His 1967 structural film, Wavelength is plainly referred to as one of the greatest underground art-house films ever made, and was designated as a masterwork by the (now defunct) Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada. He's made 23 films over his 50-plus year career.
Toronto native Allan Dwan helped lay the foundation of modern cinema. His 50-year career (directing over 400 films) encompassed the silent-era, the advent of talkies, and extended well into the epic Technicolor-productions of post-war Hollywood. His directing career includes iconic classics - Robin Hood (1922) with Douglas Fairbanks, Heidi (1937) starring Shirley Temple, and perhaps his most famous, Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) starring John Wayne.
Who did I miss? Add other notable Toronto film directors to the comments.
Photo: Julian Carrington
Where would Toronto be without the contributions of Timothy Eaton, Robert Simpson, William Davies, Henry Pellatt, or Ed Mirvish? It's hard to say, but we would all be worse off were it not for the success of their businesses or the timing of their financial investments.
Some of the names on this will be familiar, others less so, but their legacies are still tangible. Toronto has streetcars, its downtown mall, and one of its defining foodstuffs thanks to the input of these early businessmen.
Here are 5 early entrepreneurs who helped shape Toronto.
Timothy Eaton: a national chain of stores and, eventually, the Eaton Centre.
Raised on a farm in present day Northern Ireland, Timothy Eaton set up shop on Yonge St. in 1869 after running a general store with his brother in St. Marys, Ont. Following a brief flirtation with the wholesale business, Eaton established what would become a national retail empire at 178 Yonge Street, just south of Queen. Eaton opened his flagship store at Queen and Yonge in 1883 where he grew his company into a Canadian social institution. Eaton died suddenly in 1907 at the age of 72, but his business lived on until 1999.
Henry Pellatt: electricity and streetcars.
Sir. Henry Pellatt's most conspicuous contribution to Toronto was his massive and ridiculous mansion, Casa Loma, which he was able to build thanks to numerous shrewd investments. He and a group of businessmen provided vital early funds to the Toronto Electric Light Company, the city's first electricity company, which in turn made it possible for the city to adopt electric streetcars. According to the Star, Pellatt lived "primarily for his own self-aggrandizement" and sometimes operated unethically or illegally. He died in 1939 with just $85 to his name.
Robert Simpson: another national chain and one of Toronto's great downtown buildings.
Eaton's arch rival Robert Simpson was, it appears, also his polar opposite. While Eaton was a religious teetotaller, Simpson, according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, was a heavy drinker. The two businessmen followed similar trajectories: both were born outside Canada and were at the helm of failed businesses before finding success. Simpson's flagship store, which still stands, used for face Eaton's directly across Queen St. Its founder died in 1897 and, like Eaton's, the company name survived until the 1990s.
William Davies: peameal bacon and the Hogtown name.
Today, William Davies isn't a household name, but his Don Valley stockyards may have been responsible for Toronto acquiring becoming "Hogtown" (either that or it was an insult from the smaller towns of Ontario.) The William Davies Company was one of Canada's largest exporters of meat in the early 1900s, and their peameal bacon was particularly popular. Davies is also credited as being the first food producer in Canada to operate a retail store division, "Davies' Stores." He died in 1920, aged 90, weeks after being kicked by a goat.
Honest Ed: a discount department store and a revived theatre district.
"Honest" Ed Mirvish was best known for his eccentric discount department store at Bloor and Bathurst, but his contribution to the city's theatre industry was immeasurable. Born in Virginia to Lithuanian Jewish parents, larger-than-life Mirvish opened his famous store in 1948 and used the considerable proceeds to, among many other things, save the Royal Alexandra Theatre on from demolition. He built the Princess of Wales Theatre in 1993 and is widely credited with spurring the revitalization of the King West strip between Spadina and University. He died in 2007 aged 92.
Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.
Images: City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library, X 66-25
Free events in Toronto this week will let you mix cult and culture in a way that only the truly strapped for cash can appreciate. Gallery TPW's Photorama 2014 photo exhibit will pay their bills for most of the year, but it's free for anyone to check out. Then, did you know Unlovable has a Twin Peaks mural? It doesn't anymore after this week, so go take a backwards selfie. Sunday offers cheesy movies galore, and fans of classical music and indie lit will have plenty to do.
Here's what you'll find yourself stuffing plastic bags in your boots for in Toronto this week.
Also check out these regular free events
Do you want everyone to know about your kinda random free or pay-what-you-can event? Submit it to our event section. (You can also submit your for-money events here, greedy-pants.)
After spending some time tooling around Toronto in the Pretty Sweet "mobile cupcakery", baker Savera Hashmi has settled into a new space at Bathurst and Eglinton. In addition to some delicious cupcakes and a selection of cookies and brownies, the bakery whips up cakes that range from classic to elaborate.
Read my profile of The Pursuit of Frosting in the bakeries section.
Dance party promoters in Toronto are the unsung heroes of the electronic scene. The DJs and producers get the glory, but they need people to organize events, find venues, create that elusive vibe, book talent, and fill the dance floors with sweaty bodies. There may have been a time in the distant past when you could count on finding a great party any weekend at certain select clubs, but a better strategy is to familiarize yourself with the people throwing the events, and trust that the crooked alley they've directed you to will have a dark room full of bass.
Too often, promoters are seen by some dancers as greedy parasites leeching off the scene. In reality nothing would exist without crazy visionaries willing to gamble their savings on flying in a DJ, securing visas, renting warehouses, hiring security, investing in massive sound systems, decor, and lighting, and all the other unglamorous jobs that make a night on the dance floor memorable. In many cases these folks are balancing full time day jobs with their nightlife activities, so keep that in mind next time you're complaining about cover charge.
The mainstream EDM scene is so big now that even your grandmother probably knows about the giant corporate festivals thrown by promoters like Electronic Nation and Ink. If you're looking to go a bit deeper into the underground and want to check out the larger world of dance music, though, familiarize yourself with the people who help make Toronto's party scene so diverse and vibrant.
Mansion have come a long way since their early days throwing the Happy Endings parties at dim sum restaurants. They've grown to become Toronto's top party promoters by continuing to search out unconventional event spaces, booking cutting edge talent, putting a lot of work into visuals, and bringing together multiple generations of partiers by collaborating with other promoters through their Foundry series. Their impressively consistent events prove that high end production values can coexist with a DIY attitude.
Their weekly Sunday afternoon parties on Cherry Beach each summer have become a Toronto institution, and while veterans who've been going since they started 13 years ago might feel conflicted about EDM superstars like Skrillex unexpectedly playing guest sets, the fact that their events continue to grow after all this time tells you they're doing something right. They've also continued to throw sporadic warehouse parties throughout the colder months, and have become integral partners in the legendary annual Harvest Festival.
You could argue that Embrace are more concert bookers than party promoters, but no one else brings this sheer amount of quality electronic acts each week. They've also been smart to join forces with smaller promoters, as well as forge strong relationships with venues like Coda, the Danforth Music Hall, the Hoxton, Wrongbar, and other rooms, not to mention running events across North America. Embrace have also mastered the complicated art of throwing large scale outdoor events, and helped make the Electric Island series one of the highlights of the last two summers.
Breakandenter started throwing intimate loft parties back in 2007, and continue to specialize in finding venues off the beaten path. They draw inspiration from the old school of Toronto's underground, but attract techno and house fans of all ages. Like many of the promoters on this list, they've also seen the value of collaboration, especially when it comes to throwing larger events, but also make sure to regularly host intimate jams for the heads.
Box of Kittens
Box of Kittens started out throwing small invite-only warehouse parties, but it's been a long time since their events were that exclusive and private. Not only do they organize club and loft events in Toronto, but they've also expanded to regularly hosting parties in Berlin, where founding member DJ Hali has since relocated. Their Sunday Afternoon Social parties prove that daytime dancing doesn't have to feel like a sketchy afterhours.
There was once a time in Toronto when it seemed like you could find somewhere to dance to rare soul, Latin, jazz, and funk every night of the week, but these days if you're looking for classic organic dance music your best bet is Turning Point. Host and resident DJ A Man Called Warwick has created a very tight knit community vibe, and the monthly party at the Garrison always attract a crowd looking to dance to his trademark "tropical funk" sounds.
Every Thursday Archi-textures takes over Round, bringing together a colourful crowd of partiers reminiscent of the kinds of friendly hippy ravers you used to only see at Promise parties. They cater to an eclectic range of sounds, and also host the annual springtime festival Land-scapes at a remote site in Northern Ontario.
You'll see their name attached to many quality events at Coda these days, but Platform have long been involved in presenting house and techno events at clubs around town (not to mention events on boats and beaches), and are also partners in Electric Island. Like many on this list, much of their strength comes from their willingness to collaborate with others to put together bigger parties than they could on their own.
When the Hotnuts crew first started throwing parties at the Beaver, there was barely enough room for the elaborate psychedelic drag queen outfits, let alone space to dance. Now that they've moved to the Garrison their events are still always busy, and still as delightfully weird and defiantly queer as ever. A healthy reminder that house music is meant to be a bit transgressive.
Originally a collaboration between Dmoney, the Faktory, and 92BPM, the Galapagos series has evolved into its own identity, focusing on modern electronic sounds that don't always fall neatly into any one particular genre. They now work closely with Embrace, and can always be counted on to bring forward-thinking contemporary sounds to the dance floor.
Winter on the Toronto Islands is a whole lot quieter than the summer months, when city dwellers looking for a temporary escape make the short trek across the harbour in droves. While the number of ferries servicing the Islands dwindle in mid-October, the trip to Ward's Island is still made consistently throughout the day. Once you arrive, you'll find that attractions like the Centreville Amusement Park have closed for the season, but if you're adventurous enough and do some advance planning, there's actually still lots to do when the crowds have left for the season.
Here are the top five things to on the Toronto Islands in the winter.
Cross country skiing
There are trails spread all across the Islands that dedicated cross country skiers make good use of throughout the winter. As beautiful as most of these are, the highlight of gliding across this winter wonderland is the looming skyline across the harbour. The juxtaposition is irresistible, and it's impossible not to think that you're in on a secret that the rest of the city just doesn't know about.
Far Enough Farm
While the Centreville Amusement Park closes for the season, Far Enough Farm is open 365 days of the year, allowing visitors to interact with its animals, which range from horses and donkeys to alpaca and black swans. It's obviously a hike to get to the farm, but it's well stocked if you make the trip.
There's no shortage of outdoor skating options in Toronto, but the vast majority are on artificial ice. That's not so bad when the temperature rises, but a natural skating experience still carries with it significant allure. Skating on the inner harbour is dangerous except during the coldest of winters, but the lagoons around the Islands are a better bet, and the locals have plenty of experience in determining when the ice is thick enough.
Artscape Gibraltar Point artist residences
The artist residence program at Gibraltar Point is year around, and if it's true seclusion you're after, there's no better time than winter to hunker down and work on that manuscript you've been plugging away at. There are both programmed and self-directed options available, but do bear in mind that you'll need to apply for acceptance to both.
Stay at a B&B
Almost all of the bed & breakfasts on the Islands are open year round. A few of them even feature separate studio/apartment spaces if you're looking for ultimate privacy. Prices typically range between hover between $100 and $150 per night, which is actually quite good given what you'll pay for a downtown hotel. The accommodations might not be as nice as on the mainland, but the experience is certainly unique.
Add your suggestions for things to do on the Islands during the winter in the comments.
Photo by Patrick Dell in the blogTO Flickr pool
Toronto, Ont. getting you down? Why not seek out a new Toronto, one on the shore of a saltwater lake in the near the Pacific Ocean, maybe. Or perhaps another amid gently rolling verdant countryside in the north of England. If not, there are plenty of small towns in the United States (emphasis on small) using the Toronto name.
It's safe to say every other Toronto in the world is named for our Toronto. This city derives its name from a Mohawk word used to describe an area where trees grow in shallow water, anglicized variously as: "Tkaronto," "Taronto," and "Taranteau" before the current spelling was decided in the 1830s.
Here are 5 other Torontos of varying quality for your next trip.
Toronto, New South Wales, Australia
Australia's version of Toronto is by far the most exotic location on this list. Located on beautiful Lake Macquarie, the largest saltwater lake in the southern hemisphere, the town of about 5,000 people is roughly 150 kms north of Sydney. The town acquired was named in honour of champion rower Ned Hanlan (think Hanlan's Point,) who visited the area in 1884. The main attraction in Toronto, NSW is the annual Classic Boat Fest.
Toronto, County Durham, England
Just down the A689 from Bishop Aukland lies England's version of Ontario's capital city. It's almost entirely residential, save for a couple of small churches, and it appears most of the town's appeal is in its picturesque location close to the River Wear. An anecdote on the town's Wikipedia page claims the town got its name when a landowner, visiting our Toronto, was sent word coal had been found beneath the town. Toronto, Kansas makes the same claim. Other towns nearby: Quebec, Philadelphia, Deaf Hill, No Place, and Pity Me.
Toronto, Kansas, USA
One might call Toronto, Kansas cute if it wasn't so run down. Main St. is populated by a seniors centre, post office, liquor store, cafe, library, and restaurant, but there are many more vacant lots and shuttered stores. Artificial Toronto Lake and the exotic sounding "Toronto Point Public Use Area" lie just to the south. The bright lights of Wichita are only an hour and a half away.
Toronto, Ohio, USA
The Gem City is about an hour outside Pittsburgh on the west bank of the Ohio River. It's a small community of about 5,000 people (challenging Toronto, Australia for second city status) with its own police force, fire department, high school, and, until it closed, its own National Bank of Toronto. As Sean Marshall reports at Spacing, the town was given its name by a local businessman born in Toronto, Ont. He said our city "a place worth emulating."
Toronto, South Dakota, USA
If Toronto, Kansas sounds too exotic, there's always Toronto, South Dakota, which is truly in the middle of nowhere. The skyline is populated by a water tower and several impressive grain silos, and not much else. There are lots and lots of fields. At last count, the population was 213, up from 202 in 2000. Toronto, South Dakota is also 93 percent white.
Bonus: The Toronto space
"In mathematics, in the realm of point-set topology, a Toronto space is a topological space that is homeomorphic to every proper subspace of the same cardinality." Bonus points for understanding any part of that sentence.
Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.
In 2012, Wendy Smith became curious about the owner of the laneway behind her Harbord Village home. After digging through the provincial property records, Smith came up with a name: "F. W. Jarvis." One of her neighbours, she assumed, because the same person also owned the narrow alleys in the Victorian terrace.
What Smith found out about the mysterious F. W. Jarvis and the history of early Toronto became the inspiration for a Heritage Toronto Award-winning interactive map of the city, The Toronto Park Lot Project.
"It turns out that F. W. Jarvis was sheriff Frederick William Jarvis, who died in the 1870s," Smith says. "He was a cousin of [assistant secretary of Upper Canada] Jarvis and the well-known Jarvis clan [of Jarvis St.] That got me curious ... everything I read game me more questions."
Launched in 2012, Smith's map overlays modern Toronto with insightful historical morsels discovered in the course her research, like the location of lost creeks, the ancient shoreline of Lake Iroqouis, the original 10-block street grid between Adelaide, Front, Jarvis, and Berkeley, and First Nations portage trails.
"It's historical geography," Smith says. "This project was always for me a study guide. I have a couple of books I'm working on ... and as I learned stuff I put it on the map to help me remember it and to put some visual aids to what I was learning ... as I get interested in something, it goes up on the map."
The Park Lot Project gets its name from the 32 narrow fingers of land that were granted to important members of Upper Canada society in the late 1790s. The rural 100-acre plots were only about 200 metres wide, but each one stretched between modern day Queen and Bloor streets, a distance of about 2.1 kms.
The park lots were granted by York founder John Graves Simcoe and his successor, Peter Russell, in an attempt to lure worthies to set up home in the town. For a time, Queen was called Lot Street after the pieces of land, which were eventually subdivided and sold off.
Smith's map allows users to add and remove overlays, making it possible to compare the park lots with the current street grid and important historical landmarks. Those interested in the various lost waterways of Toronto will find a rich source of information, so too will those curious about the origins of street names. It's a great tool to just play with.
If you like it, Smith says, consider donating. Web hosting and other fees tend to add up. Information is welcome, too.
"Sometimes people click the contact button and send me information about their family, their neighbourhood, a little bit of history that they grew up with. I really love those days."
Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.