A One Minute Film? That's TUFF!

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There’s a lot more than a vowel separating TUFF from TIFF. The Toronto Urban Film Festival will see its share of line-ups but they’ll be on subway platforms where the short-listed one-minute films will be looping for the next week and a half. Eighty films in eight categories explore the urban experience from a variety of perspectives: The City is a Poem, The Emotional City and The Medium is the Message, are three of the quirkier themes.

Each category was whittled down and in a sense curated by a filmmaker who then passed their top 10 picks on to this year’s guest judge, Deepa Mehta, who selected overall winners. “In the past, the grand prize hasn’t always been chosen from the shortlist,” explains Toronto-based documentary filmmaker Min Sook Lee, above, who elected to screen the Urban Ideas and Politics category.

“What struck me was the populist messaging and I thought that was kind of cool,” says Lee. “There’s something about the platform itself that is really appealing and I think some people made work with that in mind.”

Lee confesses that she’s not sure she could make a one-minute film: “A trailer maybe,” she jokes. “It’s a really big challenge to create something so concise, without sound, that’s coherent, that packs a punch and is memorable. There are some obvious pitfalls — you don’t want to make a public service announcement — but there were some really strong, vibrant and original entries. I found it invigorating.”

Lee was pleased to see that a number of entries explored issues surrounding the G20 summit in Toronto earlier this year. “The summit really polarized some neighbourhoods and unified others,” recalls the juror. “It’s something that commuters, people who live in the city, people from outside the city, should still be talking about long after the event has disappeared off our streets. I think it’s great that the G20 got us discussing the larger issues about what we want our city to stand for, what we want our city to look like, and what values are important for us to protect.”

I’ve interviewed local filmmakers who praise Toronto’s strong independent film scene, which includes resources and support unimaginable in many other communities. But it’s a view that Lee only partly endorses.

“It’s very hard to be a filmmaker anywhere,” she stresses. “It’s a real luxury to be able to make films; I’ve been living and working as a filmmaker for a decade and I feel so privileged because it’s not easy financially. If you’re going to take a vow of poverty in exchange for pursuing life as an artist then that’s one thing; but if you want to have a family and try and live a life that’s comparable to how other people around you seem to be living . . . it’s not easy.

“I think the support and funding for the arts councils is constantly being challenged and as artists we’re constantly forced to justify our voices and the work that we do. At the same time, Toronto as a source of material is amazing because it’s constantly being replenished. Every time I leave the city and come back I’m reminded how much Toronto feeds my soul. We have so many of the ingredients that make a city great without too many of the structural problems that make some large cities a bit defeating. I think the scale of Toronto makes it very liveable.”

See for yourself on a subway platform screen beginning tomorrow thru September 20 or view the shorts online at the TUFF website.

In 2010 Sook Min Lee released her latest documentary, Badge of Pride, a look at gay cops in Canada. Lee’s documentary The Real MASH starring Jamie Farr, Loretta Swit, Gary Burghoff and the real men and woman of the Korean War’s Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals premieres on History Television Monday, October 11 at 9 pm, repeating Tuesday, October 12 at 8 pm.

WRITTEN BY CHRISTOPHER JONES