Interview with Festival Director Henry C.M. Wong (Toronto Youth Shorts Festival)

Toronto Youth Shorts is a spotlight showcase of cinematic short form content created by young emerging artists in the Greater Toronto and Southern Ontario Area. Each year, the festival acts as a professional forum for these young artists to engage their peers and the industry whilegrowing their professional profiles through learning and networking opportunities. An industry jury hands out the annual festival awards that come with production prizes. Behind the scenes, Toronto Youth Shorts is run by a volunteer force of savvy young professionals with a combination of training in the arts, event management, marketing, and media.

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Interview with Henry C.M. Wong:

Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers? 

Henry C.M. Wong: Toronto Youth Shorts primarily serves the young filmmaking crowd of the Greater Toronto and Southern Ontario area. A lot of our participants are either students or young graduates getting their start in the industry and Toronto Youth Shorts act as a platform for them to see what the market is like. We invite established pros each year to give the filmmakers feedback on their work so the festival is also a great learning opportunity for them.

MT: What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2016)?  

HW: As an emerging filmmaker showing your film at Toronto Youth Shorts, there will be many opportunities for you to engage your peers, the industry, and potentially win cash prizes and production services toward their next project. As an audience, you will see what the future of the industry looks like through the lens of a young person in the city. The content we show tends to be raw, provocative, whimsical, and emotionally engaging and I predict this year’s lineup to be the same.

MT: What are the qualifications for the selected films?  

HW: For Toronto Youth Shorts, you have to be 30 years old or younger and your film must be 20 minutes or under. Any genre is accepted. Other than your typical drama, comedy, animation, and documentary pieces, we’ve screened video art, web series, news type pieces, experimental works, music videos, and PSAs. Content is becoming more and more of a blur that these distinctions don’t really matter anymore in a festival cinematic context.

MT: Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?  

HW: I don’t think that’s a fair statement to make. Just looking at Toronto as an example, there are hundreds of submissions-based events with different mandates and programming sensibilities. Even two festivals working within the same genre space will not be identical. Sure, there are some big events like TIFF and Hot Docs that are extremely competitive but overall, with the available platforms there are out there, a good film with audience appeal will likely find a home somewhere.

MT: What motivates you and your team to do this festival?  

HW: I enjoy the engagement with these young artists. It’s great to see content that’s different from your standard wide-release made on almost nonexistent budgets with a local touch.

MT: How has the festival changed since its inception?  

HW: I was a student in my postgraduate program when I started this festival. My personal and professional growth since have certainly influenced the way the event is structured. I look at films from that demographic a lot differently than when I first started and my tastes have certainly evolved. But I have a wonderful dedicated team that ensures there is an array of viewpoints and perspectives involved when choosing the films.
Our program is bigger than before due to the accessibility of the artform. The work we show is more daring and bold than it has ever been. One thing I take pride in though is how we still manage to maintain that intimacy for young emerging filmmakers in such a setting. It can be extremely daunting to try and navigate a beast like Cannes or TIFF when you’re new to this world and I hope Toronto Youth Shorts can provide the adequate baby steps for these young filmmakers to climb towards the diving board, so to speak.

MT: Where do you see the festival by 2020?  

HW: I hope Toronto Youth Shorts will become the official hub for young emerging filmmakers starting out in the industry. In a way, it already is as we have a lot of industry support and what we offer for young filmmakers is very unique even in the festival space. But it would be nice to see the same level of funding support come to us in the way that some of our peer festivals have.

MT: In one sentence, what makes a great film?  

HW: A great short film has a strong but concise story with compelling characters.

MT: How is the film scene in your city?  

HW: As an audience member, Toronto has a very vibrant film scene. Many big titles from all around the world play in Toronto on a regular movie screen. There are also many film festivals taking place in any given month, showcasing all kinds of content that could please any niche audience. Between blockbusters at the multiplex, the indie screening of a local artist at a community cinema, and critically acclaimed work playing at the local arthouse theatre, there is literally something for everyone.

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Festival Director Bio: Henry founded Toronto Youth Shorts in 2009. His industry experience includes event management and marketing for the Banff World Media Festival, the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, the Canadian Film Festival, and the Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival. Henry was awarded a Legacy Award in 2016 and a Chinese Canadian Youth Achievement Award in 2011 for his contributions to the Toronto arts community.

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

 

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