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by Vicky Tam 

When the Toronto International Film Festival moved into the Ryerson Theatre, the chance of meeting a director was limited to glances from behind a velvet rope.

With the Young Cuts International Film Festival, you’re likely to be standing next to one in your OSAP line.

Young Cuts is intended to showcase the work of directors aged 14 to 24, and features the work of several Ryerson students.

Gray Christmas

Mike Donis’s career began at age 5 when he sat down on a 40-foot bee.

The Honey, I Shrunk The Kids ride at Disneyworld inspired young Donis’s first movie. A little post-production magic later and “Rick Moranis was just swinging his baseball bat at us and we were flying around him,” said Donis, who went home and created the short film The Shrinking Machine, simulating the effect by using start-stop filming with large and small Ninja Turtle action figures.

To this day, Donis, 19, who enrolled in night film classes last year, continues to be innovative with his work. In his movie, Gray Christmas, which consists of three intertwining storylines, Donis toys with the traditional linear structure. ”

It was more of an exercise to see if I could do it,” Donis said. “It also asks a lot more from the audience.”

This director not only asks a lot from the audience, but his cast, too. Lead actress Danielle Gonzalez, played a prostitute, braving -20 C temperatures outfitted in only a short skirt. “We think she got hypothermia. She had red streaks on her legs.”

Donis looks back fondly on the movie-making experience, as it made him the filmmaker he is today. But in retrospect, Donis can see the differences between the filmmaker he was then and the one he is now.

“I made this film while on a Tarantino high. I got carried away with swear words,” he said, laughing.


In 2003, Brian Dunn packed his bags and left Mississauga for Bolivia. Upon his return three weeks later, Dunn, 21, found himself with the makings of Bolivia, his first documentary. The third-year radio and television arts student travelled to South America with Hands Across The Nations, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping developing countries.

Between helping build a health centre and filming, he made friends with the children living in a women’s prison with their incarcerated parents. “It wasn’t depressing,” said Dunn. “There was still a sense of hope. Chances are these kids aren’t going to be doctors or lawyers but they were still so happy.”

It was his new friends’ spirit that gave Dunn a new perspective on life. “There they played with random things and were having a ball. Here kids need to have PSP and other gadgets. It reinforced how you don’t need things to make you happy.”

Your Eyes Open

You would think that for someone who devotes a chunk of his life to chasing down dreams, Justin T. Lee would remember his own better. “I rarely remember my dreams that vividly,” he says. The 18-year-old radio and television arts student’s submission to the film festival, Your Eyes Open, is “a romance that takes place while two people are sleeping.”

The movie is based on the idea that “your ghost or spirit leaves your body while you sleep and has its own life,” said Lee, who sees dreaming as a form of exploration. “Dreams can take you places you’re usually not accustomed to. You can experience things you otherwise would not be able to.”

Filming on the subway during rush hours gave Lee an experience he wouldn’t have had as a commuter. During the shoot, a man walked up to one of the actors, put his hands on his shoulders and screamed. The man later explained it as a way to blow off steam after a tough day at work. The entire incident was caught on tape and eventually found its place on the cutting room floor.

The episode on the subway wasn’t the only unexpected thing that came out of making the movie. “I saw things in the film I didn’t think I would,” said Lee.

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