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By Jacqueline Nelson

If you’re proudly sporting bloodshot eyes from too many Toronto International Film Festival films, or you didn’t manage to catch any features at all, you’re in luck. Beyond the posh walls of the TIFF there is plenty of independent talent screening year round. The good news? You can enter most of them. The better news? Even students can afford to catch a flick.

The Toronto Urban Film Festival (TUFF), for example, was a friend of commuters this month as it showcased 60 films on TTC screens. The minute long, silent films competed for prizes such as trips and dinners with notable filmmakers. A team of jurors chose a few finalists and the winners’ films will be shown at a free party at the Drake Hotel on Sept. 22.

The judge of this years TUFF is Jeremy Podeswa, a Ryerson graduate of the film program in 1984, whose new film Fugitive Pieces opened TIFF this year. He’s directed films like The Five Senses, as well as HBO shows like Nip/Tuck, Queer as Folk and Six Feet Under. “It’s always inspiring to see what people can do, especially with such limited means,” he said of the TUFF entries he has seen so far, “It’s great because TUFF is not only for established artists, so exciting new things could come from anywhere.”

And that’s the beauty of the underground film scene in Toronto. The city is host to annual festivals such as The ReelWorld, the Worldwide Short Film Festival, Hot Docs, Inside Out, and the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. Most accept the work of novice movie makers, and many rely heavily on student participation.

Fans of TIFF’s wild and wicked Midnight Madness, which showcases alternative works not shown in the film festival’s standard genres, should block the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF) with blood red ink on their calendars. The event runs from October 19th to 25th at the Bloor Cinema and showcases new and obscure horror, sci-fi, fantasy and cult films. An astounding 700 entries were received this year, up from only 150 in the festival’s first season last year.

The final bill includes Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, Lloyd Kaufman’s zombie musical, and The Wolfhound, which is the most expensive Russian fantasy film ever made. But many of the preferred pictures are works submitted by interested amateurs. TADFF has co-ordinated with Toronto’s annual Zombie Walk to unite those who worship the weird.

Chris Emery, TADFF’s director of online communication, is taking film classes through continuing education at Ryerson and says that the festival was designed to give interested film makers the support they need. “We’re looking at films from amateurs and students most often, so After Dark is quite indie-centric.” According to Emery the only guidline for submissions is that it’s got to be thrilling.

Our own Ryerson University Film Festival (affectionately known as RUFF) provides a chance for graduating film students from the School of Image Arts to showcase their masterpieces, which double as their culminating projects, to eager audiences.

The festival is coming up to its fifth anniversary, and even though the viewings are in May, students are already industriously slaving over their motion picture magic.

Brad Dworkin, 23, is hoping to receive a grant for the script that he wrote and aspires to direct. The first step is to wait and see if his proposal is approved, or “green lit.” Submitting his pitch last week means his piece will qualify for a grant of $5000 worth of film supplies from Kodak and William F. White. “We’re optimistic about our chances,” he confessed.

For Ryerson film students, their finished project will act as a calling card outside campus, and interested industry professionals sometimes purchase films shown at RUFF. You never know what great name will emerge from an indie film festival, and Ryerson’s talent is no exception. Podeswa’s big break came from his third-year film project. “I made a short film while I was at Ryerson that won an award that Norman Jewison used to sponsor for the best student made film in the country,” he said. “I won with a film I made in my third year called ‘David Roache Talks To You About Love’.” In fact, Jewison liked it so much he invited Podeswa to come and work on his next movie. It was called Moonstruck. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Podeswa offers a little advice for aspiring film makers of any calibre: Do what inspires you. “The film that won that award was a film that the faculty didn’t want me to make, but I made it anyway,” he said. “If you do something that’s really you, as opposed to a calling card film that you feel less invested in, then I think you’ll do better. At least that way the world can see who you really are through your work.”

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