Low budgets haven't stopped Kazik Radwanski and Dan Montgomery's films from snagging festival screenings and collecting awards. PHOTO: MORGAN HOTSTON

Towering over the film festivals

In Arts & Life /

By Deborah Hernandez

Kazik Radwanski and Dan Montgomery have spent so much time making short films that even while working on their first feature-length movie, they say big budgets scared them.

“I see that one million, two million figure and I’m scared that it will stifle our creativity,” Radwanski says.

The Ryerson film graduates’ first feature-length film, Tower, is a minimalistic art house movie that narrates the life of single man Derek Bogart, who, in his mid-thirties, still lives at home with his parents. Set in Toronto, the award-winning filmmakers’ hometown, Tower is a way to give audiences from all over the world an insight into the city. In fact, all of the duo’s past films were shot in different Toronto neighbourhoods, according to Radwanski.

“When you think of other major urban centers, like New York City, you think of the grit and grime,” says the 27-year-old director. “Or go to Vienna and you see the architecture and history. L.A. might be a bit more similar to Toronto but it has Hollywood. Toronto has none of these images — it’s very much a young, neutral city.”

It’s an added bonus then that the movie premiered in its home city, at the 2012 Toronto International Festival in September. Since then, it has made its way across the globe, receiving praise in different film festivals.

This is proof that a minimalistic approach to filmmaking does not mean a minimalistic approach to success. Their low budgets haven’t stopped the two from receiving awards in the festival circle, winning the Best Short Film Award at the 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival and a nomination for Best Live Action Short Film at the 2010 Genie Awards for their short film Princess Margaret Blvd.

According to Radwanski, he owes much of his success to great collaboration with his crew (most of which are also Ryerson graduates — from lighting to sound to camera). However, producer Montgomery says some people wouldn’t call what they’ve done so far a success since they usually just about break even — and that’s only if the films do well.

But Montgomery says he doesn’t care.

“I understand the appeal of a steady paycheck,” he says. He added that he knows this is the reason many people don’t go into film and although he hopes to one day make a profit, that’s not his or Radwanski’s motivation behind filmmaking.

“You see the guy in lighting doing it and he’d make more money being an electrician,” says Radwanski. “But he keeps doing it because he finds fulfillment in it. Why do something if it doesn’t make you feel fulfilled?”

Still, they both recognize the struggles of falling in love with a competitive career. They stress how important it is to get used to rejection, whether from film festivals or critics, especially ones they personally admire.

“Every time our work is watched, we are holding our breath,” says Radwanski. Even now, he and Montgomery find the experience nerve-wracking.

“You’ll apply to 50 film festivals and get into one,” says Radwanski. “And that’s a successful ratio.”

But that hasn’t discouraged them from doing what they love.

Tower opens at The Royal Cinema in Toronto February 22. 

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