Underdogtown: TIFF’s Next Wave Festival

Cool doc Fly Colt Fly features teen fugitive Colton Harris-Moore, airplane thief

Growing up is heady, tumultuous, confusing, and exhilarating. It’s a time of tremendous discovery, spongeing up experience to see what works, what doesn’t, and what bits might best fit the puzzle that is you. And when you’re going through it, you feel like such a loser. TIFF’s Next Wave Film Festival is the embodiment of that questing curiosity, and the perpetual underdog emotions it engenders. Steered by a committee of enthusiastic high school film fans, the fest is lively, multifaceted, and best of all, has some pretty awesome movies. More on the cool stuff going down at TIFF this weekend (FREE for high school students!), after the jump.

The Next Wave Film Festival kicks off today and runs to Sunday, February 16, all of it happening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. The Friday night launch is original and fun, with high school indie bands scoring youth-made short films live in front of the audience. Of course, the performances are judged, with people from the T.O. music and film community stepping up to Simon the proceedings. One of the judges, writer/director Pat Mills, is offering the winning band a spot in the soundtrack of his upcoming film. There’s also a youth 24-Hour Film Challenge for budding Bigelows and Scorseses. The challenge took place last weekend, and on Sunday, February 16 the results will be screened and judged, giving teen filmmakers in Toronto an exciting public forum.

Emma Roberts in Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto

The screenings picked by the high school committee include some really great stuff. Gia Coppola’s debut feature Palo Alto is showing, based on James Franco’s collection of short stories. Weaving together three stories of teenage lust, boredom and self-destruction, it’s an assured debut featuring Franco, Emma Roberts and Zoe Levin. Korean director Gina Kim’s Final Recipe is a winsome tale following a young chef (Henry Lau) as he secretly enters a cooking competition in Shanghai to save his grandfather’s restaurant. With greats Chin Han as the celebrity chef and Michelle Yeoh as the contest’s organizer and producer, it’s a fun, familiar romp with a domestic twist. David Stein’s G.B.F. (Gay Best Friend) is an amusing if toothless satire of high school cliques and the newfound trendiness of gay culture. Accidentally outed, Tanner (Michael J. Willett) finds himself an object of fascination and cachet, but his newfound popularity costs him his old friendships. It’s an interesting inversion: being gay is what makes Tanner popular, but he finds he needs to conform to stereotypical expectations to remain popular, leaving behind the geeky nobody he was before.

Luisa Gross and Benedict Sieverding in the clever Rear Window update For No Eyes Only

Of the films I saw in advance, For No Eyes Only was my personal fave. An update on Hitchcock’s legendary Rear Window, German director Tali Barde puts a contemporary surveillance spin on the original. His leg injured in a field hockey practice, Sam (Benedict Sieverding) is our Jimmy Stewart, left to hole up in his room with his computer, being nerdier than even he can usually stand. Adept with computers, he discovers he can spy on his classmates by hacking their webcams. He finds the usual smattering of chatters, awkward dates, exercise junkies and porn hounds, unremarkable but hypnotic in their own way. When he spies a student hiding a large kitchen knife in his room, the game changes, and he suspects murder may be at play. Nowhere near as slick as the similarly themed Disturbia (with Shia Lebeouf, pre-total-idiot-days), For No Eyes Only manages to pull off being both charming and thrilling. It’s an enjoyable balancing act, underpinned by the awkward chemistry of Sam’s tentative relationship with his high school crush Livia (Luisa Gross in the Grace Kelly role). With deliberate camera work and a convincing cast, Barde stitches together an excellent underdog thriller.

I Learn America looks at immigrant students coming of age in a new land

Documentaries also feature prominently in the brief festival. I Learn America from directors Jean-Michel Dissard and Gitte Peng enters the lives of five teenagers at the International High School at Lafayette, a Brooklyn public high school for newly arrived immigrants from all over the world. Exploring their unique challenges integrating into a new society, the film introduces us to a memorable cast of kids trying to fit in and still be themselves. Brother directors Andrew and Adam Gray give us Fly Colt Fly, a multimedia documentary about teenage fugitive Colton Harris-Moore, who became a modern folk hero for his superhuman ability to escape capture by stealing planes.

And if those aren’t enough, Saturday, February 15th features a five-film Teen Rebel marathon, including Jason Reitman’s smart-mouthed teen pregnancy comedy Juno (2007), Edgar Wright’s underwhelming gamer nerd-fest Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), Mark Waters’s bitch classic Mean Girls (2004), the signature loopiness of Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998), and Richard Kelly’s time-twisting psycho-drama Donnie Darko (2001). [Deep breath.] Tickets to the marathon movies and non-premium films are free for high school students, available on a rush basis. If you’re, you know, old, or looking to attend some of the other events that are part of the festival, you’ll need some cash money.

For details on all the screenings and events running over the next three days, head over to the TIFF Next Wave website.

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