Nataleah Hunter-Young got a job pre-screening films at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017, an entrance into the industry that “became very addictive, very fast.”
Now, still working as an international programmer at TIFF, Hunter-Young is also a professor in Western’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies, leading a project there to introduce students to the same kind of life-changing experience at the renowned film festival.
The FIMS Film Festival Critics Lab will bring students and PhD candidates to TIFF to attend screenings, write reviews and experience all the festival environment has to offer.
“The idea really came from the desire to bring students to the film festival to understand all that happens here and all that’s possible here. There’s publicity, you can work on sound and score for the film, be a cinematographer, producers are meeting. The conversations you strike up in line or on the street corner are the kind of conversations that can really change the course of your life and career,” said Hunter-Young, who uses she/they pronouns.
Thursday through Saturday, the students will be busy watching international films they couldn’t see almost anywhere else. It’s a chance to “experience world cinema in a way they haven’t before,” Hunter-Young said.
“Seeing these films will be, in and of itself, a transformative experience by learning the range of storytelling that is happening, contemporarily, from all over the world. They’re going to be seeing films from Mongolia, Tunisia, China, Korea and Nigeria, among others.
There are almost two dozen eager students, from the MIT (media, information and technoculture) undergraduate program all the way up to media studies PhD candidates, sharpening their pencils and preparing for the chance of a lifetime.
“This is an important step and a huge career opportunity. I am so excited. This is the first time I’m visiting a festival of this scale,” said Santasil Mallik, a media studies PhD candidate who’s already made his own documentary films.
“I think cinema has a strong political value; it can bring people together, it can make people think. I really want to be in the industry as a critic or a programmer, or a filmmaker,” he added.
He’s written academically about film but wants to try his hand at a different style by penning reviews . All of the students in the Critics Lab will reviewing multiple films in roughly 250 words each, pieces that will be posted online.
Mallik said he’s also looking forward to the community experience of the festival, the ability to watch brand-new films with peers, film professionals, scholars and so many others at TIFF.
Cameron Bell plans to bring a notebook with him so he can reflect on how he’s feeling during the screenings. He thinks those reflections will be key to crafting compelling – and quick – reviews.
“It’s hard to review movies that people haven’t heard of before. I’m hoping to pique their interest in the films.”
He called it the “absolute perfect experience” to take in all the festival has to offer while expanding his writing skills.
“This is a really good opportunity to dip my toe into what’s it’s like to be a real writer and see what it’s like on the day of the screenings meeting deadlines.”
Hunter-Young said working at TIFF as a pre-screener opened new avenues and ideas.
“For me it was the ability to talk to artists about their creative process and how they arrived at the decisions they made and the impact in the film. I also just love the feeling of bringing a film I love to an audience of people,” they said.
“I watch films and say, this one is meaningful, this one will change how you experience the world.” – Nataleah Hunter-Young, FIMS professor
Returning to TIFF and bringing students this year is an “incredible feeling,” they said.
“It is all part of a dream that I had a long time ago, when I realized the possibility of being able to be a professor and a programmer. When that realization came to me, it just ended up being the only goal. To have it now be at this place feels like surreal and pretty cool, to say the least.”