How these GTA teens helped shape the lineup at this year’s TIFF

A dozen GTA teens are making their mark at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which begins Thursday, by adding their stamp of approval to movies they consider important to youth today.

The Next Wave Committee is tasked with adding a special tag to films — already programmed into other categories — which they believe will resonate with their peers.

This year’s committee is made up of 12 diverse, film-loving students from the GTA, all between 15 and 18.

“We want stories from different genders and different countries and different people,” said Iman Vellani, one of the Next Wave members.

“I think that’s really important because then people are going to understand each other. Even if they can’t relate to it, you learn from it … Our big goal is to just help people understand other perspectives.”

The committee members say they’re focused on highlighting under-represented voices and stories universal to young people.

“Marginalized voices like women and people of colour and trans people, I think they’re all looking for a story that represents them … and stories that are by them as well,” said Next Wave member Dan Dinary.

“I think it’s very easy to dismiss representation when you’ve been constantly represented by film and by art in general.”

This year’s Next Wave selections highlight stories from four continents, and 50 per cent of the films are directed or co-directed by women.

In honour of students going back to school this week, CBC Toronto spoke with three Next Wave members about their pick for best film at TIFF this year.

Nara Wrigglesworth, 18 

Flatland, directed by Jenna Bass

Flatland is a modern western set in South Africa and really [looks] at what it means to be a young woman in South Africa today,” Wrigglesworth said.

“I really love it because I personally love genre films and I think the Western genre is just so fun. I think also the western genre is really sort of trendy almost. You see a lot of that coming back, especially with people of colour like Lil Nas X and Solange taking that on … that sort of idea of being a rebel and being an outsider and fighting for your freedom is really important,” she said.

“I think it’s really interesting also to see young women from around the globe, and it’s just such a funny, fun movie.”

Iman Vellani, 17

Hala, directed by Minhal Baig

“I think the one that actually just spoke to me the most was this little film called Hala, and it was just beautiful the way that Minhal Baig, the director, projected her entire life story into this charming character of Hala who is this Pakistani-American-Muslim teenager with immigrant parents, actually just like myself, so I was really able to relate a lot to this film,” Vellani said.

“It basically just follows Hala just trying to live her life separate from her school life and her home life because they’re so different with her parents just enforcing rules on her and trying to make her live life with their values and their beliefs that were mainly just present from their country, and now that she’s in this Westernized society it’s so hard for her to try to obey her parents while also keeping friendships and relationships,” she said.

“I think [it]’s a really important film to see when you want to take a good look at a young member of society who’s just trying to fit in to the best of both worlds.”

Dan Dinary, 17 

Rocks, directed by Sarah Gavron

“The film is about a young girl named Rocks who is left alone with her young brother to take care of, and so while she’s going through that she’s also traversing high school and her relationships with her friends and her own personal issues,” Dinary said.

“What I really loved about the film is how it showed those relationships and how it showed the honesty behind lower income households, how it showed the honesty behind friendships between people that have a unified experience, how it showed … the intersectionalities of systemic oppression and day-to-day conversations and relationships,” he added.

“The film is really beautiful when it comes to all of its characters, which are all just really impressive when it comes to writing and how they fit into their own environments, and also just like the really wonderful atmosphere of friendship and the excitement of going out with friends and the excitement of being young and being able to to come of age I thought was really great.”

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