Film Fest Friends

One of my favourite parts of the Toronto film festival is you start to recognize directors as the return to the city every couple of years like long lost friends. Last night we were at the world premiere of Shane Meadow’s This Is England, a film about a young boy who falls under the influence of a charismatic skinhead during the early ‘80s.

For me, my festival experience and Meadows is intricately connected. The first year I lived in Toronto I was a TIFF volunteer and was working the door when a filmmaker a couple of years younger than me gave me his ticket and asked me where he was supposed to sit. That was my first introduction to Meadows, who was there with two shorts, Small Time and Where's the Money, Ronnie? He has since returned to Toronto every couple of years with realistically gritty films inspired by his rough and tumble upbringing in central England: Twenty Four Seven, A Room for Romeo Brass, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands and Dead Man's Shoes.

This Is England takes place during the Falklands War, when employment was high and Margaret Thatcher ruled with an iron fist. A young boy, who’s father has died in the conflict, is the constant target of local bullies and is befriended by a gang of skinheads. They are a genteel bunch who go swimming and party and appear more enamoured with the clothing and music of the movement than the politics. That is until an older member of the gang gets out of prison and starts preaching hate and violence. The comedic buddy film soon turns tense and explosive.

Meadows, who had just completed the film on Monday and was watching it for the first time with us, said he too had ran with skinheads when he was 11, but was essentially scared straight. "That night of violence is what turned me around," he told the audience. "That's probably the night the seed of a filmmaker was born.

On Monday we saw Philippe Falardeau’s Congorama, a Quebec director we have begun to follow. He was last at the festival with La Moitié gauche du frigo (The Left-Hand Side of the Fridge) which won the Best Canadian First Feature Film award back in 2000. It followed a Belgian man who, on discovering he was adopted, goes searching for his identity in rural Quebec and finds much more, but not necessarily what he was hoping for. It’s hard to explain without giving away some of the complexities.

Much of the tale wraps around moments from world fairs, one in Belgium and Quebec’s historic Expo ’67 and also appeared in last year’s festival fave, C.R.A.Z.Y. Neither director is old enough to have attended, so we asked him about it. He said the fair was so important to the province that it has become part of his own experience. “My parents went and took picture and films. When I look at these pictures now I feel like I’ve been there.”

Top: A scene from This Is England; Centre: This Is England director Shane Meadows; Bottom: Congorama director Philippe Falardeau


  1. I don't follow too many directors through the VIFF circuit but one I do like is Vincenzo Natali. He's a great Canadian talent and I've been hooked since I first saw "Cube" in '97.

  2. I haven't seen any of his work. I'll have to check it out.