This evening’s programme is all about leaving banality behind and giving into the thrill of the chase! Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven screens alongside two-time festival veteran Dylan Reibling’s short film Model, which is also about outsmarting a rival and mastering the urban environment. In this sleek, wordless short, two architects compete for their boss’ approval of their designs for a miniature-sized empire: a model city based on the six blocks of Toronto’s Old Town - between Yonge and Front, Church and Richmond. We talked to filmmaker Dylan Reibling about favourite Toronto buildings and cinematic cities on film.
Christie Pits Film Festival is the signature project of Toronto Outdoor Picture Show (TOPS), which presents its Cinematic Cities programme all summer long at parks across the city. The festival has previously screening Dylan Reibling’s short films Record (CPFF 2014, Days of Summer series) and Silent Garden (CPFF 2015, Great Villains series).
TOPS: This year's film programme is titled Cinematic Cities, a theme that draws bridges between vibrant and complex cities around the world while highlighting the people who make each of these cities unique. Do you have a favourite movie that captures the spirit of a city?
Dylan Reibling (DR): Definitely! Some of my favourite films use the city not just as a backdrop, but as a driving force. Films like Mulholland Drive (Los Angeles), The Third Man (Vienna), Bullitt (San Francisco), Lost in Translation and Enter The Void (Tokyo and Tokyo) are all master classes in capturing the essence of a city and using it as a powerful storytelling tool. Whether it's the alienating weirdness of Los Angeles, or rotten neon seediness of Tokyo. Personally, the most fascinating distillation of a city comes from Larry Cohen's New York City films from the 1970s and 80s. Films like Q and God Told Me To were all shot on location in the streets of New York City as it teetered on the brink of financial default and civic chaos. Cohen didn't get permission to shoot at most of his locations, and often would film scenes without blocking off the streets or closing off the set, so random pedestrians and onlookers unwittingly became extras in the films. And the results are viscerally gratifying: you can feel the broken city through the backgrounds, the paranoia, the sense of danger, the energy. Those films pulse with an extraordinary sense of a city on the edge of collapse.
TOPS: For you, what makes Toronto a cinematic city? Is there something special about Toronto that you draw inspiration from?
DR: I remember in the late 90s and early 00s, there was a lot of hand-wringing over whether or not Toronto was a cinematic city (or if it even could be). A lot of films were shot here — Chicago, Mean Girls, X-Men — but they mostly featured Toronto masquerading as some other city. The most pride you could muster about Toronto on film came from its workmanlike ability to camouflage itself as Chicago, New York, or some random town in Michigan. It was not an infrequent occurrence to get dragged into a game of “Did You Know ________ Was Shot in Toronto?” (with the winner invariably being the person who reminded everyone that the insane bar scene in the 1988 Tom Cruise vehicle Cocktail was filmed in the Don Jail). All a Hogtown faithful had to cling to were standouts like Goin’ Down the Road, Last Night, and whichever David Cronenberg films actually copped to their TO backdrop.
I think it may have been Scott Pilgrim vs The World that gave Toronto permission to be itself. Pretty soon after, Toronto came into its cinematic own, not just as a place that kinda looked like somewhere else, but somewhere where things actually happened. Since then, we've seen Toronto from every which angle, a technicolor hipster playground (Scott Pilgrim), a cold dystopian panopticon (Enemy), and a warm bohemian city of neighbourhoods (Take This Waltz). Combined with a new wave of local films by Kazik Radwanski, Igor Drljaka, and Joyce Wong that show Toronto with fresh new perspectives, I think we’ve answered the question of whether Toronto can be a cinematic city. The answer is yes.
TOPS: Obviously we agree! Our Cinematic Cities programme features Scott Pilgrim, and many of the others were on the short list - too many to choose from!
DR: My favourite thing about Toronto is the creative adventurism. There have been a lot of random and absurd things that come from nowhere and find enthusiastic audiences. Everything from Trampoline Hall’s lectures-by-non-experts, to Life of a Craphead’s experimental art comedy to Allyson Mitchell’s Lesbian Feminist Haunted House. There’s a sense of curiosity and inventiveness to Toronto that is very exciting. However, I do worry that the astronomical rise in rents of the past couple of years is going to limit people’s ability to take creative risks.
TOPS: Model is set in an architecture firm, and features two junior architects competing to build a miniature-sized empire. The film features a model city based on the six blocks of Toronto’s Old Town - between Yonge and Front, Church and Richmond. Toronto isn't exactly known for its architecture, but do you have any favourite buildings or structures?
DR: A lot of people drag on Toronto architecture, and sometimes it’s hard not to feel like we got a raw deal. But I’ve been working in Singapore for the past 4 months - surrounded by soaring glass and chrome architectural marvels - and one of the things I miss most about Toronto is its secret architectural shame: Brutalism. It’s easy to dismiss the style as just a bunch of cold, lifeless slabs of concrete. But being away from Toronto has made me appreciate the clarity, the credence, and the confidence of Brutalism. Give me the Polish Combatants Hall or the Gardner Museum over the latest cladding-sided condo on Queens Quay any day.
But if Brutalism isn’t your thing, here are some unassailable classics: Mies van der Rohe’s TD Centre, The RC Harris Water Treatment Plant, Canada Life Building on University.
TOPS: Your film is paired with Ocean's Eleven, which is about a competition of a very different kind. Have you ever been a participant in a over-the-top, elaborate or laughable competition?
DR: Oh yes. Back in the early 2000s, Matt Collins (Ninja High School, CITUS, Dutch, etc.) started up Manhunt Toronto - which was basically a late-night game of hide-and-seek for adults played on the streets of Toronto. Every week, a different neighbourhood was chosen and dozens of Manhunters would flood the streets, ducking in and out of public/semi-public spaces in an effort to escape capture. It was part intense competition, part urban intervention, and all ridiculous fun. Playing Manhunt introduced me to a number of Toronto neighbourhoods that I never would have explored - and showed me familiar neighbourhoods from different angles (even if one of those angles was hiding behind a mailbox). I even got some help from the NFB to make a short documentary about it called Personal Space (watch it here!).
Model screens alongside Ocean’s Eleven on July 22nd at Christie Pits Film Festival.