At the risk of coming across as even older and more crotchety than I am, back in my day, teenage film lovers had to skulk over to their local Blockbuster and rent the location’s measly collection of three Fellini tapes over and over again to get their fix. So I can’t help but feel a little envious of the kids these days, with their streaming options and their digital cameras and their Vines.
I’m especially jealous of their ability to enjoy and participate in TIFF Next Wave, a film festival by and for teens between the ages of 14 and 18. Now in its second year, TIFF Next Wave features screenings of teen-oriented flicks, Q&As with stars and directors, and interactive workshops and challenges for budding filmmakers. The festival isn’t just a breeding and training ground for the next generation of film lovers, Toronto International Film Festival patrons and Cronenbergs, though. It’s also doing its part to foster the next batch of Arcade Fires and Weeknds thanks to an event called Battle of the Scores.
Every year, six high school acts from a wide range of genres are chosen from an open call to participate in the Battle. They’re given three weeks to compose a score for an original silent film (also made by some preternaturally talented whippersnapper, like this year’s director, 18 year old Ben Roberts). And then, as part of Next Wave’s opening night festivities, they’re thrown on stage underneath one of the big screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox to perform a live version of their score in front of an audience of friends, peers, and an expert panel of judges from the music and film industries. The winners of the competition are given a prime slot on the soundtrack for an upcoming film.
After attending the 2013 edition of the TIFF Next Wave Battle of the Bands and talking to all of the competitors this past February, I found myself just as envious of their drive and focus as I was of the opportunities that festival and the battle were offering them. None of the four bands and two solo acts who performed their original scores as part of the event were doing it as a lark. All of them were serious about their music and saw the competition as a great way to gain experience and exposure.
Some of them, like the one man loop and string machine Ari Van de Ven, signed up because they want to pursue a career in scoring for films. Moody acoustic foursome Safe As Houses are already old hands at the art form, having recently recorded the soundtrack for a friend’s silent horror film. Almost all of the musicians involved are working toward careers in the arts, and many of them will be off to study music in the next year or two. A couple of members of Garrison Creek are also looking at film school. The sleek and stylish rockers in Post would love to make a career of their band (“If it could take us that far, that would be a dream come true for us,” they told me.) Even electronic artist New World Mayor, who is going to Waterloo for mathematics next year, hopes to keep up his art in some way.
Second time contestants Lucas Bozzo and Elena Hudgins-Lyle, who brought their ethereal art rock unit Talkback Radio along with them this time around, did briefly interrupt their discussion about their vision for the band’s future to rhapsodize about last year’s after party and its free poutine. But really, an appreciation of free food is a pretty important skill to cultivate if you’re going to pursue if you’re looking at a career in the Canadian arts and entertainment world.
All six acts were just as proficient and professional on stage as they were off, which made for some agonizing deliberation among jury members. In the end, though, Post came one step closer to their own dream come true when they were declared the winners of the Battle of the Scores and awarded a spot on the soundtrack for the next project by Canadian zombie flick Dead Before Dawn 3D’s directing and writing team, April Mullen and Tim Doiron.
After the big reveal, the whole crowd was led down to the bowels of the Lightbox for a genuine ’80s-themed garage party, where everyone could indulge in free food, celebrate the opening of the Next Wave Festival, and bask in their youthful talent, potential and go-getterness. Everyone except the bitter girl in front of, that is, who preferred to mutter that she was glad the whole thing was over and made a “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” reference.
It was reassuring in a way. Kids these days might have cool festivals and incredible chances to hone their craft that people my age could only have dreamed of. But at least they still have to deal with the same existential angst and fondness for Morrissey that we did.