Celebrating the art of Youtube filmmaking at the first Buffer Festival

The new wave of entertainment

Celebrating the art of Youtube filmmaking at the first Buffer Festival

On the weekend of November 9, the popular video-streaming website YouTube came to Toronto. The first Buffer Festival was a multi day theatrical event involving the best creative works from video creators on YouTube. Over 100 YouTube creators came down for the festival, including TheFineBrothers, Hannah Hart and Daily Grace. It was an opportunity to see great content normally reserved for the computer screen, on the big screen.



Corey Vidal’s ApprenticeA productions is the organization behind the Buffer Festival. Vidal gained recognition after creating a musical tribute to composer John Williams and was one of the first Canadians to join the Youtube Partnership program. He later created ApprenticeA productions a leading online video production company with over 75 million views.

Inspired by his experience at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011, Vidal, in collaboration with CFC Media lab created the Buffer Festival. The Varsity sat down with Corey Vidal before the
festival began.


The Varsity: What do you see for the future regarding the festival?

Corey Vidal: We want to be involved with similar partners and be in the same area. A lot of attendees couldn’t make so we are going to keep throwing it every year. Each year it is going to get bigger and bigger. This is our first event and we couldn’t be happier, down the road it is going to push more for YouTubers to release content that people haven’t viewed before. Using it as a launching point for some of their creative content.

I am a YouTuber at heart and my goal was to merge YouTube with big projects. I want to be a part of YouTube but I care a lot also about the film making process and Vlogumentary is an opportunity to do a traditional feature film that is 100 percent YouTube. Buffer Festival is an opportunity to be in a theatre but not go traditional, be 100 percent YouTube.


TV: Any advice for YouTube Creators who aren’t getting noticed, or just starting up?

CV: First make crap, than make your crap better. A lot of people are obsessed with making their first video good. If you look at any of your favourite Youtubers, their first videos are all crap. I hate my first 150 videos and so does every other YouTuber. It isn’t about making one video; it is about being in the constant state of video creation.


TV: How do you think it is changing our culture?

CV: What we are doing is depleting the amount of time spent watching television. Instead of sitting there watching TV we are only watch a couple of hours of TV and then we are on the Internet. People have more control on when they want to watch it and how they want to watch it. Whereas before you had to watch TV at a very specific time and if you didn’t watch it you missed it. I think it is very empowering for the consumer; we have more control than we ever had.


TV: What do you see in the future for YouTube?

CV: The numbers keep growing and growing. I always check out the stats and right now there are over 80 hours of content uploaded every minute. I remember when you could go on YouTube and check out the latest uploaded videos and you could scroll through a day’s worth of videos; that was seven years ago. It never stops more people have access to the Internet, more people have access to cameras, people have high quality cameras on their phone. We are going to see more content creators; with YouTube a lot of the viewers are the content creators. Somebody attending Buffer Festival today can be premiering content at Buffer Festival next year, because that’s how even the playing field is. That is exciting.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Science and Cinema: The Fifth Estate

Tracing the fall of internet privacy

Science and Cinema: The Fifth Estate

The recently released motion picture The Fifth Estate is the latest pop culture discourse on the controversial issue of  “hacktivism.” Benedict Cumberbatch brings star power to the movie with his onscreen depiction of Julian Assange, the controversial founder of WikiLeaks. The film is quite topical, given the recent alarming exposure of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the ongoing discourse surrounding Chelsea Manning. These issues have brought internet security to the forefront of public consciousness. Social media users are now debating the legitimacy of their online privacy settings ­— what if it isn’t only your friends perusing your pictures and life events, or laughing at that witty status update you just posted?



The problem might not be as discomforting here as it is in the United States, where the NSA has been spying on its citizens for over a decade and counting: with this program, the US government has been keeping tabs on the phone calls, geolocation information, and internet communications of its citizens.

The worst part of the program is that the public didn’t know anything about it until Edward Snowden, former NSA contractor and former CIA employee, leaked information about this surveillance. Through thousands of leaked documents, Snowden also revealed confidential information regarding European nations. Before this controversy, Assange made thousands upon thousands of confidential documents available to anyone with an internet connection. Assange and Snowden have been labeled as black-hat (or criminal) hacktivists by the government, and have been effecively exiled from the countries they “betrayed.”

From governments’ perspectives, hacktivism is a matter of national security. Supporters of the surveillance argue that the decisions made by a government are for the greater good of its people and that there are good intentions behind the surveillance.

Various hacktivists around the world argue that they are simply promoting human rights and ethical judgement by uncovering and exposing digital information. Detractors commonly reference dystopian works such as 1984 by George Orwell or V for Vendetta by Alan Moore. They claim that programs like the NSA represent blatant breaches of privacy reminiscent of the police states in these works.

The trailer for The Fifth Estate depicts an argument between Cumberbatch’s Assange and lesser-known WikiLeaks co-founder Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) about the ethics of releasing the Manning documents. “Lives are at stake!” yells Domscheit-Berg, upset about the danger posed to those named in the documents his partner plans to release. The argument is a dramatic representation of the debate that led to Domscheit-Berg’s split from WikiLeaks. (He later would go on to form his own organisation, OpenLeaks). Even hackivists are split about how best and most ethically deal with releases of confidential government information.

Too often online, the heart of the debate is the question of who ­— between the hackers and the government — is protecting citizens, and who is merely paranoid. But the debate is not nearly so simple. The internet matures and the debate complicates further­, ­and there is unlikely to be a clear resolution anytime soon.

TIFF’s latest exhibit explores the career of director David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg: Evolution, presented at the TIFF Bell Light Box, is an intriguing look at the director's work in the genre of 'body horror'

TIFF’s latest exhibit explores the career of director David Cronenberg

Who is my creator? Who am I? Who are we? These three penetrating questions frame David Cronenberg: Evolution, TIFF’s latest retrospective about the major filmmaker. The exhibit charts the development of our very own Canadian filmmaker, David Cronenberg.



The exhibition moves chronologically through Cronenberg’s work, which makes it easy to follow his development as a filmmaker. The information panels strike exactly the right balance, describing the themes of Cronenberg’s films in clear and concise language. So if you’ve been reading too many theory texts for class, this is your chance to get some refreshingly digestible information.

Even better, an amazing number of artifacts are on display. There’s the telepod from The Fly, which is even accompanied by the engine from Cronenberg’s Ducati 450 Desmo RT motorcycle that inspired its look. There’s also the cringe-worthy collection of gynecological instruments from Dead Ringers, a full-size mugwump puppet from Naked Lunch (plus a fiberglass replica that you can pose with for a photo), and plenty more. Cronenberg’s films tend to rely on puppets, prosthetics, and makeup rather than computer-generated imagery. Seeing these props live and in the flesh is a delight, even if they also make you squirm.

For University of Toronto students, the exhibition has a number of special treats. First, Cronenberg is a U of T alumnus, so we get bragging rights. The exhibition also reveals some more direct connections between Cronenberg and U of T; his first feature, Stereo, was shot at the Scarborough campus, and his second feature, Crimes of the Future, was filmed at Massey College. If you think U of T has some strange, brutalist architecture, this  is your chance to see it at its creepiest.

In the centre of the exhibit, there are two large screens that cycle through interviews with Cronenberg. The interviews are personable, honest, and fascinating. Body horror films can be alienating, but Cronenberg is both eloquent and down-to-earth. It’s well worth the time to sit through a full cycle of the interviews.

The TIFF Bell Lightbox is screening all of Cronenberg’s features and other body horror films over the next few months. Admittedly, Cronenberg films are not the easiest to binge on. Sexuality, technology, and human nature are enduring themes that keep Cronenberg’s films feeling fresh. While you’ll probably feel disturbed, they’re always worth the effort. This retrospective is a good chance to see these films on high-quality screens.

This exhibit and the accompanying guest events and screenings are a perfect opportunity for filmgoers, whether you’re new to Cronenberg or an ardent follower. The panels and Q&A discussions lift off the mystifying veil of filmmaking. A previous TIFF Higher Learning panel event focused on Cronenberg and his frequent collaborators: makeup artist Stéphan Dupuis and producer Jeremy Thomas. The three emphasized the difficulties of making Cronenberg-style movies. Difficulties with financing meant it took eight years to make Dead Ringers, and the Gulf War meant Naked Lunch’s Interzone scenes couldn’t be filmed in Morocco. They were filmed in Toronto instead, like the rest of the movie — not a terrible change for Canadian viewers who like to spot familiar scenery.

The violence and sexual content of Cronenberg’s films might put off some viewers, but when you hear Cronenberg and his collaborators speak, you realize the depth behind these horror films. In one of the exhibition’s interviews, Cronenberg explains that The Fly needed the cover of the horror genre to be made; its central love story is really about assisted suicide in the face of a terminal disease, which he suggests would be too dark to get funded if the movie was of any other genre. The monstrous effects are earnest explorations of what it means to be human. They are not for cheap shock value. Of the many artifacts on display, there is a collection of comment cards from a preview of Videodrome. One suggests: “scrap the grotesque.” Thank goodness he didn’t.


David Cronenberg: Evolution exhibition is open until January 19 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

New programming combines live theatre with film

An interview with Ned Loach of 360 Screenings

New programming combines live theatre with film

It’s a humid July day, and I’m standing in the entrance hall of an enormous manor in the heart of Toronto. Summer sunlight streams in through the windows, reflecting off of the white shirts worn by the 100-odd people milling through the house. Along with everyone’s identical outfits, each of us wears a similar expression of confusion and excitement. Twenty-four hours earlier, we were sent a vague e-mail instructing us to arrive at the mansion wearing a white shirt. No other information was offered.



Sound a bit like a cult initiation? Not quite.

Every person visiting that old manor on that steamy summer afternoon was there to experience an entertainment like no other: 360 Screenings.

360 screenings is an innovative company that combines theatre with film to allow cinephiles a chance to step inside their favourite films. 360 Screenings prides itself on mystery and elusiveness, so the location, dress code and subject matter aren’t disclosed until 24 hours before the screening.

It turns out that the old manor we were invited to visit was the perfect spot to replicate an old mental asylum, while our white shirts made the perfect uniforms for troubled mental patients. As we stood there, a woman dressed in a nurse’s uniform, with a frighteningly placid smile, came out and began warning us not to misbehave. It was Nurse Ratchett. Yes, the film we were about to be pulled into was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

After Ratchett’s introduction, the event began — filled with actors portraying characters from the film, terrifyingly accurate props (including an electroshock chair), and, of course, a screening of the film.

The event was like no other I’d been to, so I decided to sit down with one of 360 Screening’s co-founders, Ned Loach, to talk about the story behind the company’s creation, his proudest moments, and the upcoming (and undoubtedly horrifying) Halloween screening.


The Varsity: What inspired you to begin 360 Screenings?

Ned Loach: Robert [Gontier, 360’s other co-founder] and I were living in London, and there were a lot of really groundbreaking forms of theatre and art that play around with immersive theatre and cinema. We were really inspired by the way that they resonated with the guests… It wasn’t happening in Toronto, so we thought, “Why not start it ourselves?”


TV: How would you describe the goals of 360 Screenings, in your own words?

NL: 360 Screenings recreates the environment and setting of a popular film in Toronto heritage buildings, using actors, set design, props, and spontaneous scenes. We really try to examine the way that audiences behave and are expected to behave, and challenge the way that we perceive being an audience by making it as interactive as possible.


TV: At what point did you feel audiences beginning to connect the concept of 360 Screenings? 

NL: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was definitely a huge artistic triumph for us, but I would say the first time that we felt like audiences were really getting it ­— getting the concept and getting the process of becoming an interactive audience — was at our Fight Club screening. We told everyone to wear black, and we had two on-site makeup artists who were applying fake bruises and scars to everyone, so by the end of the evening, everyone looked like they’d just been in really violent brawls. It was like everyone had been transformed into members of Project Mayhem, the secret society in Fight Club… It was really cool.


TV: Can you give us any hints as to the subject of your Halloween screening?

NL: The one word we’re playing around with is “transformation.” So, you can take that as you will, but there will be some sort of transformation.


Ned, Robert, and 360 Screenings returned on October 25 and 26 with a spine-tingling Halloween screening that, just as their tagline promises, allows you to “step into the film.”  Find out more about 360 screenings at 360screenings.com.

The versatile venue

A musing on Toronto's ever-changing role in movies

Toronto is unique, that’s for sure. While carving out its own little cultural niche, which the CN Tower stands directly on top of, this city is also one of the first choices to impersonate some of its big counterpart American cities — with the University of Toronto often taking the place of an Ivy League school. What is it about Toronto that makes it so malleable in the hands of directors?

The film industry’s fascination with Toronto stretches back to the early ’70s, but it’s the more recent films and TV shows that have become creative with Toronto as a set. While New York City is a global icon, Toronto’s familiar cityscape allows directors to cleverly fashion the T-dot into a Big Apple stand-in. While everyone knows that the cast of Suits was wandering around Bay Street this summer, not as many were aware that big-budget movies like American Psycho and The Incredible Hulk had parts filmed right in the downtown core. For American Psycho fans, the Boston Club, Montana’s Restaurant, and the Phoenix Concert Theatre will stand out as familiar landmarks. When watching The Incredible Hulk, you better believe that the final confrontation between the Hulk and Abomination occurs right along Yonge Street.

Toronto has also been a stand-in for other famed cities as well. The song “Baltimore” from Hairspray, that’s actually Nikki Blonsky’s ode to Toronto, with her high school filmed at the Lord Lansdowne Public School, and the majority of the Baltimore street scenes shot at Dundas Street West and Roncesvalles Avenue. Chicago, the 2002 Hollywood version, was ironically shot here, with scenes in Osgoode Hall, Queens Park, the Distillery District, Casa Loma, Elgin Theatre, Union Station, and more. Although Toronto has hopefully never seen a gang of girls as mean as Regina and her clique, Mean Girls was filmed primarily in Etobicoke ­— with one famous scene at U of T’s own Convocation Hall. U of T also held a place of honour in the Academy Award-winning movie, Good Will Hunting. 

The reason Toronto makes a popular destination for filmmakers is straightforward. With close proximity to the US and notoriously cheap rates, filming in Toronto is a no-brainer. However, what is it about Toronto that makes it  unique, yet simultaneously moldable?

Toronto’s characteristic skyline, and landmarks — such as the CN Tower, the ROM, and Casa Loma comprise the outer shell of our city for tourists. Digging a little deeper, the vibrancy of Toronto’s laid back cultural rhythm pulses through Kensington, Queen West, and the Distillery District, contrasts sharply with the hustle of the Financial District on Bay. With such a singular personality, it’s no wonder that the city is so malleable with almost every major culture is represented in a section of Toronto, the city becomes an international-Canadian hybrid.

From the glitz of Yorkville to the steals of Queen Street West, Toronto accommodates any group of people. Its ability to stand in for another city seamlessly on film is  a true testament to its open embrace and a call to the world to make the city its own.

Film Review: Escape from Tomorrow by Randy Moore

Escape from Tomorrow is a bizarre, unpredictable, and terribly engrossing film. Jim, who has just lost his job, navigates an increasingly surreal Disney World, where every shot is an abstract revelation. He follows two teenage French girls around the park, he has a fling with what looks like a live-action Disney witch, and he cries face down in the hotel pool.

The film’s wacky cinematography has one shot fade from the thrilling view of Epcot’s popular ride Soarin’, to a beautiful, naked woman, to fireworks over the park.

As Jim’s world descends further into madness, the film makes no attempt to answer questions, simply plowing forward with determination. The fact that the entire film was made without the permission of Disney, right under their noses in their very own park, makes it all the more thrilling to watch.

There is little clarity, but director Randy Moore is unapologetic. He throws more and more at the audience until the film is so oversaturated with poignant imagery, familiar music, and a lot of implied creepiness, that all we can do is smile at the fact that for all their legal restrictions and careful security, even Disney gets the wool pulled over their eyes sometimes.

Film Review: Romeo and Juliet

Newest version of the Shakespeare classic fails to reel audience in

Director Carlo Carlei’s just-released traditional adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is true to the world Shakespeare wrote  it in; the last notable adaptation in this style was Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version. The issue with Carlei’s adaptation is the consistency of the actors. Any production of Romeo and Juliet relies heavily on the performance of its two title characters. Despite a sufficient amount of chemistry between them, neither Douglas Booth (Romeo) nor Hailee Steinfeld (Juliet) were quite up to the challenge.

Romeo’s scenes with Benvolio (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Mercutio (Christian Cooke) feel a bit artificial, so the audience feels little sympathy when Mercutio is killed by Tybalt (Ed Westwick). In the original screenplay, the audience is supposed to have grown to love Mercutio in the same manner that Romeo loves him, so that when Romeo avenges Mercutio’s death, we don’t see him as guilty for doing so. Of all the Romeo and Juliet adaptations, the most telling performance of this particular scene is Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation. DiCaprio is absolutely heartbreaking, killing Tybalt in a fit of rage brought on by losing his beloved friend. In the 2013 adaptation, Booth does not convey the necessary emotion for the scene and lacks the charisma that DiCaprio displays throughout Luhrmann’s adaptation.

romeo-juliet-posterOn the other hand, Steinfeld’s Juliet certainly looks the part — young, virginal, and strong — but again, her  interactions with the other characters in the movie are not as captivating as they should be. Juliet is an outspoken, headstrong young woman, and Steinfeld doesn’t quite grasp this.

The highlight performances belonged to the supporting cast. Westwick stands out as an excellent Tybalt, convincingly showcasing the character’s bloodthirsty, hotheaded attitude. Paul Giamatti is easily the best Friar Lawrence I have ever seen; his reaction upon finding Juliet dead is beautiful, and is the most emotionally charged moment of the entire film. Smit-McPhee’s Benvolio gave the most surprising performance; although Benvolio’s character had never previously resonated with me, Smit-Mcphee made him  the most compelling character in all of his scenes. Benvolio and Friar Lawrence were the only characters that brought me to tears by the end of the film; while this is certainly a testament to the actors’ performances, it also points to a flaw of the film as a whole, since many more characters than just these two should evoke such emotion.

Highlights of the film include the incredible locations —  primarily in Veron — stunning costumes, and beautiful cinematography. There are lovely crane and tracking shots that provide a euphoric, wondrous tone. Carlei also beautifully emphasizes motif of hands throughout the film: Romeo and Juliet’s hands come together in a close-up shot when they  first meet, are separated from each other  just after their wedding night (foreshadowing Romeo’s banishment), and are finally brought back together by Benvolio in the last scene.

If you are a fan of this incredible story, then you should go see this film — if only to look at it from another perspective. If you are a Romeo and Juliet first-timer, I would recommend Zeffirelli’s version — and then Lurhman’s — before this one, as Carlei doesn’t quite grasp the full tone of the play.

A film for the social media set

An interview with Noah filmmaker Patrick Cederberg

A film for the social media set

Noah, one of the short films that gained popularity after TIFF, is a bit of an eye-opening experience. Created by two former Ryerson University film students, Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg, the film is about a teenager named Noah who ultimately goes through a break-up with his girlfriend and tries to get over it on the Internet.

Filmmakers, Patrick Cederberg and Walter Woodman. PHOTO COURTESY WALTER WOODMAN

Filmmakers, Patrick Cederberg and Walter Woodman. PHOTO COURTESY WALTER WOODMAN

The wonderful thing about the film is that it’s shot completely on webcam. The camera fades back and forth between Facebook chats, Skype calls, websites, iPhone texts,  and Chatroulette talks — showing the range of emotions that Noah experiences as he goes from suspecting that his girlfriend is cheating on him to trying to figure out how to get over her.

On one level, Noah is a portrait of modern day communication, but it also raises questions about whether the way we communicate is entirely viable. Originally screened at TIFF, Noah gained over a million views after it was uploaded onto YouTube in September, and has put Cederberg and Woodman get on the international radar.

The Varsity sat down with Patrick Cederberg to talk about Facebook, shooting films entirely on webcam, and what’s next for the two filmmakers.


The Varsity: So what has the audience reaction been like for your current film, Noah?
Patrick Cederberg: There’s been a good, consistent response to it  — a lot of people have said: “this was me a couple of years ago,” but ultimately, a lot of them have also been stoked about this new, entirely different way of shooting films.


TV: How long did it take to create the film, in terms of creating the online identities and then just shooting everything?

PC: Well, it took about four to five months to create the online identities (for Amy and Noah), and what we had to do for that was repurpose our own Facebook accounts into the accounts of Amy and Noah. We kept on posting things on each other’s walls in order to create this authentic online world. In terms of footage, we shot the Chatroulette and Skype scenes first, before moving to the screen-capture shots. The screen-capture was just the two of us in a room with a bunch of computers and phones, coordinating everything.


TV: I remember reading that Noah was originally a film about Chatroulette — how did it go from that to a film on online communication? 

PC: Well, Walter got obsessed with Chatroulette for a while, and he ended up roping me in. I remember this one time when we talked with a girl from New Jersey from 11 pm to 4 pm, and it was like this cool, honest connection because it was so anonymous. The conversation would end, and we would never see her again. So from there, Walter had an idea for a film about a guy who meets a girl from Chatroulette and then ends up actually meeting her in real life. But it sort of felt flat once the script went from the computer screen to real life, so I suggested we just move to the computer screen completely and it evolved from there.

There is also this big misconception in the media that Noah is an “anti-Facebook” film, but really what we were trying to do was paint a picture of how we communicate. I mean, Facebook can be bad because it allows for shallow people to cultivate these false personalities for themselves, but there is more to it than that.


TV: I feel like Noah also shows this hierarchy of communication between all these different methods of communicating: texting, Skyping, Facebook chatting, or calling someone?

PC: Yeah, it’s definitely weird. A tweet is not as personal as a Facebook message, which is not as personal as a chat, which is not as personal as a phone call, which is definitely not as personal as a letter — which is a gold mine and it’s totally amazing when you receive one. It’s weird how that applies now, but I think that it also depends on the people who are communicating as well. It’s both a good and bad thing.


TV: What were some previous films that you made with Walter? Is there anything coming up?

PC: This is the first full film that me and Walter have made together. Six months ago, we also started recording for our band, Shy Kids, and our heads have been in the band mentality for a while. But tiff has definitely been really helpful, and now we’re flying down to la for potential projects, like to do commercials and music videos. We also have some passion projects in the backburner — there is another film about how the computer sort of shapes us as people, but nothing quite so related to Noah.


TV: Do you have any advice for upcoming filmmakers?

PC: There is this feeling that one needs the best equipment, the best set, the best cameras in order to make a movie, and that can be a sacrifice to creativity, and the actual story. But honestly, if a movie is clever, and there is enough heart in it and it’s authentic, it’s gold. Also, I think the new way of communicating, such as YouTube, is a great medium for artists — our movie blew up completely because of it.


This interview has been edited for clarity and consistency.