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August Spotlight | Amazing Alumni Accomplishments

At Toronto Film School, we never cease to be amazed by the accomplishments of our awesome alumni and students who are out pursuing their dreams in the creative industries – be it celebrating the world premiere of their new feature films, landing national commercials in the U.S., or being named to Top 30 Under 30 lists!

Here are some of the recent standout highlights from Toronto Film School’s talented community of creatives:

Saja Kilani Named to Canadian Arab Institute’s ‘30 Under 30’

Class of 2022 Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre grad Saja Kilani was recently named to the Canadian Arab Institute’s 2023 Top 30 Under 30 list.

Announced in June, the award recognizes young Arab-Canadians who are empowering and making a difference in their community. All honourees are individuals who not only excel in their industry or field, but who are also actively engaged in promoting their heritage and culture and empowering their communities.

Kilani – who has a degree in International Relations in addition to her Acting diploma – called her inclusion on the list “a great honour.”

“May this award serve as a constant reminder of my dedication to advocating for Arab representation in my artistic endeavors,” she said. “My work is an extension of where I come from.”

Indeed, the Canadian Arab Institute (CAI) lauded Kilani for the “significant impact” she’s been making on the Arab-Canadian community through her work as a Jordanian-Canadian actress, writer and filmmaker, and made special mention of her efforts to use her artistic talents to shed light on neglected stories.

The CAI noted that Kilani’s debut play production, Tales of a City by the Sea, received critical acclaim for portraying Palestinians under occupation. And her films – including the silent short Knockdown, which addresses Indigenous displacement, and her thesis short film What’s Your Emergency, which tackles domestic violence – showcase her versatility as a filmmaker.

The Institute also praised Kilani’s “powerful poems” – including This Is Palestine, which is featured in the Toronto Palestine Film Festival archives, and No Honour in Honour Killing and I Am, which both reached a global audience. She continues to share her spoken word poetry on her social media platforms, including Instagram and TikTok.

“Through her creative endeavours, Saja aims to shift narratives, empower others, and create a tangible impact in the Arab/Canadian community,” the CAI said, noting that Kilani is currently developing her first independent feature film in Jordan, which aims to address a social struggle to create a tangible impact in the country.

“As an artist of Palestinian heritage, Saja is profoundly committed to elevating voices like hers and shifting the narrative to reflect the truth.”

Micheal J. Hill Books US National Commercial

Micheal J. Hill, who just graduated from the Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre program in June, has already booked his first commercial gig – and it was a big one!

“I have officially wrapped working on the project. It was an amazing learning experience for me and helped launch my career in this industry,” Hill said of his on-set experience, which remains very hush-hush.

“The most I can say for now is that the project is a U.S. national commercial. Exciting right?”

Born and raised in Jamaica, Hill moved to Canada as a teen to finish high school and attend university. After graduating with an honours degree in Chemistry & Forensic Science and a master’s degree in chemistry, he began working as a lab analyst – an “amazing” job that gave him financial security, but didn’t bring him happiness.

“I was secure with a salary, pension and retirement plan, but it didn’t make me happy every day – even though it was an amazing job and I was great at what I did. Acting was where my heart always lied,” he said of his decision to quit that job and enrol in the Acting program at Toronto Film School to pursue his dreams.

Hill, who signed with Pacific Artists two months ago, gives much credit for his early success in the industry to his TFS classes and instructors.

“Audition for Camera, Camera Acting, Self-tape Production, Producing, Directing, Editing with James Bond and many more classes were very essential to my auditions and landing a nearly 50-per-cent callback rate over the course of my 30 auditions since signing with Pacific two months ago,” he said, likewise praising his representatives at Pacific.

“Being a Pacific Artist means I am part of a team, not someone’s puppet or employee. My interview process with them was very open and transparent. Though they were very interested in me, they weren’t pushy or aggressive. My emails and texts always get answered in a very timely manner, and I feel very prioritized.”

In addition to his national commercial, Hill has also been working on a few other projects – including the short film Misperception by Class of 2023 Writing for Film & Television grad Nadia Forgione and a cast and crew of fellow TFS alumni. He’s also due to appear in a music video for an up-and-coming female artist later this month.

Class of 2022 Writing for Film & TV grad Joe Favalaro’s latest script, The Black Dog, was recently recommended by The Black List – a platform for writers to showcase their features, pilots, and plays for industry professionals and get high-quality evaluations from vetted readers.

The Black Dog received a 9/10 evaluation on the platform – something that Favalaro said came as a “shock to the system,” but was nonetheless “truly exciting.”

“Being recommended by The Black List has been great, as it’s afforded me the chance to get my work out further than before,” said the Hamilton-based screenwriter, novelist, poet and punk musician.

“Being unrepresented, getting people to read your work can sometimes prove to be difficult, but the Black List recommendation has helped get me in front some amazing industry people – from actors and managers, to producers and directors. It’s nice to receive validation for a story you put your heart, soul and a lot of personal pain into.”

Described by Favalaro as a psychological body horror feature in the vein of It Follows, Rabbit Hole and Cujo, The Black Dog is a character-driven and viscerally uneasy film that tackles heavy themes of depression and gun violence. It follows a photographer who’s haunted by a tragedy he failed to prevent as he descends into madness when a supernatural dog attacks and relentlessly pursues him.

The script is currently under a shopping agreement, but Favalaro is hopeful he’ll be able to share more on the future plans for The Black Dog on his Twitter and Instagram accounts following the resolution of the WGA strike. You can support those impacted by the ongoing labour dispute here.

Tyrel Latoski Doc Hits 1.8 Million Views on YouTube

Tyrel Latoski, an online Video Production student, has seen his short documentary, A Day in the Life of Santana, hit more than 1.86 million views on YouTube.

“Watching the film grow on YouTube has been inspiring and motivating for me to keep creating this style of content,” he said.

“The biggest takeaway I have from this experience is that regardless of feeling ready or not, taking action and always following your instincts will pay off. The growth and experience I have gained from this project are the most valuable. Just go for it!”

Filmed in 2022, Latoski said he was first inspired to make the film while visiting his dad in Jamaica back in 2019. It was then that he had the opportunity to take a day trip to a small village called Bunkers Hill, where he had his first encounter with Santana.

“Ever since meeting him, I always thought it would be interesting to witness a day in his life and I’ve always wished other people could see how much it differs from the North American lifestyle,” he said. “So, he was the first person who came to my mind when it was time to make a documentary in 2022.”

Calling the filming of the project “impactful,” Latoski said the experience forced him out of my comfort zone and helped him grow as a filmmaker.

“It taught me to film in different climates, and to make the best out of unexpected roadblocks,” he said, also crediting his studies at Toronto Film School for helping to prepare him for the experience.

“TFS taught me the importance of storytelling, sound design, and interview techniques. They also helped me build my skills in Adobe. (Video Production Program Coordinator) Steven Hoffner did a great job at breaking everything down and teaching us how to apply it.”

Latoski is hopeful the viewership of A Day in the Life of Santana continues to grow, and that its success helps to open other doors for him in the world of documentary filmmaking.

See more of Latoski’s work on his website and Instagram and YouTube pages.

Eric Currier Lands Internship at AlienTrap Games

Class of 2023 Video Game Design & Animation grad Eric Currier landed an 8-week paid internship at Alientrap Games right after graduating – and he credits the connections he made through TFS for making it happen.

The Toronto native said he beat out more than 150 other talented artists in Ontario for the job, thanks, in large part, to TFS’s Business Development Specialist Ian Sharpe for helping him build a strong resume, Manager of Student Engagement Kevin Huhn for opening the doors to networking events like IO Connect, and Managing Director Cameron MacLaren for introducing him to Interactive Ontario’s Victoria Evans.

“Victoria helped me get set up into a network of individuals who helped find my current position (as a 3D General Artist) at Alientrap Games,” he said. “I love the position I am in – a 3D General Artist is someone who is capable of completing the entire pipeline, from concept art, all the way to a finished in-game product. It’s everything I aimed for and hoped to do while going through my studies at TFS.”

Currier – who took on the role of art director for his graduating class’s capstone game, VoidSpoken – said his current role at Alientrap involves making stylized 3D assets to be used in their upcoming game. He’s also been tasked with creating rigs, animating, and iterating on specific assets.

“Most importantly, I’ve been given a lot of room to express my creativity with the things I make,” he said, again crediting TFS for instilling in him the “foundational” skillsets he needed to break into the industry.

“I went in (to TFS) with little to no knowledge of creating 3D video game objects or characters. However, thanks to the talented and skilled teachers at Toronto Film School, I now understand and perform those abilities with confidence,” he said.

“These skillsets also enable me to further pursue the creation of my own passion project, which I hope to complete in the future.”

Check out Currier’s work on ArtStation here: https://www.artstation.com/he_art

Antoine Hatem Touring with Paw Patrol Live!

Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre grad Antoine Hatem spent two months this summer touring with Nickelodeon/Cirque du Soleil’s French Canadian tour of Paw Patrol Live! “Heroes Unite”.

Hatem played the villain in the show, Mayor Humdinger – described on the Paw Patrol Live website as the “the not-so-nice mayor” of the town of Foggy Bottom, who has a group of six kittens, the Kit-tastrophe Crew, who help him in all his sneaky schemes.

“The show was a fulfilling experience with an American cast and crew,” Hatem said, noting that he joined the cast for the last two months of the tour, starting in Mississauga and finishing at the Vidéotron Center in Quebec City.

“We would mainly perform in stadium, which was big space to fill. I did a total of 28 representations as the character of Mayor Humdinger. For him, I got to use all of my acquire skills from the past years.”

With Paw Patrol being a Nickelodeon and Cirque du soleil show, Hatem said there were a lot of effects and animation that he needed to adapt to – something he credits his training at Toronto Film School for preparing him for.

“The show required me to go back to my movement, voice and clown classes at TFS,” he said.

“TFS is a school that builds you into a complete artist, in the sense of versatility. It helps students successfully create their own opportunities, helps them in the process of casting with the casting director, and helped me while I was on tour to have confidence in myself as an adaptable artist.”

Cesar Karraa Credited for Work on John Wick: Chapter 4

Cesar Karraa recently saw his name in the credits when the latest installment of Keanu ReevesJohn Wick franchise hit theatres back in March.

The Class of 2018 Film Production grad worked as a Junior VFX Editor on John Wick: Chapter 4.

“My job consisted of maintaining a good flow between the client and the resources provided, and ensuring that our artists receive what they need to complete the job,” he said.

“From converting the colour space of the camera to our colour space, to dealing with shots with different aspect ratio, and then finally doing quality control before sending to the client.”

Originally from El Salvador, Karraa said he never expected to work on a film as big as John Wick: Chapter 4.

“It was a challenging project, but in the end, seeing my name in the credits and calling my family about it was the best feeling ever,” he said, noting that his biggest takeaway from the experience was seeing how his work on the film helped transform it into something special.

“Going from something that was filmed in front of a green screen, and seeing the green screen transform into part of the environment in the film, like trees and rocks, is really fulfilling.”

Elizabeth Hrib Celebrates World Premiere of ‘Grey Matter’

Online Writing for Film & TV student Elizabeth Hrib recently celebrated the world premiere of her film Grey Matter at the Female Eye Film Festival – where it took home the award for Best Debut Foreign Feature.

“Having the world premiere of Grey Matter in Toronto is beyond amazing,” said the London, Ontario native. “As a Canadian writer, I’m ecstatic to get to see my work on the ‘big screen’ for the first time in a city that means so much to me.”

Written by Hrib and directed by Arabella Burfitt-Dons, Grey Matter follows teenaged Chloe, who is tasked with caring for her eccentric grandmother Peg following her diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease. Determined to make their summer together unforgettable, Chloe encourages Peg to make a list of all the things she wants to do before she forgets and strives to fulfill all of those wishes. But as her grandmother’s health deteriorates, Chloe must face her own struggle with depression and the reality of losing her grandmother to long-term care.

“I wrote Grey Matter during the pandemic – a time when the world felt a little bit out of control. Inspired partly by my experience as a nurse and by my relationship with my own grandmother, this story explores the complexities of mental health, particularly for teenagers, as well as the fears and difficulties associated with transitioning to long-term care,” Hrib explained.

“Writing this story, I was reminded that sometimes life isn’t about controlling the chaos, but about accepting that it’s okay to exist in a space that’s a little complicated and confusing and grey. Now, as a student in Toronto Film School’s Online Writing for Film & Television program, I look forward to exploring this grey space, writing more intimate family dramas, and honing my screenwriting skills.”

Hrib said she was also excited to celebrate the film’s premiere at the Female Eye Film Fest, which has been advocating for gender equity, inclusion and diversity since 2001. Running from July 26-30 at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, this year’s festival boasted five days of screenings from filmmakers from across North America, Germany, Iran, Spain, France, Colombia, China, Ireland, the UK, South Africa, Malaysia, Mexico, Turkey, Japan, Italy, Belgium, and Latvia, among others.

“To be premiering at the Female Eye Film Festival was so exciting,” she said of the film’s July 28 premiere. “This festival advocates for inclusion and diversity in the industry and champions these perspectives with the tagline – Always Honest, Not Always Pretty.”

Grey Matter is also slated to mark its Saskatchewan premiere on Aug. 3 at the Regina International Film Festival, where it’s nominated for Best International Film.

Watch the Grey Matter trailer here:

***Are you an alumnus or student who would like to share your latest accomplishment with the TFS community? If so, please reach out to our Communications Manager at [email protected]

Cynthia Reason

Cynthia Reason (she/her) is a former newspaper journalist turned communications professional who currently works as Toronto Film School’s Manager of Communications. Prior to joining TFS, she spent 13 years working as a reporter for Torstar/Metroland Media Toronto, writing for publications including Toronto.com, the Etobicoke Guardian, and the Toronto Star, among others. Her byline has also appeared in the National Post. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Guelph and Post-Graduate Diploma in Journalism from Humber College.


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