Breathe Emerges as Biggest Winner at 2023 TFS Film Fest

In This Article

  1. Full List of Winners:

2023 TFS Film Fest Stage

A film about a woman trying not to suffocate in the wake of a traumatic event left audiences – and judges – breathless at Toronto Film School’s 2023 Film Festival.

Breathe swept many of the top awards at the May 12 event – bringing home four of the six trophies it was nominated for, including Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Film Editing awards for its writer-director, Kimberly Miller-Pryce, as well as the Best Producer prize for Tofunmi Adebise and Husam Alaghbari.

Miller-Pryce, who formerly worked as a mental health peer trainer, was unable to attend the festival, but said she was “incredibly grateful” with how well Breathe was received at the event.

“Winning Best Director, Best Producer, Best Screenplay and Best Editing is a testament to the hard work my team and I put into this project,” she said, describing Breathe as a 7-minute short film that explores mindfulness themes like “the body remembers” and the different ways we breathe – whether with ease, with unawareness, in need of support, or with our breath taken from us.

“We were intentional with our approach and tried our best to maximize what we had access to, making the most of this story, the film’s meaning, the performances, tone, style and overall execution,” she added.

“The goal was, ultimately, to make you feel something. And for this piece to act as a visceral reminder that despite the world’s chaos – breathe. Just breathe and take it one step at a time.”

Breathe was just one of 55 different student projects – including 37 short films, six documentaries, six music videos and four commercials – that were screened at the TIFF Bell Lightbox over the course of the 2023 TFS Film Fest. Following the nearly six-hour screening, the day-long event culminated in an evening awards ceremony during which trophies were handed out in 19 different categories.

Photo of TFS President Andrew Barnsley on stage at the 2023 TFS Film Festival

“Don’t underestimate the importance of tonight – this is actually a very important night in your career,” TFS’s Emmy-winning President, Andrew Barnsley, urged the nominees in attendance, recalling the night he himself won an award from his film school.

“That was a night I’ll personally never forget – and not only that, the award I won that night is the only one I actually keep in my office and look at every day. It’s a reminder of what it takes: the passion, the commitment, the friends, the colleagues, the family, and the instructors that helped get you here. That night, for me, was very foundational for my career, and I hope it is for you, as well.”

Here’s how the awards ceremony unfolded:

Mohamed-Ali Ammar on stage at 2023 TFS Film Fest

Best Picture

Mohamed-Ali Ammar took home the top prize of the night for his 10-minute thriller, Shaytan.

Written, directed and produced by the 2022 Film Production graduate, the film follows a teenage boy named Malek who discovers an old demonic scripture at his aunt’s house – and upon reading it, unleashes an unexpected visitor.

During his Best Picture acceptance speech, Ammar gave a special shout-out to several TFS faculty members including Emilija Davidovic, Bruno Lyra and Darryl Moen, but heaped most of his praise on his cast and crew, several of whom accompanied him on stage.

“This was a hard production for us to make…but these guys behind me and the people who didn’t make it here tonight, they made this possible, so thank you guys so much,” he said.

Best Director/Best Screenplay/Best Film Editing

Accepting Kimberly Miller-Pryce’s awards for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Film Editing in her absence were Breathe’s producer, Tofunmi Adebise, and director of photography, Ralph Pineda.

“If you know Kimberly, she’s very quiet and reserved, yet has a very powerful voice,” Abedise said. “I’m very happy she brought me along on this project, and please look out for her – she’s done incredible stuff.”

“I got the pleasure of seeing Kimberly edit the film firsthand and to see it transform,” Pineda added. “She’s a great example for any filmmakers with self-doubt of being resilient, being vulnerable and showing your voice.”

Tonfunmi Adebise and Ralph Pineda on stage at the 2023 TFS Film Fest

Best Producer

Breathe also took home Best Producer accolades, which were shared by the film’s co-producers Tofunmi Adebise and Husam Alaghbari.

Adebise, who was on hand to collect the award in person, thanked POV Film for its sponsorship of the film, Michaelangelo Masangkay for helping the Breathe team get insurance, and the entire cast and crew for bringing the project to life.

“Producing is a lot of moving parts, and we would fracture without all those parts, so I’m very grateful for the entire team for their help navigating all the stresses, from finding a location, to finding budgets,” he said. “I’m very grateful to everyone. Thanks so much.”

Connor Morton on stage at the 2023 TFS Film Fest

Best Cinematographer

The top cinematography award was shared by Tom Hsiung & Connor Morton for their work on Daria Lavrova’s Derailed – a 14-minute apocalyptic romance that follows an estranged couple trying desperately to seek each other out as the countdown to the end of humanity ticks down to its final moments.

Accepting the trophy was Morton, who not only thanked his co-director of photography, Hsiung, who was unable to attend the festival, but also his TFS instructors and the film’s director and producer.

“I’d like to thank all my profs for giving me the tools I needed to help bring Daria’s incredible vision to reality, and I’d also like to thank Ipek (Cenkci) – she worked really hard as producer and we wouldn’t have gotten this done without her,” Morton said.

“And also everyone else on set – it was such an incredible crew to be a part of and I’m just really grateful and really happy.”

Saja Kilani with her award for Best Female Performance

Best Female Performance

Saja Kilani took home the Best Female Performance award for her starring turn in What’s Your Emergency? ­– a 10-minute drama about a woman attempting to flee an abusive husband, which she also wrote and directed.

The Toronto-based Arab-Canadian actress, director, writer and model kicked off her acceptance speech by quoting Palestinian spoken word artist Rafeef Ziadah, before thanking her parents, siblings and crew of 16 for helping bring her film to the screen.

“Allow me to speak my mother tongue before they occupy my language, as well,” she recited from Ziadah’s Shades of Anger.

“To me, film is far more than entertaining – it’s educational and I hope to see more Arabs sitting in this room and filling these stages. Thank you to TFS, thank you to Hart (Massey). This is for all actors – keep creating films.”

Best Male Performance winner Nick Smoljanovic on stage at the 2023 TFS Film Fest

Best Male Performance

In a nod to Barnsley’s opening speech, Class of 2022 Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre grad Nick Smoljanovic said he was looking forward to proudly displaying his trophy for Best Male Performance on his desk.

He also heaped praise on his Bad for Business director, Matthew Putnam, as well as his father for all his support.

“My dad made this all possible – I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for you,” Smoljanovic said, addressing his dad in the audience. “Thank you also to Matt for bringing me onto the project – from high school to here today, this is for us. And to every actor out there, this is for us – all of us together.”

Gaslit Apocalypse writer/director Cole McCracken accepts Austyn Whealy's award for Best Sound at the 2023 TFS Film Fest

Best Sound

Gaslit Apocalypse writer/director Cole McCracken accepted double-nominee Austyn Whealy’s award for Best Sound.

“I’m not half as handsome or half the man as Austyn, but I’m very glad to accept this on his behalf. I got to sit there and beat him over the head with ‘Can you adjust this? Can you adjust that?’ requests – and now he has a heavy object to repay the favour,” McCracken joked.

“It’s fantastic that somebody who got nominated twice in this category (Whealy was also nominated for Hyperactivity) was recognized. It is more than well-deserved.”

Anne Vo with her award for Best Production Design at 2023 TFS Film Fest

Best Production Design

In announcing Anne Vo as the 2023 winner of the Best Production Design award, TFS instructor Emilija Davidovic testified to having first-hand knowledge of just how talented she is – noting that the 2020 Pathway Discovery Bursary recipient was a blessing on the set of a pair of projects she commissioned her to work on.

“Anne was my number one pick for at least two productions I did, and she really, really was a godsend,” she said, before handing over the trophy to Vo for her work on Derailed.

“I just want to say I’m so grateful that I’m here to accept this award and I am so thankful I’ve been able to work with so many wonderful people – my instructors and everybody on these films,” Vo said in her acceptance speech.

“Just keep chasing your dreams,” she urged her fellow TFS students and alumni, “because you just never know when they will come true.”

Jose Luis de Leon with his Best Documentary award for Taurino at the 2023 TFS Film Fest

Best Documentary

The award for Best Documentary went to Jose Luis de Leon for Taurino – a 10-minute documentary about bullfighting in Mexico.  

“I just want to say thanks to my instructors, thanks to my family, and thanks to my friends for all the support,” he said during his acceptance speech.

“I’m so glad to be holding this in my hands…because having this in my hands reminds me that I’m on the right track and sooner or later everything is worth it.”

Edward Tuazon with his Best Music Video award at the 2023 TFS Film Fest for Cut Corners – a music video for Toronto hip hop artist, BrYonge.

Best Music Video (TFSO)

Toronto Film School Online’s award for Best Music Video went to Edward Tuazon for Cut Corners – a music video for Toronto hip hop artist, BrYonge.

Tuazon, who travelled all the way from Grand Prairie, Alberta to collect his award in person, was joined by BrYonge on stage and gave a special shout out to TFSO instructors Blain Watters, Kisholay Ray, and Steven Hoffner, for all their support during his studies in the Video Production program.

“One thing I want to say about this award – and it’s kind of sinking in to me now – is that I believe that if it’s meant to be, it will be,” he said, noting that he had unsuccessfully tried two other film schools before enrolling in TFSO.

“Joining TFSO gave me the strength to be back in content creating and filmmaking, and it’s stuff like this (award) that makes me believe it’s all going to be worth it.”

Best Canadian Short Film (TFSO)

An emotional Stephajn Szekely was on hand at the TIFF Bell Lightbox to collect his award for Toronto Film School Online’s Best Canadian Short film for his documentary, Jehovah’s Witnesses: The Abuse Behind the Name.

Lauded by Video Production Program Director Steven Hoffner as the “reason we have this program,” Szekely’s deeply personal film delves into his painful experience with the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization.

“I can’t convey the sensation of standing in front of you all today. There’s so much that can be said about Jehovah’s Witnesses as an organization – survivors like myself could tell you things that would probably give you nightmares, to be honest. In Norway, they’re exposed as an organization that violates human rights; in Pennsylvania, they’re being investigated by a grand jury; here in Canada, there’s been a class-action lawsuit into cover up of child sexual abuse,” Szekely said.

“But, in all of this, the general public isn’t fully aware of how damaging the group that is operating right under their noses can be. In this course, we learned that documentaries and filmmaking can really open people’s eyes, change hearts and effect change – and that’s what I hope that a film such as mine can do.”

Full List of Winners:

Best Picture

Shaytan by Mohamed-Ali Ammar, Graeme Eade, Duncan Mair, Laurent Cote, Guillermo Pastor Cruz, Hamzah Khan, Benjamin Tejeda Ciprian, Matt Horn, Benjamin Dzikowicz, and Mat Renault

Best Director

Kimberly Miller-Pryce for Breathe

Best Producer

Tonfunmi Adebise and Husam Alaghbari for Breathe

Best Cinematographer

Tom Hsiung & Connor Morton for Derailed

Best Female Performance

Saja Kilani for What’s Your Emergency?

Best Male Performance

Nick Smolijanovic for Bad for Business

Best Screenplay

Breathe by Kimberly Miller-Pryce

Best Film Editing

Kimberly Miller-Pryce for Breathe

Best Sound

Austyn Whealy for Gaslit Apocalypse

Best Production Design

Anne Vo for Derailed

Best Documentary

Taurino by Jose Luis de Leon

Best Music Video

The Giving Tree by Asol Kim

Best Commercial

Little Boxes by Ryan Sutton, Jesse Xavier Fernandes & Folasade Williams

Best Production (TFSO)

Crashing Waves by Michael Dupuis

Best Canadian Short Film (TFSO)

Jehovah’s Witnesses: The Abuse Behind the Name by Stephajn Szekely

Best International Short Film (TFSO)

Stranded by Dominic Aleksander

Best Music Video (TFSO)

Cut Corners by Edward Tuazon

Best Motion Graphic Artist

– Ronan Redel for Open Minded

Best Graduating Video Game

BrawlMart – Graduating Class of Summer 2022

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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