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‘Congratulations, It’s a Girl!’ Sweeps Top Awards at Toronto Film School’s 2024 Film Festival

Congratulations, It's A Girl cast and crew

A student short film shot entirely in Mandarin defied language barriers to emerge as the big winner at Toronto Film School’s 2024 Film Festival.

Congratulations, It’s a Girl! took home many of the top awards at the May 16 event, bringing home five of the six trophies it was nominated for – including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay awards for Han Liu, who shared the directing honours with Emery Woods, as well as the Best Cinematography prize for Karianne Taklo and the Best Film Editing award for Dantong Jia.

“Wow! My mind is kind of blank right now, but thank you for choosing me. It was kind of tough when I was first thinking to write a full Mandarin-speaking script in Canada, but thank you so much for liking it,” Liu said of the film, which follows a Chinese woman’s desperate struggle to hold onto her baby girl.

Cast and crew of Congratulations, It's a Girl on stage

“Most importantly, I really have to thank my teammates – they’re the reason why we won this award,” added Liu, who took to the stage four times to accept the awards on his own, as well as his crew members’, behalf. “I think what really makes a good film is having really wonderful people around you, because what do I know, except yelling ‘cut’ from the side?”

Congratulations, It’s a Girl! was just one of 37 students projects – including 28 short films, four documentaries and five music videos – that were screened at the prestigious TIFF Lightbox over the course of the 2024 TFS Film Festival.

Following the nearly seven-hours of screenings, the daylong event culminated in the evening awards ceremony, during which Pinnacle Awards were handed out in 21 different categories.

Steven Hoffner

“Tonight’s winners will get an award that’s been around for a really long time: the Pinnacle. The Pinnacle symbolizes excellence in student filmmaking here at TFS – a height reached when perseverance meets excellence,” said Film Production Program Director Steven Hoffner, the award ceremony’s emcee.

“Take a moment to think about how important this moment is…I want everyone to really take in this whole experience, because it’s so important and I’m proud of everyone here.”

Here are some of the other award highlights of the night:

Karianne Taklo

Best Cinematography

Continuing Congratulations, It’s a Girl!’s hot streak was Karianne Taklo, who won the award for Best Cinematography in recognition of her expert hand in bringing that film’s story to life through the lens of her camera.

“Wow,” she said on stage, promising to keep her speech short and sweet. “I just want to thank Han (Liu) so much for trusting me to capture his film – and thank you so much again for giving me the chance. I love you guys!”

Kothai Srianganathan

Best Performance in a Drama

For the first time in its history, the TFS Film Festival did away with gendered awards in its performance categories – something Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre Program Director Hart Massey said he’s “really proud” of.

Bringing home the inaugural award for Best Performance in a Drama was Kothai Srianganathan for her performance in Kennedy Stevens’ Where I Left You –  a powerful story about the strength and beauty of female friendships, and the heartbreak of their endings.

“I just wanted to say thank you to everyone that’s here. This means a lot to me,” a nervous Srianganathan said on stage after accepting her award. “I would just like to thank Kennedy, because she gave me this wonderful opportunity to be in this film, so let’s give a round of applause for her. And I would also love to say thank you to my family and friends.”

Keith Agar

Best Performance in a Comedy

Keith Agar walked away with the prize for Best Performance in a Comedy for his comedic take on a hapless cowboy in Killin’ Time: A Western Story ­– a film he undertook with a cast and crew of just five.

“This whole experience was so amazing! To really learn how to make a film, you just gotta do it and Toronto Film School taught us so much about how to be a filmmaker and how to create something out of nothing,” said Agar, who also directed the film.

“But like I said, nothing is crazier than just grabbing a bunch of people and trying something, and that’s exactly what I did. So a huge shout out to the cast and crew of five – my Uncle Al, Connor, Madison, Alanna and my dad.”

Cast of The Gap

Best Performance by an Ensemble

The award for Best Performance by an Ensemble went to the eight stars of Reza Arzhang’s The Gap – a short thriller about a group of students preparing themselves for the most vital exam of their lives under the supervision of a sinister schoolmaster played by TFS instructor Jonathan Whittaker.

Director Reza Arzhang accepted the award on behalf of his talented cast, including: Gabriela Diaz, Grace Loewen, Alireza Mirzamohammadali, Jeffey Torcato, Danil Kim, Krystal Nickolau, Ajeet Dhaliwal and Allen Vallo Bajar.

“Thank you so much, we feel so honoured. This achievement really belongs to everyone who contributed to this project. It really means a lot to all of us and I feel blessed to be surrounded by such passionate and committed artists,” he said. “I want to thank Toronto Film School, I want to thank (TFS instructor) Chad Tailor…and I want to thank Jonathan Whittaker, who brought this project to a whole other level.”

Team behind Baristapocalypse

Video Game of the Year

The award for Video Game of the Year went to the talented team behind Baristapocalypse – a “caffeine-fueled,” multi-player game set in a post-apocalyptic universe where players are tasked with managing a coffee shop on a commercial spacecraft.

Accepting the award on behalf of Team Ghost Roast Games was the project’s Lead Artist, Gabriel Ramos, the team’s self-described “designated speaker,” who also acted as spokesperson when Baristapocalypse won the award for Technical Achievement in a Video Game.

“I’ve been nominated to speak for this group, so thank you, everybody. This whole experience was a test in resilience and working through problems and we learned so much,” he said.

“Thank you to all those who worked on game who couldn’t be here tonight, thank you to all of our families and partners who put up with us never seeing them for a year and a half, and thank you to this team.”

Nicole Belhumeur

Best Art Direction

The award for Best Art Direction went to Graphic Design & Interactive Media grad Nicole Belhumeur, who made a point of shouting out Program Director Pheinixx Paul for all her guidance and support.

“This is wild!” she said upon collecting her Pinnacle Award on stage. “I just want to say thank you to TFS and the judges. I’m so grateful to be recognized amongst such talented peers, and I’m thrilled to represent the dedication, collaboration, and creativity of the Graphic Design program.

“And a special thank you to my family for their support with all my design talk.”

Lingesh Janarthanam

Best Sound

Presented to the student who best evoked emotion and enhanced storytelling through sound design and mixing, the Best Sound award was presented to Lingesh Janarthanam for his work on Each Other

“Thank you, everyone. I would like to thank the TFS Film Festival jury for selecting me, and I would like to thank William (Gauthier), the director of Each Other, for choosing me for this project,” he said of the 12-minute film, which follows a young man who, after realizing his younger brother’s 15th birthday has been spoiled by their father, takes it upon himself to sneak him out to a party to spend time with his boyfriend.

Andrew Barnsley

Before presenting the last award of the night, TFS’s Emmy and Golden Globe-winning President, Andrew Barnsley, took a few minutes to remind students of the gravity of the moment.

“I really think it’s important to take some time to think about where you are right now – you’re in the TIFF Lightbox theatre, arguably the epicentre of film in the world.  We’re sitting in a theatre where the Hollywood elite have sat, where filmmakers from around the world have sat – and you’re in these seats tonight!” he reminded the nominated students and alumni gathered at the event.

 “I think it’s important to let that fact sink in – moments like these, it’s so amazing to celebrate achievements, but it’s also important to celebrate your journey.”

Simone Denny

The awards portion of the evening was capped off with a performance of You’re a Superstar by four-time Juno winning, five-time Billboard Dance topping vocalist Simone Denny, of Love Inc.

Pinnacle Awards

 

Full List of Winners:

Best Picture – Congratulations, It’s a Girl!

Best Director – Han Liu & Emery Woods for Congratulations, It’s a Girl!

Best Screenplay – Han Liu for Congratulations, It’s a Girl!

Best Performance in a Drama – Kothai Srianganathan in Where I Left You

Best Performance in a ComedyKeith Agar in Killin’ Time: A Western Story

Best Performance by an EnsembleGabriela Diaz, Grace Loewen, Alireza Mirzamohammadali, Jeffrey Torcato, Danil Kim, Krystal Nickolau, Ajeet Dhaliwal and Allen Vallo Bajar in The Gap

Best CinematographerKarianne Taklo for Congratulations, It’s a Girl!

Best DocumentaryFernanda Molina Pérez Diez for Life Behind the Stigma

Best Film Editing – Dantong Jia for Congratulations, It’s a Girl!

Best Sound Lingesh Janarthanam for Each Other

Best Production Design Alejandra Solano Ospina and Rachana Shinde for Meta

Best Art DirectionNicole Belhumeur

Best Music Video – Jaskeerat Teddy Singh for Lavish

Video Game of the YearBaristapocalypse

Visual Excellence in a Video Game Award – Hidden Worlds: Spyglass Chronicles

Technical Achievement in a Video Game Award – Baristapocalypse

Best Motion Graphic Artist – Jocelyne Garant for Coin Toss

Best Canadian Short (TFSO) – Sebastian Cruz for Hollow Shells

Best International Short (TFSO) – Mohamed Alemam for The Craft

Best Production (TFSO) – Makayla Hidalgo for Rooted in Art

Best Music Video (TFSO) – Davin Norman Hyde for Somebody That I Used to Know

2024 TFS Film Fest

Sponsors of the 2024 Toronto Film School Film Festival included: Ubisoft Toronto, Shaftesbury, MUBI, JALI, alter ego, Backstage, Annex Pro, Vaughan International Film Festival, Canadian Film Festival, Sony, Avid and Boston Pizza.

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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