Perhaps no one knows better than Mercedes Cardella the benefit-reaping importance of fostering creative connections early in one’s career as a filmmaker.
After all, Toronto Film School’s Director of Curriculum Design was just entering the infancy of her journey into acting and producing herself when she was cast in the starring role of the 2018 short film, Int’maa, and immediately hit it off with the film’s director, Rolla Tahir.
Fast-forward five years (and one more Tahir-directed and Cardella-produced short film later), and now the duo has been chosen as one of 16 filmmaking teams to participate in this year’s Telefilm Canada’s Talent to Watch program for their upcoming feature film, Jude and the Jinn.
“I found out through social media, and I was, like, ‘Oh my god!’” Cardella recalled of that day back in late October when she learned she, Tahir and producer Ladan Siad had won entry into the program – and the quarter million dollar prize that accompanies it – via an Instagram post by the Black Screen Office.
“It was a really meaningful experience and a really meaningful memory – especially to have a community like the Black Screen Office see it and celebrate it. It was really incredible.”
Relaunched last spring, the newly modernized Talent to Watch Program recently underwent some important changes – including an increase in funding to $250,000 (from $150,000) per feature film project and a newly launched mentorship program administered by the National Screen Institute (NSI) and the Institut national de l’image et du son (INIS), among others.
While admitting that the process to apply was a “very involved” one, Cardella credited the support of the ReelWorld Film Festival Inc. for her and her Jude and the Jinn partners’ successful application to the program.
“It takes a lot of work – and I think there were only 16 winners across Canada – but it’s not impossible,” she said. “For us, it’s just really incredible, knowing that we’re going to have a chance to finally tell this story – especially during this climate.”
Described by Cardella as a “magical realism feature film,” Jude and the Jinn is a story that revolves around the notions of immigration, transience, and belonging – or rather the lack thereof.
“It follows a 30-something Muslim woman of Nubian descent by the name of Jude spirals into a pit of depression after her father is deported, and, as a result, she’s left alone with her thoughts,” Cardella said of the film, which is currently in pre-production and is expected to start shooting in late fall 2023.
“Jude is guided out of her depression when she becomes friends with this mystical, symbolic figure known as a Jinn – and the Jinn really helps her cultivate her own sense of belonging through community.”
Francesca Accinelli, Interim Executive Director and CEO of Telefilm Canada, expressed excitement at the diversity of voices represented by this year’s crop of talented filmmakers whose projects were greenlit through this latest installment of the Talent to Watch program.
“This Class of 2022 features an array of storytellers from across the country, illustrating that Canada is indeed full of incredible talent ready to share their stories through the art of cinematography,” Francesca Accinelli, Interim Executive Director and CEO of Telefilm Canada, said in a statement.
“With significant changes made to our program, we can expect more diverse voices coming in our pipeline and making their mark in the Canadian audiovisual landscape.”
More than the funding attached to the program – which Cardella said is a definite perk – what selection into Talent to Watch means for many filmmakers is legitimacy.
“It means that we’re being seen. It’s an opportunity for us to tell stories that are underrepresented, and it’s our chance to bring those kinds of stories to a bigger platform,” she said.
“Having Telefilm supporting us really is a dream come true, and to be able to have this platform and this opportunity to tell these stories that are often not really looked at is incredible.”
While reflecting on what she hopes Jude and the Jinn’s audiences take away from watching the film, Cardella said, is a sense of agency to cultivate their own sense of belonging.
And what she hopes young, aspiring filmmakers at Toronto Film School take away from her own success story is the importance of making long-lasting connections with classmates.
“Students here at Toronto Film School have the opportunity to be surrounded by creatives from all different areas of the arts and to be able to really solidify those relationships. Hold on to those connections,” she urged.
“Because you honestly never know what you might create together in the future.”