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TFS Grad Credits Italian Contemporary Film Fest with Helping Her Find Her Way

Donatella Zanon was in her sixth term of the Film Production program at Toronto Film School when the pandemic hit and all of her post-graduation plans began to fall apart.


Her visa to stay in Canada was in jeopardy, she couldn’t find a job, and flying home to Italy wasn’t an option because, at the time, borders were closing and flights were being cancelled – in short, she found herself at a loss for what to do next.


Donatella Zanon


Then, through an opportune twist of fate, she happened across the Italian Contemporary Film Festival (ICFF).


“I spoke with the organizers there at the festival, which was taking place at Ontario Place because of the pandemic, and they took me on,” she said, noting that festival helped her secure a work permit and sponsorship to remain in the country.


“It was very unexpected and beautiful, in a way. They helped me find my way in the worst moment in time, when I truly had no real hope of staying. It was fantastic.”


Zanon, who got her festival start working for her hometown Venice International Film Festival as a volunteer, said her love of cinema started at a very early age, spurred by her father’s own passion for film.


“I’ve always been in love with film and cinema, and I’ve always been involved in it – it’s been a family-type spirit passed on to me,” she said. “I’ve always been the one staying in the movie theatre to watch the credits with my father, because I knew, one day, I wanted to be one of the people whose names were up there.”


It was that passion that drove Zanon to want to study film, first – briefly – at the Beijing Film Academy, then at Toronto Film School, where she earned her diploma in Film Production in 2020.


“My time at Toronto Film School was fantastic. I think I’ve always dreamed of going to film school and meeting like-minded people, but I never really fully understood the scope of what that would look like,” she said.


“And it was not just the classes, but all the people I met, the little details you pick up by collaborating with others, and hearing the stories and experiences of teachers who have lots to teach. So many were big inspirations to me and the reason I choose to pursue this career.”


Now that she’s graduated, Zanon said her drive to make her mark as a filmmaker is as strong as ever. Since finishing her studies at Toronto Film School, she’s so far worked on a few TV and short film sets, but said her real passion lies in feature films.


“I’m really drawn to the feature film world and I’m really drawn the idea of co-productions – making deals between countries and making something happen between different productions, different crews,” she said, noting that she’s keen to pursue producing, screenwriting and directing opportunities in the future. “I find it all very enticing and exciting.”



In the meantime, she’s absolutely “loved” every minute of her time working for the ICFF as its Communications Coordinator – a role which not only feeds her lifelong appetite for the cinema, but has also provided many networking opportunities for her within the international filmmaking community.


“I’ve made so many connections, I’ve met so many people, so many producers, and so many professionals in the industry,” she said of her work with the ICFF. “I really love this festival and I love what I do.”


And this year, she said, is an especially exciting one for the ICFF.


After two years of drive-in events, this year’s “mind-blowing” 11th edition of the festival will move to the The Distillery Historic District, where Zanon said attendees will be treated to a brand-new open-air “cinema village” concept from June 24 – July 16.



“This is something we’ve never done before, taking over a whole district with a village dedicated to entertainment, cinema and culture,” she said. “If there is a moment to check out a festival, it’s this one, where you have an open environment where you can watch films outdoors, enjoy some cocktail receptions, and also see some multicultural art exhibits.”


Organized in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy in Ottawa, the Consulate General of Italy in Toronto, the Consulate General of Italy in Montreal, and the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Toronto, the 2022 festival will feature 40 feature films, 23 short films, and more than 10 North American premieres by some of the best Italian stars – including Alessandro Gassmann, Claudia Gerini, Lino Banfi and Fabio De Luigi.


For more information about the Italian Contemporary Film Festival, including a full list of screenings, go to


Here is Zanon’s Top 5 list of some of the “must-see” cinematic highlights of the 2022 ICFF:


Ennio: The Maestro

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

Length: 167 minutes

Year: 2021

Countries: Belgium, China, Italy, Japan

Plot: Ennio: The Maestro follows the life and achievements of legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone. The film goes through his journey from composing music for artists like Paul Anka, to his debut with Sergio Leone, to his Oscar-winning score for The Hateful Eight (2016). The film provides behind the scenes access to Morricone and his life and those that he worked with, making the film all the more emotional considering Morricone’s passing in 2020. A celebration of his life and musical abilities, Ennio showcases what it was like to work alongside the master composer and who he was off-screen with those he called family and friends.

ICFF Screening Times:

– Sunday, June 26 at 4 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

– Tuesday, June 28 at 8:15 p.m. at the Distillery District Spirit Theatre

Click here for tickets




Director: Stephen Campanelli

Length: 117 minutes

Year: 2021

Country: Canada

Plot: A sweet coming-of-age story in the John Hughes tradition, set in small-town BC. Mike Drinkwater is bullied at school, and his father, plated by Eric McCormack, is a reprobate scam artist, hardly the role model Mike deserves. A young woman moves to town, and their friendship gives them both courage to overcome their challenges.

ICFF Screening Times:

– Friday, July 1 at 8:15 p.m. at the Distillery District Spirit Theatre

– Friday, July 1 at 9:30 p.m. at the Distillery District Trinity Theatre

Click here for tickets




Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story

Director: Denise Dowse

Length: 94 minutes

Year: 2020

Country: United States

Plot: An inspirational portrayal of Mahalia Jackson’s remarkable life and ascension to the “Queen of Gospel”, as well as her indelible bond with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in their fight for civil rights and social justice.

ICFF Screening Time:

Friday, July 8 at 9:30 p.m. at the Distillery District Trinity Cinema

Click here for tickets



Eduardo e Monica

Director: René Sampaio

Length: 114 minutes

Year: 2020

Country: Brazil

Plot: On an unusual day, a series of coincidences lead Eduardo to meet Monica at a party. Curiosity is aroused between the two and, despite not being alike, they fall madly in love. This love needs to mature and learn to overcome differences.

ICFF Screening Time:

– Monday, July 11 at 9:30 p.m. at the Distillery District Trinity Cinema

Click here for tickets



Steadfast: The Messenger and the Message

Director: Fahim Hamid Ali

Length: 57 minutes

Year: 2022

Country: Canada

Plot: A heartwarming documentary film that follows the life and career of the Honourable Dr. Jean Augustine – the first Black woman elected to the Parliament of Canada and the founder of Black History Month in Canada.

ICFF Screening Time:

– Saturday, July 9 at 9:30 p.m. at the Distillery District Trinity Cinema

Click here for tickets




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