The red carpets have been rolled out. The world’s press has taken their place, mics on, hoping for a quote. Rows upon rows of photographers click-click-click, their camera flashes dazzling. The streets are filled to bursting with screaming fans.
TIFF has come again.
From September 8-18, Toronto plays host to the global film community as the Toronto International Film Festival showcases the latest achievements in the art of cinema.
This year, Toronto Film School is celebrating those achievements in a big way, as several alumni and faculty have their projects premiering at the festival.
Each day this week, we’ll feature a different film and highlight the stories of the TFS community who helped bring it to the big screen.
“TIFF, since the beginning, has always been a great supporter of Canadian film, as well as independent projects that are so important to be seen,” stated John Tench.
Tench, an incredibly prolific Canadian actor (his IMDb profile lists 172 film/TV acting credits) and instructor in the Acting for Film TV & Theatre program at Toronto Film School, knows a thing or two about TIFF.
He’s been attending the festival for decades.
“I have a long history with TIFF, since the early days back in the ’80s,” Tench reflected. “It started as a small, albeit brilliant, festival, where you would get to see many amazing international films that would never be screened elsewhere. Through the years, I have seen it grow and expand to become one of the great and most important film festivals in the world.”
This year Tench will be attending TIFF in celebration of Bones of Crows, a century-spanning epic, written and directed by Marie Clements, that tells the story of Aline Spears, a Cree woman born in the 1920s into a large and happy family. Her and her siblings are then ripped from their home and sent to residential schools, where they endure physical, psychological, and cultural abuse.
The film’s story covers generations and is described as “a powerful indictment of the abuse of Indigenous peoples and a stirring story of extraordinary resilience and resistance”.
Tench plays Trueman Quinn, the film’s villain. Quinn is an historical figure; he was an Indian agent – a representative of the Canadian government tasked with implementing governmental policy on reserves, enforcing and administering the provisions of the Indian Act and managing the day-to-day affairs of First Nations people.
When Tench was called by his agent and told that Clements wanted to meet with him for the role, he said yes before even seeing the script. They worked together in the past and he had tremendous respect for Clements’ work.
When they met, he asked her why him for this character?
“She said, ‘I need you to play the bad guy; I need you to play the Indian agent. He’s a horrible, horrible guy who died screaming in his own blood. But I need somebody I trust in this role.’”
For his part, Tench has a long history of playing the villain and his characters often meet a brutal end. In fact, he’s had 72 on-screen deaths to date. Most villains, he said, don’t think of themselves as being the bad guy and so, as an actor, the job is to find the humanity within their motivations.
With someone like Quinn, however, that can prove challenging.
“With villains, you either have an amoral or immoral personality, meaning you either don’t understand that what you’re doing is wrong, or you do understand that what you’re doing is wrong and you delight in it,” Tench explained.
“Trueman Quinn? He is one of the unforgiven, he is one of the damned, because he knew that what he was doing was wrong and he did it anyway,” he continued. “He thought what he was doing was necessary, but he knew the immorality of his actions.”
What wasn’t challenging for Tench was the experience of filming on location in the stunning landscape of the Canadian west.
“I still get goosebumps thinking about getting off the plane and walking out into that first location in Kamloops and seeing the wide, long, prairie,” he recollected. “Sometimes you get involved with a project where it’s just all there for you. You just get into the costume and you’re there.”
Tench moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s and, though he often worked on films and television series that filmed in Toronto, he lived between LA and Vancouver up until 2012, when he returned home.
At that time, he was invited by Hart Massey to join the TFS faculty, where he has been teaching classes to the students in the acting program ever since.
“Seeing TFS grow and expand through the years through the hard work of their faculty and administration has always been a great source of pride to me, in the almost decade I have been part of the school,” he beamed.
“Onwards and upwards we always say. Excelsior! TFS!”
For Bones of Crows showtimes, click here.