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 Sept. 8 to 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.
Natalia Aranguren is a star on the rise.
Or, more specifically, a TIFF Rising Star.
Each year at TIFF, a group of Canadian and international actors are singled out for the honour, signalling to the industry that they are “the next generation poised for success.”
Aranguren is being recognized this year for her work in So Much Tenderness, and to say she was shocked by the announcement would be an understatement.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all. It’s been crazy!” exclaimed the 2019 Acting for Film TV & Theatre grad. “This was my first feature film!”
“I was like, ‘What is this? What is happening?’” she laughed.
So Much Tenderness tells the story of Aurora, an environmental lawyer, and her teenage daughter, Lucia (played by Aranguren), who flee Colombia to move to Toronto after a family tragedy. After a couple of years building a new life, an unwelcome visitor from their past disrupts their newfound stability.
For Aranguren, playing Lucia was a process that began long before her first day on set.
“I feel like the process of creating this character was a full journey. It wasn’t just the days we were shooting,” she reflected, “it was like eight or 10 months prior of me building this character, thinking about what I liked, who are my friends, what my room looks like, what I’m studying, and so on. I think the audience can see all this journey on the screen.”
Lucia is in a transition period, Aranguren explained, where she doesn’t want to feel attached to Colombia, but isn’t connected to Canada either. And she’s healing her relationship with her mother, as well.
“She’s such a character,” Aranguren reminisced. “She’s very rebellious, says what she thinks, doesn’t have a filter at all. She’s very impulsive, but she’s trying to reconnect with her life.”
As an immigrant from Colombia herself, Aranguren said she felt very connected to Lucia’s story.
“As immigrants, it’s very hard with the language and with the culture, but we want to succeed. As Natalia, I came here with dreams. And Lucia, as well. And that’s where I believe Natalia and Lucia can meet.”
Aranguren said she is proud to see so much Hispanic culture reflected in So Much Tenderness. And is hopeful that the film will be successful enough to show a more authentic style of representation of her community; to help break the stereotypes of South American people typically portrayed on screen.
“I also want the industry to know that there is no accent barrier,” Aranguren acknowledged. “When I graduated from TFS, that was a big barrier for me at auditions. They wanted the Latin look, but with an American accent. They’d say, ‘We love how you act and we love how you look, but you have that accent’.”
“With this movie,” she continued, “I want people to feel emotions and for them to understand that an accent is not a barrier to that.”
“We can still create beautiful art with our accents.”
While Aranguren was at TFS, she worked a part-time job to help cover her expenses. Like many other students, she turned to the hospitality industry.
“Maybe I was dreaming,” she mused, “but I wanted to feel close to that.”
What do you call a dream that comes true?
Aranguren said she has an idea about that.
“One of the most beautiful moments for me was when we had the press conference announcing that So Much Tenderness was selected as part of TIFF this year,” she described. “I saw Cameron Bailey, who’s the CEO of TIFF, and he looked at me and he said, ‘This is crazy! You were serving me coffee a couple years ago and now look where you are!’”
“He was so emotional and happy for me; it was a really nice moment.”
The celebratory moments continued when it was announced that Aranguren had been selected as a TIFF Rising Star.
“I cried like crazy. It made me feel like everything has been worth it; that I wasn’t crazy to quit everything in Colombia and come here for this dream,” she remembered.
“This gives me a lot of encouragement to continue.”
When Aranguren was a student at TFS, she met her best friend, Yeimy Daza, who was a student in the Film Production program. The duo collaborated on two short films, both written and directed by Daza, called Poly and Vitamin. Aranguren’s performances in those films won her the Best Actress award at Toronto Film School’s Film Fest.
It’s these close, personal connections that motivate Aranguren to keep pursuing her dream.
“My brother wants to be a film director, so if I can build something for him, that would give me everything,” she said. “Also, for my friends I met at TFS, I can’t wait to be able to pay them to do a film together and recognize their work, because they’ve been with me since day one. So, if this helps me get somewhere and I can have a better name in the industry, then I can help create things with them, like with Yeimy, who’s been my director since day one.”
“Those people who are supporting me are the ones who inspire me and push me to do better.”
For showtimes of So Much Tenderness, click here.