The best movies of 2021: celebrating local film heroes
During another difficult year, these actors, directors, producers, writers and programmers have helped change Toronto’s film and television landscape.
It was another strange year for Toronto film and television culture. No one seemed to be doing much in the first half of 2021, and then suddenly we were at the waist in vital, relevant work from old and new voices. As a result, you might recognize a few names from previous versions of this list… but trust us, they more than deserve their commitment to return.
Actor / Producer
As the first queer South Asian Muslim actor to star in a prime-time Canadian television series, Kind of Co-creator / star Baig was very keen on getting it right – and not just in portraying their own character, Toronto’s non-binary Millennial Sabi, but in how the show sees everyone in its orbit. The result is a truly intersectional comedy with an open point of view; Everyone Sabi meets is going through some form of transition, and to Baig’s credit, Sort Of is supporting them all.
After years as “co-director” of the Toronto International Film Festival – and really, is there a more ugly title? – the former screenwriter of NOW Bailey was appointed CEO at the end of November. He has been the public face of the operation since Piers Handling retired in 2018 – and depending on who you ask, for a lot longer than that, so it may have seemed inevitable to some … but it’s about. near time.
Writer / Director
With his first feature film Raiders of the night, a dystopian thriller told through an Indigenous lens, Goulet has emerged as a powerful new voice in Canadian cinema. The residential school allegory running through its story of a mother (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) trying to save her young daughter (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) from literal colonization is just the most urgent part of a smooth start. and assured that concerns the future of Canada as much as it is about its past.
With his documentary Subjects of desire – the only non-fiction work named in TIFF’s Canadian Top Ten for 2021 – longtime film and television producer Holness (Home Again, Shoot The Messenger, Stateless) delivered a lucid look at entrenched systemic racism into the North American beauty ideal, and how it so often excludes black women. In a just world, they would screen Holness’s film in schools for the next decade; of course, in a truly just world, they wouldn’t have to.
Producer, Sienna Films
Sienna Films brought us some of the most essential and groundbreaking Canadian televisions of recent years, as well as the production of Yasmine Mathurin’s film. One of ours: the controversy around Trickster unfortunately drowned out any conversation about this show’s ability to build its world and tell its story, and Kind of opened up new horizons for non-binary representation and South Asian homosexuality. Next : The doorman, a CBC series about the railway workers who formed the world’s first black union in the 1920s.
In addition to starring in the biggest box office hit of 2021 – and doing his own stunts – Liu has spoken alongside co-star Jean Yoon on Toxic Power Dynamics on their CBC sitcom. Kim’s convenience, went down in history as the “first Chinese guest to be the fourth Chinese guest” of Saturday Night Live and generally handled all of the great power / great responsibility like a champion. And he’s just wrapped up a romantic drama with Hamilton star Philippa Soo, which requires a whole different set of powers.
Producer and director
Wala was on our list in 2019 for his work to get CBC to launch a paid mentorship program to help BIPOC filmmakers gain a foothold in the industry. He remained an advocate for representation at the most basic levels of film and television production, co-founding the Racial Equity Media Collective with Sherien Barsoum and Tamara Dawit to keep funding organizations like Telefilm Canada on their promises to fund diverse creators. And he kept doing stuff; Wala’s Scarborough Pictures Helped Web Comedy Next stop land a second season on CBC Gem and its new documentary Superfan: The Story of Nav Bhatia just stumbled across the service this month.
Executive Director, Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival
Wong is no stranger to her current post; she was Executive Director of Reel Asian from 2005 to 2008 before returning to her current role. And this year, as the festival celebrated its 25th anniversary, she helped ensure that her tenure allows for endless interpretations of Asian identity, bringing together filmmakers Randall Okita and Maya Bastian and Scarborough writer and screenwriter Catherine. Hernandez to discuss their radically different perspectives.
Next stop of the team
Starting with a rambling YouTube series and turning into a CBC Gem assured comedy, Jabbari Weekes, Tichaona Tapambwa and Phil witmerThe foolproof dating show about black life in Toronto devotes entire episodes to conversations about the cost of living and which subway station sells the best Jamaican patty. If all they did with Next Stop was showcase stage thief Vanessa Adams’ explosive comedic timing, that would be enough – but they’ve done so much more.