This year, the fifth annual TIFF Next Wave Festival welcomed young people under 25 to attend free film screenings curated by teens, for teens, under the theme “Freaks and Geeks.” Classics such as The 400 Blows and Harold and Maude screened alongside newer releases Before the Streets and Dope. The action-packed weekend also included popular events like Battle of the Scores and the 24-Hour Film Challenge.
The curators of this festival are the Next Wave Committee: 12 youth between the ages of 15 and 18 who worked together with TIFF staff to bring this unique and rich programming to life. We caught up with two members of the committee, Dasola Dina and Sariena Luy, to discuss Next Wave and the perks of being a young person at TIFF.
Hello, Dasola and Sariena! Could you tell us a bit about your involvement with TIFF and Next Wave?
Dasola: I joined the TIFF Next Wave Committee in July of 2014, and I’ve helped plan the TIFF Next Wave festival in February every year since I joined. It’s been a lot of fun! 2017 is my third year as a committee member; I could have stopped, but I love Next Wave so much.
Sariena: I was involved with Success Beyond Limits, an organization that works to provide youth in the Jane and Finch community with educational and aspiration experiences, who brought me to experience the magic of TIFF Bell Lightbox in 2013. I have been involved with TIFF in some capacity ever since, and became an official Next Wave member in 2016.
What were some of the highlights of being part of Next Wave?
Dasola: One of the biggest things for me is knowing that I can come downtown to TIFF Bell Lightbox and feel welcome and comfortable. Also, here, I’m not just considered to be a teenager with weird opinions about things. It was great to meet people who liked the same things that I did, or taught me about other things that I didn’t know about. We also get to meet some celebrities and pre-screen films like Tokyo Fiancée and Moonlight, so that’s pretty cool!
Sariena: I think what I love most about it is that our events are for youth, by youth. My peers don’t believe me when I say I’m actually an ambivert, meaning I can be very introverted. But everyone knows that when I get into our space, I am one of the most enthusiastic and hyperactive people in the building. I just know that I am in the right atmosphere, and therefore, it all feels right. I feel like I can be truly myself during my events, and I am so much less afraid to make mistakes, smile brightly, talk to people, and so on.
I also feel like it’s great just being able to grow as a family with the committee. The team stems from far and wide across the GTA, and it’s great just coming together to combine ideas, opinions, and more. Being able to watch films from across the globe has been a great opportunity to really be exposed to different types of stories (especially culturally). With my team, I feel like we bring the best opinions out of each other, which makes discussion fun. It’s just a great environment of people who love film and are happy to represent youth in that.
What are some opportunities that have come from being in Next Wave?
Dasola: I feel very honoured to be receiving an Ontario Volunteer Award this year. Surprisingly enough, I'm not entirely certain who nominated me! Lots of awesome staff at TIFF might have, but word on the street is that Katie Epp, Coordinator of Volunteer and Intern Resources, nominated me. It is great that the province is being sure to recognize the contributions of youth and adults; it is very encouraging! I truly enjoy volunteering for causes that have any sort of impact on local communities and allow me to interact with all kinds of people, and TIFF has been phenomenal for both those things.
Sariena: Brigid and Emily (TIFF programmers of Next Wave) nominated me last August for the RBC #Make150Count Initiative as one of their launch participants. RBC gave me $150 to “make a difference” in two weeks. I’m forever thankful for being selected for this, because the opportunities have been endless from that point.
What skills do you feel were strengthened by being a part of the Committee?
Dasola: Well, one big thing is talking to people and branching out — especially talking to people that you don’t know. I’m not a film producer or a filmmaker, so putting myself out there and connecting with other people has been really cool. I’ve learned to have a critical eye for movies, and I’ve learned a lot of cinematic terms. I learned about what cinematography is for films and about what a producer does. I’m interested in distribution, so I’ve also learned a little behind the stuff of the industry as well.
Sariena: Definitely my social skills and open-mindedness on how to program films, along with my ability to find strategies on representing youth in more creative ways. I say that because our events are so specific to “What would teenagers want?” Helping plan for TIFF just made me want to curate more projects in general. This way I have been able to further develop my skills as a multi-disciplinary artist.
What do you think is the future of film, what do you want to see, and did Next Wave give you a chance to see more of what you want?
Dasola: I would like to see different experiences represented on screen in any way; it doesn't have to be force-fed or two-dimensional. Hopefully more people see themselves on screen! Learning about other cultures is hard for people to accomplish when there aren’t resources or anything to engage them. It’s great that TIFF City to City had a focus on Lagos this past year, and as Nigerian I always encourage my friends to learn about my culture as well as other cultures.
Sariena: The future of film feels like we are going to keep diving into the niche culture of telling every story possible. And I quite frankly love that. Almost every story is slowly being told, and I am just hoping that our future uses the right people to tell the stories.
So yes, I am talking about diversity in films to not necessarily meet a quota of adding ethnics but giving the roles to the people who deserve it (this is a whole discussion on its own). I am waiting on seeing more Asian casting that moves beyond the stereotypical roles written for them. Like, no, don't make me play a nerd with an accent because I'm East Asian. Next Wave is what allowed me to realize that all these [different types of] films are being created, and I am happy to see it all.
If there is one thing you would say to young people wanting to be involved at TIFF and Next Wave, what would it be?
Dasola: I would say, don't limit yourself by your film interests. We are looking for people who like different things. Also, come to our events and volunteer if you want! I volunteered for the Festival by doing photography, and it was really fun.
Sariena: If you apply and don't get into the team right away, do not be discouraged. I applied three times to be on the committee before I finally got on to the team. I remember in grade eight, I made a vow to myself that I’ll work for TIFF somehow before the age of 18. I am 18 now, and this is going to sound corny, but I’m glad I achieved one dream coming true.
Thank you for your time, Dasola and Sariena! We really appreciate it.