‘We Are Still Here’, ‘I’m On Fire’ off to Toronto

'We Are Still Here'.

First Nations anthology feature We Are Still Here and Michael Spiccia’s short film I’m On Fire add to the Australian contingent headed to this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

We Are Still Here, a collaboration between filmmakers across Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and the South Pacific, opened the Sydney Film Festival earlier this year, and has also screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival and and Whānau Mārama New Zealand International Film Festival.

Toronto will mark the film’s international premiere, where it will play in the Contemporary World Cinema program.

Produced by No Coincidence Media and Marama Productions, We Are Still Here weaves together eight shorts touching on kinship, loss, grief and resilience. Cast include Meyne Wyatt, Megan Wilding, Clarence Ryan and Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne.

The project’s beginnings are in a Screen Australia and New Zealand Film Commission initiative that was designed to give Indigenous filmmakers opportunity to respond to the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival.

Four writer/director teams were chosen from each country. From Australia, they include Beck Cole and Samuel Nuggin-Paynter; Danielle MacLean; Tracey Rigney and Dena Curtis, and from New Zealand, Tim Worrall and Richard Curtis; Renae Maihi; Miki Magasiva and Mario Gaoa; Tiraroa Reweti and Chantelle Burgoyne.

Mitchell Stanley and Toni Stowers produced for No Coincidence Media, while Mia Henry-Teirney produced for Marama.

Through development, the project shifted away from a focus on Cook and colonisation, and instead focuses on stories of First Nations people, told though eight heroic protagonists.

In a statement, Stanley, Stowers and Henry-Teirney said the filmmakers were honoured to have the film’s international bow at TIFF.

“We are incredibly proud to share our story of survival, love and kinship, and to celebrate the strength and resilience of Indigenous people from Australia, Aotearoa, and the global indigenous community. Filmmaking is an amazing privilege. We feel a responsibility to amplify the voices of indigenous storytellers, and encourage others to do so as well. Thank you to TIFF for this incredible opportunity to represent our people; past, present and future generations to come.”

‘I’m On Fire’.

Spiccia’s I’m On Fire is one of 39 films selected for this year’s Short Cuts, with TIFF to mark the short’s world premiere.

The 25-minute coming-of-age film follows a 12-year old boy who makes mixtapes as a means to cope with warring parents and the turmoil of adolescence.

TIFF described the film, which stars Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Lillo Brancato, and James DiGiacomo, as “ferociously energetic”.

Shot in the US, Spiccia directed from a script by Tom Bean and David Stern, with Thomas R. Burke, Isabel Stanfield and David Zander the producers.

Speaking to IF, Spiccia said he was thrilled and humbled by the selection.

“I’m excited to finally share this film with a real audience after many pandemic production delays. Looking forward to re-uniting and celebrating with the cast and crew very soon,” he said.

Other Australian projects selected for TIFF this year include TV drama Mystery Road: Origin, which will screen in the Primetime program; Robert Connolly’s Blueback, which will have its world premiere in the Special Presentations strand, and Jub Clerc’s debut feature Sweet As, also produced by Connolly’s Arenamedia and Benjamin Millepied’s Carmen, produced by Goalpost Pictures, each to play in the Discovery strand.

Frances O’Connor’s Emily, produced by Arenamedia’s Connolly and Robert Patterson, will open the event’s Platform section.

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason congratulated the projects selected for this year’s program, arguing it demonstrated Australia’s “wealth of talent” and an international appetite for our stories.

“It’s particularly special to have three projects offering First Nations perspectives showcased on a world stage, including the unique anthology We Are Still Here. We also know that TIFF has a history launching the careers of many first time Australian directors so we’re thrilled to see Jub Clerc’s debut feature Sweet As along with Dylan River’s first long-form series Mystery Road: Origin making their international debuts. And to have three such distinct films selected from Arenamedia – BluebackEmily and Sweet As – is a real coup for the team and the Australian industry.”

TIFF runs September 8–18, returning this year to full scale, in-person event.