Blue Mountain Film Festival’s Creative Forum

June 9, 2023

TFCA member Barry Hertz moderates a conversation with Oscar winner Daniel Roher during Blue Mountain Film Festival’s Creative Forum | Photo by Andrew Powell

By Rachel Ho

In only its second year, the Blue Mountain Film Festival (BMFF) has already proven itself a worthy early-summer destination for film lovers. Led by Festival & Artistic Director Helen du Toit and programmer Penelope Bartlett, the festival screened 25 films from around the globe (including a secret screening) with a number of filmmakers in attendance to answer audience questions.

A keystone of the festival is the Creative Forum, which featured emerging Canadian talent, an Oscar winner, and legendary filmmakers. The artists took to Blue Mountain to discuss their journeys to the top and the challenges along the way while breaking down memorable scenes from their works.


Atom’s Journey

On a particularly warm day, Oscar-nominated writer-director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) led attendees on a hike up Blue Mountain through the beautiful lush forest. Taking a break from editing his upcoming film, Seven Veils, Egoyan shared some fantastic behind the scenes stories from his storied career with fellow hikers. He also provided tips to the budding filmmakers in the group. A carry over event from last year’s inaugural festival, the filmmaker hike is undoubtedly one of the highlights from BMFF.

Atom Egoyan leads the filmmaker hike at Blue Mountain Film Festival

Next Gen Creators Predict the Future


TFCA member Marriska Fernandes moderated an inspiring panel with two of Canada’s most exciting new talents: Chandler Levack and Shasha Nakhai. Levack and Nakhai’s films, I Like Movies and Scarborough, respectively, were both named to TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten and each found great success in cinemas. The filmmakers took the audience behind the scenes of their films, detailing the development process through to screening their films in their respective hometowns. A discussion about the current landscape of Canadian filmmaking and where they see it heading was insightful and, given Nakhai and Levack’s positions, they provided a unique and fresh perspective.


Crack Me Up: The Art of the Belly Laugh

As every day should begin, comedy and laughter kicked off day two of the Creative Forum. Host Teri Hart led a jovial discussion breaking down the funny with Kim’s Convenience’s Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Meredith MacNeill of The Baroness Von Sketch Show, and director Aleysa Young who fittingly directed episodes on both shows. The three funny people discussed a range of topics from the positives of broad comedy, the mechanics behind setting up a scene with comedic dialogue and physical gags, and when they each realized they could make people laugh.

Following a question about using accents in his acting, Lee thoughtfully recounted the initial backlash some (mostly non-Asians) had over his Korean-accented English as the delightful Appa in Kim’s Convenience. Lee astutely pointed out that because accents were used as comedic devices so often in the past, the knee-jerk reaction to them today is to call them racist. However, for Lee, his performance on the hit show was in many ways an homage to his father. This observation was just one example of the nuanced talk among the panel that I could have listened to for hours on end.


Quintessentially Canadian: The Making of BlackBerry

Forum attendees were treated to an in-depth look behind the making of BlackBerry, a film well on its way to becoming a Canadian classic. Moderated by TFCA member Jason Gorber, the conversation featured director and co-writer Matt Johnson, as well as his producing partners Matt Greyson, Jay McCarrol and Jared Raab, who took a break from their writing retreat up north to get down to the nitty gritty of the film.

The group has a long history together as friends and colleagues (all of them, save for McCarrol, attended York University together) creating a very relaxed and laid back atmosphere. Topics ranged from the casting of Glenn Howerton to the decision surrounding Johnson himself starring in the film, as well as the machinations behind the documentary-style look of the film — evoking the words of Dolly Parton, “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.” The hour-long discussion ended in a delightfully nerdy breakdown of the various lenses and camera setups used that, again, I could have listened to well into the evening—a common thread across the Forum.

Case Study: Navalny – Behind-the-scenes on the way to the Oscars

The grand finale to this year’s Creative Forum was the endlessly engaging conversation between Barry Hertz and Daniel Roher about his Academy Award-winning film, Navalny. The young filmmaker recalled how he debated enrolling in rabbinical school when his career didn’t exactly take off in the way he had imagined following the early success of his breakthrough feature, Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band. He also detailed the incredibly coincidental circumstances that led him to Alexei Navalny and the friendship that grew between them as filming progressed.

While receiving recognition from the likes of the Academy, BAFTA, and the various filmmaking guilds pales in comparison to what Navalny had gone through (and continues to endure), Roher shared that the politician actually had a real interest in the film’s success. Out of a desire for his wife, Yulia Abrosimova, to attend the glitzy affair, Navalny attempted to make Roher promise him that the film would be nominated for an Oscar. As Navalny’s situation grew graver following the film’s release, Roher shared his motivation to do everything he could to make this dream a reality. Of course, we all know how the story ends as far as Navalny goes and although Roher injected a great deal of humour throughout his session, he pointedly ensured that he pressed upon the seriousness of Navalny’s present situation.

For an event in its very early infancy, the Blue Mountain Film Festival attracted an impressively high calibre of speakers to the Creative Forum. Each session was well attended with audiences completely engrossed in the panellists and variety of topics. As with any film festival, the heart of the weekend is the line-up of movies for audiences to get lost in; however, in the case of the Blue Mountain Film Festival, its Creative Forum provides attendees with a holistic experience, embracing the feats in front of and behind the camera.