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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

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T.O. filmmakers take on ‘lo-fi’ travelling film festival

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Justin Kelly

Toronto-based filmmakers Jeffrey Nesker and Justin Kelly hope the blood, sweat and tears they poured into co-directing the travelling Bootleg Film Festival was worth it.

“It’s a hell of a lot of work,” Nesker said.

“It’s planning a wedding with 600 people… and your families are both dysfunctional,” added Kelly.

“It’s a giant event.”

The Bootleg Film Festival is a travelling festival that debuted in 2008 in Glasgow, Scotland. It has since run in Swansea, Wales; London, England, and for the first time, the festival will cross the Atlantic to screen films and host filmmakers in Toronto from May 10 to 12 at the Tranzac Social Club in the Annex.

Nesker, 34, who said he’s been in the movie-making biz since the early 1990s, said he was asked to organize the film fest in Toronto, by the founder Tom Wilton, whom Nesker met in 2008 at the Bootleg festival in Glasgow.

Nesker, who won an award for best short film for Nightclub Story, said Bootleg is a “special, little festival,” that continues to impact his career.

“It fostered a lot of relationships that have carried through until now. I met quite a few people there that I still talk to now,” he said.

Nesker explained that Wilton, an actor turned filmmaker, founded the festival because he was frustrated by the slow pace of the film industry and the hurdles in getting a film distributed.

Wilton created Bootleg to honour the “filmmaker in ripped jeans and battered Converse, shooting lo-fi movies on the rent money, because along the way, we’ve been that filmmaker,” he wrote on the festival’s website.

Bootleg will showcase a mixture of short films and features, and will also cater to international filmmakers who will be taken on tours of the local film production houses in Toronto.

The final night of the festival will include an awards ceremony, and the best film will win a 12-month deal with FilmBinder, a film distributer.

“Anyone with some money can go out and make a film, but it’s something that looks a lot easier than it is. I think the mandate of Bootleg is separating the wheat from the chaff,” Nesker said.

Kelly said that what separates this festival from some of the other more established ones is the accessibility factor.

“Anybody can be a filmmaker, anybody can make a movie. If you want to do it, do it. I would say what separates us is that we encourage handmade films. A lot of the other festivals, if it has that handmade look, they won’t get past minute 4 of your screener,” Kelly said.

“We’re encouraging of the underdog.”

Both Nesker and Kelly know all about being the underdog and barely scraping by to produce their low-budget projects.

Kelly, 39, who has been making films his “entire adult life,” said he’s been involved in most aspects of movie production including writing, direction, production and financing.

Kelly’s latest project, The Seder, is a BravoFact film that he wrote and directed last summer, and which Nesker edited.

“It’s about Leo, bringing his boyfriend home for the first time at his family’s seder,” Kelly said.

He said that he is in the midst of submitting this 17-minute short to a number of film festivals and is waiting to hear back. So far, it’s been accepted into the Los Angeles Comedy Festival this year, but it was rejected from the Toronto Jewish Film Festival opening this week.

“It’ll be really interesting, as a sociological experiment to see what kind of heat The Seder generates at the Jewish film festivals because it will really be a yardstick to measure what the prevailing feeling is towards homosexuality in the Jewish environment,” Nesker said.

In addition to working with Kelly on The Seder, Nesker has been busy working on a teaser and “character intros” for a web series he directed called The Undrawn, which “follows the exploits of six ridiculous, drunk, slutty and ineffective superhero bottom feeders at SuperCorp.”

“It’s the dirtiest thing I’ve ever been involved with. It’s like, a step away from porno, but I think it’s pretty fantastic,” he said with a grin.

Through Kickstarter, a fundraising platform for creative projects, Nesker and his team managed to raise the required amount to produce the six-episode project.

During the Bootleg festival, Kelly and Nesker, both Toronto-based filmmakers, are eager to present the city as an inviting place to produce film to the many movie makers who will be in town later this month.

“We have an advantage in Toronto in that the requirements to produce original works here aren’t necessarily the labyrinthine, bureaucratic messes they are in other places,” Nesker said.

“There will be a minimum of 200 people a day coming through the festival and multiple sets of screenings going on throughout the day, events following the screenings at night, events during the day, taking the filmmakers out,” Kelly added.

“How often do we get 50 international filmmakers arriving in Toronto at the same time?”

More important for a struggling filmmaker is the opportunity to benefit from meeting others in the industry.

“You’ll be networking with like-minded filmmakers who aren’t from your own backyard or sphere of influence,” Nesker said.

He added that he’s confident the young film festival will continue to grow in popularity and influence.

“The track record for Bootleg is pretty damn good. Over three years that the film festival has run, a good chunk have gone on to some measure of success,” Nesker said.

“There’s definitely a brand that is being established here.”

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