Toronto. Source: IndieFilmTO

Increasing the Awareness and Integration of Farsi-Speaking Talent in Toronto’s Film Industry

by Marisa Sittheeamorn, Mehdi Pilehvarian

One word Toronto loves to use to describe itself is ‘multicultural.’ According to Statistics Canada, immigrants make up over 45% of the city’s total population, with the city continuing to welcome over 200,000 more every year. While people moving to Canada represent countries and distinct cultures spanning the globe, locations in the city are starting to become known for their large immigrant populations. Originally, this created sections of the city such as ChinaTown, Little Italy, Little Portugal and Little India. While each pocket features the food, culture, and tradition unique to each community, Toronto’s strong immigrant populations come together to create the city’s encompassing identity – in which the ethnocultural needs and desires of new populations become available to everyone eager enough to explore.

The city’s diverse makeup is a major selling point used to position Toronto as a major film production hub. In 2016, Toronto film and television production hit $2.06 billion, with over $800 million coming from Hollywood productions. Tax credit incentives, a skyline that can mimic any global major city, studio spaces that are fitted with the latest industry technologies, and diverse populations offer international producers a streamlined production outlet with a lower price-tag when compared to its southern U.S competitor. Despite attracting a large number of big-budget blockbuster productions every year, the city is starting to gain a reputation within the art-house film community. Well-known films such as Room (Abrahamson, 2015) and Chloe (Egoyan, 2010) triggered this awakening, with their success encouraging other independent filmmakers to consider Toronto as a production site.

Film shoot in downtown Toronto, Source: BlogTO

Whether it is for a multi-million dollar or micro-budget film, Toronto appears to have it all. While shooting in Toronto offers a lot of monetary incentives, the process of moving production to a whole new country comes with its own set of challenges. As an increasing number of foreign producers bring their projects to Toronto, there is an added pressure on the city to supply diverse casts and crews for each film. Working by the book, means collaborating with major unions, trade associations, and guilds, such as ACTRA, the CMPA, and the Director’s Guild to supply project personnel. Ideally, with Toronto’s ethnocultural variance, foreign producers should be able to find the cast and crew they are looking to work with among local talent. However, through personal experience, meetings with government officials and unions heads, FCC has found this idealistic assumption far from a reality.

There is a clear lack of knowledge that is hindering the city’s diverse populations from joining and participating in union projects. This lack of knowledge, that exists on both sides, is simultaneously creating a distance between foreign film industries with the local one. Skilled immigrants with years of international industry experience are having difficulty entering unions due to a lack of local experience, and certain language barriers make it difficult for people to understand the, often complicated, process of gaining membership. At the same time, membership organizations and unions don’t know that these niche community of skilled workers exist, how to reach them, or that they need help. Despite being unable to speak to the specific industries of each region, we know that this is heavily impacting the potential to make Toronto a booming destination for the production of Farsi cinema.

Still from Firecrackers (Jasmin Mozaffari, 2018), directed by an Iranian Canadian filmmaker that premiered at TIFF in 2018, Source: IndieWire

With almost 200,000 Farsi speaking people living in the Greater Toronto Area and Ontario, there is an undeniable market to produce and consume Farsi content. Due to an immigration initiative to recruit skilled artists and entertainment industry professionals several years ago, several critically-acclaimed and rising Farsi speaking filmmakers now currently live in Canada. In addition to first generation immigrants, second and third generation immigrants of Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan who have been born and raised in Toronto are turning to film as a means to share their unique untold stories with the world. Local and global Farsi communities have stories to tell, and Toronto provides the perfect infrastructure to amplify their voices and disseminate them to the rest of the world.

Over the next few weeks, through a series of posts, the FCC blog will address the specific areas of production that could be improved through the increased awareness and integration of Farsi speaking talent in the local industry. The importance of accurately represented cast and crew, including hair and make-up, wardrobe, and set design, will shine light on the city’s potential future in becoming a major production haven for Farsi cinema.

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