One of the many things that impresses people about Toronto, is the sheer number of different cultures that co-exist together in a single city, while still maintaining their own individuality. It is often surprising to hear about the size of an ethnic or cultural community that has taken root in Toronto, even though they might not cross your path in everyday situations.
Two of these cultures — those who come from Sri Lanka (called Tamils) and gangs — are explored Lenin M. Sivam’s feature directorial debut: The crime drama 1999 . It is a story that searches for what it means to be part of both of these cultures in Toronto.
TFS spoke with one of the movie’s producers Sabesan Jeyarajasingam. Jeyarajasingam provided some interesting context for the movie and Toronto itself.
While director Sivam was not personally involved with Tamil gangs in Toronto, it did affect him personally. While at school at the Univeristy of Waterloo, he had heard of a rather bright student returning home to visit his family and was accidentally shot in gang related violence. Lenin was “…very frustrated upon hearing this story,” and was looking for a way to bring this story to light.
On a shoestring budget, Sivam shot for 12 consecutive weeks with an almost completely volunteer cast and crew, sometimes for up to 16 hours day, to create this inspirational story. Dealing with a volunteer cast and crew was not easy, but the fact that they all wanted to tell the same story eventually brought all the pieces together.
The majority of the Toronto Tamil community has rallied behind this film in a positive way. It juxtaposes a time where the community once was against where they are now. “We are Torontians and Canadians. We are also Tamil,” says Jeyarajasingam.
The film has previously screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and when asked to compare the two, Jeyarajasingam spoke very highly of Toronto. While there are similarities in both festivals, he indicated the support of ReelWorld has been amazing. Tonya Williams, the festival founder, as well as many of the board members have been instrumental in helping the film get recognition from the public and the media since “day one” of being an official festival selection. Due the amount of film screening at VIFF over its two week run, patrons are coming and going the whole time, making it difficult to draw attention to the film. ReelWorld, on the other hand, has been very encouraging from both public and media response standpoint.
And support from Toronto is what it should have. Shot entirely in Toronto it creates a window to both a time and cultural group that many people living in this city may not know about. “If you grew up in the 90’s in Toronto, you can relate,” says Jeyarajasingam.
1999 is screening Sunday, April 11th, 2010 at 2:30 pm at Canada Square, Theatre 4 as part of the ReelWorld Film Festival. Find out more about 1999 at their website.