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For many people, making a film seems like an unattainable goal; it’s an ambition they’ve always secretly wanted to pursue but on which they just may not know how to start working. Well, for the past 30 years, the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (LIFT) has been helping aspiring moving image artists to make that dream a reality. And the best part is: LIFT is open to anyone who wants to try their hand at working in film, video and new media.

An artist-run co-op that offers equipment rentals, workshops and an environment that allows filmmakers to mingle with one another, LIFT has seen its fair share of changes since its inception in the early “˜80s. It began as a way to meet the needs of Toronto’s emerging independent film community and operated as a spare desk in the office of the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre before eventually establishing its own space and acquiring its own 16mm production and post-production equipment. Throughout the “˜80s, LIFT slowly gained momentum by becoming “a crucial production site, networking hub, and exhibitor for independent narrative, experimental and documentary works by many local filmmakers, notably those Toronto directors associated with what has been termed the Toronto New Wave,” says Ben Donoghue, LIFT’s Executive Director.

Eventually, LIFT expanded its scope after a number of experimental and fringe filmmakers were absorbed into the organization; these valuable participants helped to transform LIFT into the diverse centre for all kinds of time-based media it is today. Today, LIFT operates out of its own stand-alone warehouse space on Dupont Street and, as a result, has been able to expand its community outreach, offer more training and production opportunities, and develop the ability to support digital cinema production and exhibition. Access to this type of support is essential to both emerging and established filmmakers.

“Without this access to film production resources,” says Donoghue, “Toronto filmmakers working on film would face the production challenges many of our peers worldwide are facing as they are required to travel to access specialized equipment or go digital. The local ecology of labs like Niagara Custom Lab, Technicolor and Deluxe, [as well as] festivals and distributors is crucial to creating this environment where LIFT can thrive and LIFT members and productions help sustain [the ecology].”

This week, in celebration of its 30 years as a treasured part of the Toronto film community, LIFT is hosting three nights of screenings at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Jackman Hall. The event, “30 x 30: Three Nights of Film for Thirty Years of Filmmaking”, will showcase the commissioned works of 30 artists who represent different time periods in the organization’s history.

“The range and richness of the works we have commissioned capture what LIFT has stood for over the past three decades: a fierce support to independent practices for both aspiring filmmakers and established artists, and an equally passionate commitment to provide affordable access to production, post-production and exhibition equipment,” said Donoghue. The initial wish list included “over 100 names. After narrowing it down to a manageable sample, people were invited to participate [and a] list of 30 filmmakers was gathered.”

Christina Battle‘s 5-minute film when the smog-filled wind began to howl screens on January 19th. Being a part of the showcase is important to Battle because she considers LIFT to have been an invaluable part of her career. “(It’s) more than just a place to rent film equipment. To me LIFT has always been first and foremost about community. Serving as a meeting point for artists at all stages of practice, LIFT’s resources, members and staff have always been a source of inspiration.”

Ant Horasanli‘s Inhibit screens on January 20th. His relationship with LIFT has been an enduring one. “I’ve been a member since the  mid 1990s – ever since I found out it existed.   A significant portion of my life has been picking up and returning equipment at LIFT.   The independent spirit always makes me feel like I’m at the right place.”

Larissa Fan, whose work is shown in the still image above, will show her film The tide goes in, the tide goes out on January 21st, and she’s honoured to be a part of the celebration: “LIFT has been such a big part of my filmmaking life that I’m getting positively misty-eyed on the occasion of its 30th anniversary,” she says. “It’s not just the equipment and training that it provides that are important, but also the moral support. Being an independent filmmaker, especially an experimental filmmaker, can be really dispiriting. Film is such an expensive medium and experimental film is a pretty fringe art form. But everyone who is involved with the organization is so passionate that it gives me a shot of inspiration and helps me keep going. The fact that LIFT supports non-commercial modes of filmmaking is really vital to my work as a filmmaker personally and to the continuation of this type of filmmaking as a whole.”

Looking to the future, Executive Director Donaghue would like to see LIFT continue its growth through access to the latest production technologies and “more commissions for Canadian artists as well as both national and international residencies so filmmakers from areas without the privilege of a thriving film scene can make work and share their process and ideas with Toronto. The biggest challenge is always money and avoiding burnout. I think the two are often linked. [What’s important is] educating the public about the economic and cultural importance of expanding arts funding and philanthropy.”

“30 x 30: Three Nights of Films for 30 Years of Filmmaking” is a three-night series of shorts running Jan. 19 – Jan. 21, 8 p.m., at the AGO’s Jackman Hall (317 Dundas St. W).  Admission is $8.

For more information on LIFT, check out their website: