If you polled a bunch of true film lovers about what their dream job would be, it’s safe to say that a good number of them might answer “film festival programmer”. Well, not only does Elizabeth Muskala get to actually live that dream each and every day in her role as Director of TIFF Kids, she also has the privilege of getting to help shape a whole new generation of cinemaniacs. This includes overseeing everything from TIFF Kids International Film Festival each April, to the upcoming TIFF Next Wave as well as cool new initiatives like the digiPlaySpace.
TFS was able to snag Ms. Muskala for a few moments to ask her all about her pretty enviable job.
Name: Elizabeth Muskala
Occupation: Director, TIFF Kids
Describe what led you to this job?
I have worked for TIFF since 1996 and for many years divided my time working on both TIFF and TIFF Kids (formerly Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children). When the opportunity presented itself for me to work exclusively on the Youth, Family and Educational programming including overseeing TIFF Kids, I took it because I felt I could make a greater impact.
Describe a typical day at the office for you:
There is no typical day when working on a Film Festival but I definitely need to start every day off with a large coffee. In the months leading up to TIFF Kids, most of my days are spent tracking and screening films, checking in with distributors and sales agents, meeting with potential Festival partners, responding to emails and working with a number of support departments on the planning and coordination of the upcoming Festival. I have also been spending time working with our team on the curation of digiPlaySpace. digiPlaySpace is an interactive exhibition where children can enage with new media technologies, interactive installations, mobile apps, new digital tools and hands-on production activities. The exhibition was launched in 2012 and we are bringing it back and extending its run at TIFF Bell Lightbox to 6 weeks in 2013.
What do you like best about your job?
As a life-long movie lover, TIFF is an exciting and very creative environment to work in. It’s also personally gratifying to see thousands of young people coming to TIFF Bell Lightbox to see the best of Canadian and international films during the festival.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
We receive so many submissions to our Festival and we simply don’t have room for everything. It’s never easy to say no to filmmakers.
Is there some aspect of your job that might surprise people if they found out about it?
That the TIFF Kids portfolio includes overseeing our TIFF Next Wave Festival, our year-round Family & Youth Programmes, our School & Educator Programmes and Youth & Community Initiatives. TIFF has so many dedicated staff doing fantastic programming year-round.
Advice for people who’d like to get into film programming?
Volunteer or Intern! There are a number of Festivals in Toronto so if you’re passionate about film, volunteer or intern with an organization or Festival that you’re interested in. When seasonal or full-time opportunities come up, apply.
You’ve been with TIFF since 1996, what is it about the organization that’s made you want to stick around for so long?
I’ve been very fortunate to work with amazing and dedicated people who are passionate about film and that passion is reflected in our Programming and Events. I have also been able to move into different roles within the organization which has kept my job interesting.
Favourite TIFF Kids memory:
It’s difficult to pick just one but TIFF Kids regularly features in-person appearances by filmmakers and special guests and in 2007 we saw Lassie herself prance down the red carpet to kick off TIFF Kids (formerly known as Sprockets)10th anniversary.
Favourite film that TIFF Kids has ever screened and why:
That’s a tough question. There are so many fantastic films that we have shown at TIFF Kids over the years but I will say that one of the most impactful for me was a documentary that we screened in 2006 called Emmanuel’s Gift . It is a remarkable story of man named Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah who was born in Ghana with a severely deformed right leg. In a country where having a physical disability is considered a curse, his mother fought to send him to school because she wanted him to have the same opportunities as other able-bodied children. When she died, he refused to become a beggar and instead wrote a letter to the Challenged Athletes Foundation requesting a bicycle. With that bicycle, he pedaled around Ghana with his one good leg to show that disability does not equal inability. As a result he became a news sensation and won a number of awards. With the award money he went back to Ghana and bought wheelchairs and set up an education fund for disabled children. It is such an uplifting and inspiring story about overcoming obstacles and in doing so, impacting a nation. Emmanuel was also present for the screening which included an introduction and Q&A session. It was an incredibly special night.
What country is currently making the best family entertainment?
Germany and The Netherlands are neck and neck.
A Canadian family film that everyone should see and why:
The Impossible Elephant premiered in 2001 as our Opening Night film and won the YTV Silver Sprocket as the audience’s favourite feature film. The film was directed by Martin Wood and featured Mark Rendall, Nicholas Lea and Mia Sara. Daniel (Rendall) is going through a difficult period in his life, his mother has just recently passed away and he is being bullied at school and all he really wants is a pet but his dad won’t let him. When he wishes upon a falling star for a pet, he ends up with an elephant named Lumpy. The Impossible Elephant is a charming film about finding friendship in unlikely places.
Name your favourite movie genre and why you like it:
Animation. We screen a number of animated features and shorts at the Festival and I think it’s fascinating to to be able to tell a story and experience a film just by using a different technique of animation.
What aspect of Toronto would you immortalize on film and why?
Diversity: Toronto is such a multicultural city that it’s diversity is what makes it unique and special.
Favourite aspect of the film scene in Toronto and why?
I love that I live in such a culturally vibrant city where children and youth have their own festival. What makes TIFF Kids so special is its international focus; it’s a chance for children and youth of any culture to come together to both explore and celebrate the extraordinary diversity depicted through films from all around the world that they may never have another opportunity to see. This festival allows young people to activate their passion for film in so many ways whether it be submitting a short film for our Jump Cuts Young Filmmakers Competition, or by submitting a jury review to become one of our Festival jurors, both of which are still accepting applications, closing March 1, 2013 and February 22, 2013, respectively.
Movie snack: sweet or savoury?
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