I use this blog to write updates about my producing projects, and I don’t often write about my “other job”. It’s with an organization I’m pretty proud to have been working with for the past seven or eight years (good lord, how has it been that long) so I’m going to tell you a bit about it today.

REEL CANADA is a traveling festival that shows Canadian films to high school students (as well as newcomers to Canada – ESL students of all ages) across the country. We’ve been at it for eight seasons and it’s grown from a program that manages to put on film festivals in just six schools in Toronto (in the pilot season) to one that put on over 60 events across seven provinces (in our eighth). To date, we’ve held over 800 screenings for over 200,000 students across the country, bringing filmmakers and other film industry heavyweights with us everywhere – from Montague P.E.I. to Medicine Hat, Alberta.

It’s hard to explain exactly what a REEL CANADA festival day entails, but it can be pretty magical. Here’s a video about the tech setup we occasionally do when we bring all the screening equipment into a school and transform it into a multiplex (please excuse the music):

Essentially, we help schools put on a one-day film festival out of our curated catalogue of Canadian features, docs, animations and shorts (new and old). Students help organize the event and select films, and we bring special guests (in person or via Skype) to talk to them after the screenings. Of course, filmmakers aren’t always free to come to a hundred schools every year, but some kind of live discussion is always part of the events we put on, even if it’s just a teacher or a trained facilitator talking to kids about what they saw. It’s one of the most important elements of what we do, because it really helps connect audiences to the work they’ve seen and gives them an opportunity to think and talk about what it means to be Canadian.

Today, we celebrated the launch of our 9th season as well as the launch of a new fundraising campaign that seeks to raise money for what we do from within the film industry. After all, if the industry that benefits the most from the audience-building work we do believes that the program is valuable, then they should be wiling to support it, right? Well, it looks like they’re ready to do just that!

the crowds gather to hear our announcements

the crowds gather in the TIFF Lounge to hear our announcements

This morning we held a huge event for about 1000 adult ESL students from across the GTA at TIFF Bell Lightbox. They watched Breakaway, Away From Her and Iron Road and participated in some seriously heartstring-tugging Q&As with the stars. After the students shuffled out, a who’s who of Canadian film heavyweights congregated in the TIFF lounge to hear REEL CANADA board member Colm Feore and bonafide mogul Robert Lantos announce the launch of our fundraising campaign. And the best part of the news they had to share? Not only have we launched it, we’re already $70,000 toward our goal of $200,000 – which is all meant to help us increase the number of students we reach from 40,000 per year to 100,000  by 2017. Personally, I think we’ll hit the magic number even sooner, but I don’t want to make my REEL CANADA teammates nervous.

Colm Feore breaks it down for the crowd

Colm Feore breaks it down for the crowd

Oh yeah, and there was even more great news: we’ve just confirmed Scotiabank as a sponsor to the tune of a $50,000 cash contribution and $25,000 of in kind support.

In addition to our two high profile guest speakers, we also had several fabulous guests for the festival portion of our day. Vinay Virmani, the writer and star of Breakaway and Wendy Crewson, star of Away From Her) both turned up along with the lovely Anne Tait, who produced Iron Road.

But wait, there’s more! Filmmakers and actors  who have come out to our events in the past and have supported our program over the years also turned up in droves to our little lunch. Patricia Rozema, Charles Officer, Hubert Davis, Tara Spencer-Nairn, Clé Bennett, Ron Lea and several others were there, along with film industry types from ACTRA, Telefilm, the NFB, eOne and … y’know what, at a certain point, I lost count.

The charismatic Vinay Virmani chats with CTV. This guy should go into politics, he should.

The charismatic Vinay Virmani chats with CTV. This guy should go into politics, he should.

And the press? Oh! The press! Four camera crews – two from the CBC, one from ET Canada and one from CTV turned up, as well as a large contingent of the city’s prominent print and online journalists. This piece from the Globe’s Liam Lacey was posted just two hours ago. I blame Ingrid Hamilton, who did an incredible job of promoting our event and getting media interested in the story.

As if all those announcements weren’t enough, we unveiled one other thing – some posters for the fundraising campaign that were designed by the superstars at Agency 71. Check out three out of the four posters (foolishly, I failed to take a photo of the beaver design).

They did such a killer job! These images are SPOT ON.

Anyway, the launch event was fancy! I wore a dress, that’s how fancy it was. And after several hours of happy schmoozing, I’m so dead tired this evening that all I can manage to do is write this blog post and eat raw fruits and vegetables from the fridge because cooking is waaaaaay too much effort (I know, I should have ordered a pizza).

I’ll leave you with my favourite photo of the day.

team WE'RE DICKS, reporting for duty

team W.D. reporting for duty