TIFF Diary: BENJAMIN Director Sherren Lee

By Sherren Lee ● September 23, 2015 11:00

It's funny how my own city can feel so different from one day to the next. Going to TIFF this year felt like I went away, as if I left my everyday life and was taken on a trip in my own town, experiencing the festival's hustle and bustle, with inspiration to be found in every corner.

From September 10th to the 20th, it felt as if the whole film industry travelled to Toronto for TIFF 2015. It was my first time experiencing the festival this way. I was lucky to have a short film,  BENJAMIN, making its world premiere at the festival and I had the luxury of receiving a guest pass that allowed me into the twenty films that I managed to catch, with me running from screenings to events, conferences, meetings, roundtables, interviews and parties! It has been a whirlwind and so much fun. 

Read Sherren's full TIFF 2015 diary and top festival picks below. 


I can't quite tell if there's excitement in the air, or if it's just bursting out of me. I meet my fellow Short Cuts filmmakers and my programmers at the meet and greet that they put together for us. It's so nice to shake hands with so much emerging talent from all over the world. The writer of BENJAMIN, my fellow CFC resident and now good friend Kathleen Hepburn, has flown in from BC (she has her own short, Never Steady, Never Still, at the festival and it's premiering tonight and it's exciting to be in this with her). Simone Smith, who edited both of our films, meets up with us for the screening and just like that, we're reunited. It's amazing how much the company of friends can build you up so quickly.


My producer  Courtenay Bainbridge rolls into the OMDC's Celebrate Ontario event with her suitcase (she comes straight from the airport, taking time away from her production in Sault Ste. Marie to be here for BENJAMIN, for TIFF, for me). Sadly, our two other rockstar producers, Marc Tetreault and William Woods, cannot not make it (they're busy making movies--hooray!) Though we miss them dearly, Courtenay's here to represent for three short days and we are going to make the most of it.


Today we're attending the Filmmakers' Brunch, where all the filmmakers with films in the festival gather to share a meal. I cannot believe the company I'm in, sitting with a room full of people who have created something incredible, people who have dedicated their lives to the craft of filmmaking. The experience is humbling and motivating.


BENJAMIN actress Kimberly Laferriere, Sherren, Courtenay, and BENJAMIN editor Simone Smith.  

And now for the highly anticipated CFC Annual BBQ. I arrive and announce myself to  Jason Yeung, the CFC Coordinator, Marketing and Communications, as instructed. I'm whisked away to an interview the CFC had scheduled for me, with Courtenay by my side. I have never felt so much in the spotlight, and it's all very exciting.

At the BBQ, I also get the chance to speak to CBC Arts and gush about Jean-Marc VallĂ©e's latest film, Demolition. Now, I may be a little biased because I got the privilege to speak to him and get his advice before I went to camera on BENJAMIN, but I did thoroughly enjoy his film. I thought he did an incredible job of telling a serious story of grief in such an original and fun way, with such real and charming characters. A must see, if you ask me!


The cast of BENJAMIN being interviewed by The Ward and Al Show. 

I get to practice my interview skills the next morning by talking to Christine Bently and Sharon Caddy of What She Said Radio. I can't believe we were only speaking for fifteen minutes! We cover so much ground, from my university experience at McGill, to making my parents proud, to what I'm going to wear to the premiere of BENJAMIN! 

Yes, this is the day. The world premiere of BENJAMIN. There's definitely a buzz in the air.

Before the premiere, I listen to my wonderful cast chat and laugh with Ward Anderson and Allison Dore on The Ward and Al Show. I can hardly believe this is all happening. I'm in awe of my team and what we accomplished together. At 6:45pm, the screening starts in Cinema 3 at TIFF Bell Lightbox and BENJAMIN is introduced. I'm proud to stand up on stage with my fellow filmmakers for the Q&A moderated by Kathleen McInnis, and comforted when audience members approach me to tell me how the film moved them.

The BENJAMIN team: producer Courtenay Bainbridge; actors Kimberly Laferriere, Joanne Boland, Jimi Shlag, Jean-Michel Le Gal; writer Kathleen Hepburn; editor Simone Smith; and director Sherren Lee. Photo: Danilo Ursini. 


I have the pleasure of attending the premiere of Sleeping Giant, a first feature film by a Canadian and peer I respect highly, Andrew Cividino. The screening takes place at the beautiful Winter Garden Theatre, and I'm filled with glee when the entire audience stands up during the credit roll, applauding Andrew and his team.

Somehow, Andrew's standing ovation and Jean-Marc (may I call him Jean-Marc?)'s cheers after their films feel like my own. For the first time, I really feel like part of something, part of this huge community of filmmakers with so much talent, so much passion and drive, with stories to tell and a true appreciation and dedication to the craft. And, I realize, this is what we're here for. We are here to listen to each other, to encourage one another to keep telling stories that matter to us, to inspire each other to grow, and to celebrate each other. 

A still from Sleeping Giant, which won the Best Canadian First Feature Film award at TIFF and was co-written by Bell Media Prime Time TV Program alumnus Blain Watters and executive produced by CFC Features alumnus Aeschylus Poulos

In my mind, TIFF is this giant source of inspiration, filled with people who make films that teach me more about the world and remind me of why I want to make movies. If we didn't have this community, we could never keep doing what we do. Throughout the ten days of the festival, I learned how crucial it is that we must applaud each other. No matter what, surround yourself with people who inspire you, motivate you and remind you of the meaningful things to focus on. It's important that we not only suffer through the trenches of making movies together, but also cheer each other on.

It's only been a few days since I walked on John Street with my badge around my neck, but now, strolling down the same street, it feels like I'm back home after a thrilling trip at TIFF, ready to keep plugging away on my feature script, getting it closer to production every day and, hopefully, returning to TIFF with another film in the not too distant future. Big thanks to TIFF for having me, and to CFC for giving me this incredible opportunity to make BENJAMIN as part of their Short Dramatic Film Program. It's been a blast.

Sherren at the 2015 CFC Annual BBQ Fundraiser. Photo: Danilo Ursini. 


Best film: Spotlight

Best party: DGC & CFF Party

Best master class: Stephen Frears

Best meal: Short Cuts Directors Lunch at Portland Variety