TIFF Diary: CLEO Director Sanja Zivkovic

By Sanja Zivkovic ● September 23, 2016 11:10

On set with CLEO lead Andrew Pimento

It was an amazing experience returning to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2016. I had been in Serbia since Spring prepping for my next film when in August, I learned that CLEO, the short film I wrote and directed in the CFC’s 2016 Short Dramatic Film Program, was in the festival. My reaction? Ecstatic, confused and honoured. Plans for September would change – in a good way, of course! – as I returned to Toronto to premiere a film at the festival.

Day 1: The CLEO World Premiere – aka The Longest Day Ever

At 5:00 a.m. I woke from excitement and jet lag, after flying in from Serbia the night before. It was the first day of the festival and our screening was not until 8:15 p.m., a lengthy 16 hours away! Regardless, I trekked out to face the day, getting coffee and guest pass at the Varda lounge in the morning. Later it was time for the Short Cuts Meet and Greet, where I was happy to connect with many other filmmakers. I also met Danis Goulet, the sweet programmer with whom I had been communicating since CLEO got into TIFF, and reunited with CLEO producers Laura Nordin and Emily Andrews.

The world premiere of CLEO at TIFF on September 8, 2016

That evening, our premiere was sold out. It was exciting, nerve racking, unreal. The Scotiabank theatre screen was huge; I wondered what I might see up there that got missed on the computer monitor. When it was projected, the screen took up my entire field of vision and I watched a film I was proud of, a film made by a team I was proud of for every creative and logistical decision we made together.

After the screening, our talent and crew went out for a celebratory drink, joining the crew of 3-way (Not Calling) in the same program. Over a gin and tonic, the adrenaline slowly seeped out of my body – the perfect ending to an incredible day.

Day 2: The Day I Met Agnes Varda

Agnes Varda attended the festival, participating in a Q&A after the screening of her legendary French new wave film, Cléo de 5 à 7. This diary could be all about her, or Cléo de 5 à 7, one of my favorite films, and all of the inspiring things that she had to say, but here are three highlights:

  1. She spoke about shooting Cléo de 5 à 7 – shot over a period of seven weeks in complete chronological order – with such clarity that it seemed like she’d made it yesterday.
  2. An audience member asked if it was difficult being a woman making films alongside men. She answered simply “It’s difficult to make films."
  3. From the mother-turned-“grandmother” of the French New Wave? “I can be your grandmother, but I can’t give you advice.”

Day 3: American Honey and Parties Get Started

Another favorite director, Andrea Arnold, attended the festival with her new film, American Honey. It was a pleasure to watch, and then hear her speak about the casting process. From carnivals to streets, she discovered her actors in a similar random way to how the film’s protagonist, Star, did in the film. From there it was on to the annual DCG party, where I reunited with other director colleagues like my CFC mate, Reem Morsi, and David Ostry, our CLEO editing mentor.

Getting interviewed by media at the CFC BBQ

Day 4: The CFC BBQ

Between deciding on the best outfit and coordinating with cast and crew to arrive at the same time, I felt so happy that it was a perfect, sunny day for the long-awaited BBQ. CLEO’s team and I did an interview right when we arrived. Everyone expressed their love for the film and made a pact to work together in the future. Then it was time to discover the food trucks, including the nutella-filled biscuit! While munching those down, CFC alumni, mentors and I shared a warm family reunion!

Day 5-on: Highlights

  • I, Daniel Blake by Ken Loach. They say not to waste your time watching big movies at festivals; they’ll be in theatres next month. But this one – seen from the last seat in the first row – was exactly needed, a truly touching, well-crafted film.
  • Short Cuts cocktail party. Meeting other short film directors, producers, animators and editors. Learning about their experiences. Exchanging stories and contacts, all while celebrating each other’s films. It was all a great experience.
  • Our final CLEO screening. This one was packed, too. At a fun Q&A by programmer, Jason Anderson, we got a question from the audience about John River and the rap song he created with our composers Casey Manierka Quaile and Armen Bazarian. The song stood out!
  • Godless by Bulgarian director Ralitza Petrova. This film’s images were haunting. Brilliantly directed and shot, its theme and tone hit close to home.
  • A last-day photo with Nina. On the final day, my CLEO lead Nina Kiri and I went to the TIFF Bell Lightbox to take a picture together. It felt right, marking our final day and experience at the festival with this moment.

With CLEO lead Nina Kiri (left)

After the festival closed, I felt full of emotions in a new and oddly quiet space. Inspired, I look forward to returning to my new script and wish to thank all who was a part of this adventure, including, of course, the CFC Short Dramatic Film Program for giving us the opportunity to make CLEO. I am so proud of CLEO and everyone involved in it, and look forward to returning to TIFF again.