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  • Toronto International Film Festival - a foretaste of the Oscars?

    After two years of limited in-person screenings, the Toronto International Film Festival returned in full force in September. With the mask mandate lifted, the theaters were near full capacity and the clamorous crowds were reminiscent of pre-pandemic times. While the Festival has historically featured smaller, independent films, this year’s comeback was led by Hollywood studios, red carpet fashion, after parties, and celebrity entourages. Headlining on the red carpet was Taylor Swift, who arrived in a gold sequin dress for the showcase of her 10-minute film, “All Too Well: The Short Film.” Harry Styles created quite the buzz going all green in Gucci for the premiere of his upcoming gay period romance, “My Policeman.” Though the film received mixed reviews, Styles managed to stay in the media spotlight with the recent release of his other acting turn in the film “Don’t Worry Darling” and the co-star drama that surrounded its production. Multiple sources alleged on-set conflict between director Olivia Wilde and lead actress Florence Pugh. Pugh was initially dissatisfied with Wilde’s controversial decision to cast Shia LeBeouf as the lead actor, despite multiple abuse allegations against him. Tensions between Wilde and Pugh reportedly escalated when Wilde started a romantic relationship with the pop star she cast to replace LeBeouf, Harry Styles. While the rumors are mostly speculation, the social media frenzy aided film promotion, making “Don’t Worry Darling” the third highest-grossing movie of the month. One of the more positive highlights of the Festival included Brendan Fraser’s speech accepting the TIFF Tribute Award for his outstanding performance in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale.” Fraser tearfully thanked his fans for continuing to support him after his disappearance from the public eye. Fraser described his new movie as a “redemption story” about Charlie, a 600 lb. man and social outcast who brings out the good in others who can’t see it in themselves. “I am a firm believer that we need a little bit more of that in this world,” Fraser said. This recognition comes on the heels of his receiving a six-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival. Fraser’s feel-good comeback with his strong performance in “The Whale” has made him a top candidate for an Oscar nomination.. Another film featured at TIFF that’s sure to command attention as the awards season ramps up is “The Fablemans,” which received the TIFF People’s Choice Award. Directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg, “The Fabelmans” is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama told through the fictional character of Sammy Fabelman, a young aspiring filmmaker. Spielberg has called the film his most personal and emotional yet. (It is scheduled for a limited theatrical release on November 11.) The first runner-up prize for the TIFF People’s Choice Award was given to “Women Talking.” The all-star ensemble cast includes Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Wishaw, and Frances McDormand. Directed by Sarah Polley, the film is an adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel about sexual abuse in a Mennonite society. Though media discussion around #MeToo has quieted, discussion of sexual assault in Hollywood and around the world has continued, and representation has become even more important. This year’s film lineup largely focused on films by women about women like “Emily,” directed by Frances O’Connor; “Saint Omer,” directed by Alice Diop; “The Eternal Daughter,” directed by Joanna Hogg; and others, reflecting increased representation of women in film, both on-screen and off. It will be interesting to see whether any of these films will breakthrough at the Academy Awards, which have historically been dominated by men. “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” directed by Rian Johnson, took home the second runner-up prize for the People’s Choice Award. This murder mystery film distributed by Netflix is a follow-up to “Knives Out,” released in 2019, and the sequel has proven to be just as juicy as the first, dazzling audiences and critics alike. The first “Knives Out” was a box office smash, and while “Glass Onion” has a limited theatrical release before it comes out on Netflix, it’s likely to hit in a way that a movie like “Women Talking” might not. Will “Glass Onion” follow its predecessor’s Oscar nominations? With the year winding to a close, the frontrunners for Oscar glory are beginning to materialize, and TIFF gives attendees a sneak peak. This year’s festival was memorable for its stars and films, and their performance here may indicate their awards trajectory. While things may be bleak for Harry Styles on that front, there are plenty of other things to keep us occupied in the meantime. The 15-film Oscar shortlist will be announced on December 21, with the five final nominees to be announced on January 24, 2023.

  • Creating Your Own Opportunities - A Leadership Talk with Christine Yoo, Filmmaker

    Despite being a competitive piano player growing up, Christine Yoo never imagined a career in the arts, especially with her parents encouraging her to be a doctor or lawyer. All that changed, however, when some college friends asked her to help out on a short film. She had no experience, but she agreed and it changed her life. Yoo discovered a love for storytelling, and decided to transfer to the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. Upon graduation, Yoo did not find her initial success in Hollywood, but in Korea when her thesis film at USC got into the Busan Film Festival. Yoo stayed in Korea and started teaching editing at the Korean National Film Academy and also worked for a production company. When she returned to the U.S., she did everything from editing to writing for “KoreAm,” a print magazine aimed at Korean Americans. “As a freelancer, I’m not really in a position to turn work down,” Yoo laughed. “I like to work as much as possible.” Eventually, Yoo was able to make her first feature film, Wedding Palace, a Romcom with an all-Asian cast. And she did it without Hollywood. “Hollywood, as we know, is not necessarily set up for people who look like me in positions of leadership,” said Yoo. “I had to create those opportunities and ultimately learn how to become an entrepreneur.” With one feature under her belt, more opportunities began to come Yoo’s way. She even became a showrunner for “The Story of God With Morgan Freeman” under Freeman’s production company. What exactly does a showrunner do? “It’s kind of a writer-producer-director type of role. You are helping to shape the story [and] find [the] story,” Yoo explained. As a showrunner for a nonfiction series, Yoo had to learn how to operate differently than she did on narrative sets. According to Yoo, things aren’t as set in stone because the script is more fluid, and thus “a lot of discovery happens in the field,” something she enjoys. The titles mean different things in the nonfiction world than they do in narrative filmmaking; the roles and responsibilities are different. “Being a director [on a nonfiction project] is about being a storyteller, not necessarily being organized,” she said. The organizational and operational responsibilities belong to production managers. “There’s a lot more opportunities [in nonfiction] for people who are just starting out in the industry to get their foot in the door,” Yoo said. Still, personal tenacity is critical. Yoo admitted that “the situation for female directors is pretty bleak…no matter what, you kind of have to create your own opportunities.” And, Yoo has developed the muscle for it. She also has good storytelling instincts. A friend shared a GQ article, “Inside the San Quentin Marathon” about inmates finding hope and second chances by training for the prison marathon. Yoo was intrigued and emailed the coach and set up a time to talk. She quickly learned that she wasn’t the only one with the idea to make a film out of this story—Condé Nast was also interested. “It confirmed my belief that this was a great story I found,” Yoo joked. When pitching the coach, Yoo emphasized her more personal approach to the story. She posited that Condé Nast is a big company and wouldn’t give the level of attention to the story that she would. The subject was also personal to Yoo as she had a friend who was serving time. “I wanted to tell this story,” she said. The coach gave Yoo the story, and she was soon on her own journey to becoming a first-time documentary filmmaker. Initially, she planned to make a narrative film, but as she spent more and more time at the prison, she decided that “people really need to hear this story from the people who experienced it, not me.” Her film titled 26.2 to Life (trailer) focuses on three men convicted of murder and their quest to run this marathon. “I wanted to organically bring out other issues, like mandatory sentencing, what is it like to be a father or a husband from prison, what happens to a family when you are locked up for long periods of time,” Yoo explained. With a no cell phone rule in the prison, “you get into intimate discussions very quickly,” Yoo said. “The first contact showed me how much I had dehumanized people who are behind bars [due to] the usual media portrayals that we get.” Since filming, Yoo has become a regular volunteer at the media center in the prison, where inmates are able to access film equipment and make stories. In a very impressive feat, 26.2 to Life recently had its world premiere at the DOC NYC film festival. It is moments like this that inspire Yoo to keep pursuing film even during the tough times. “It’s about finding stories that you love… [with people who] will lift your soul up,” she said. “[This is] a story I’ve been carrying now for five years,” and soon the rest of the world will be able to experience it, too. “26.2 to Life” is available to screen virtually at this link until Sunday, November 27.

  • From Coding to Ultramarathons – A Leadership Talk with Jamie Duemo

    Last month, Founder and CEO of FUTURE NOW, Peggy Kim, sat down with the Media and Entertainment Business Development Leader for Global Accounts at Amazon Web Services (AWS), Jamie Duemo—though Duemo shortened the title to “Worldwide Strategy Leader,” much easier to digest. In her role, she focuses on broadcast, streaming, and direct-to-consumer media at AWS, which was founded in 2006 initially to support Amazon’s internal technology needs, but has since become one of the largest hyperscale global cloud providers with revenues exceeding $62 billion in 2021. When Duemo started her career in media, the cloud market did not exist, but she was bound to catch the technology wave. The seeds of Duemo’s career journey were planted when she received a radio cassette player for Christmas as a child. She fell in love with radio and would create and record her own ‘broadcasts.’ But, when she went to college at the University of Florida, she found a new love--television. “The equipment was cooler, the studios were a lot cooler,” she explained. Duemo decided to study telecommunications, specializing in television production, and took part in productions for local sports and news shows as the master control operator, putting in graphics, closed captions, and monitoring feeds during the live programs. Her first job after graduation was as a master control operator for Cartoon Network, though she would branch out into other things like baseball as well. “It was fun, especially when we did live events,” Duemo said, but it was definitely a stressful job.“Anyone who’s ever worked master control has the same nightmare where in your dream, you can’t get to your switcher to go into a commercial break…. Therapy! Make sure you negotiate therapy when you sign up for that role,” she joked. After five years at Cartoon Network, Duemo moved to Discovery Communications as QA Manager and Technical Project Manager, and then, a few years later, onto one of Discovery’s vendors as a technical director. She has steadily advanced in technical solutions roles, working at many companies over the course of her career and never staying in one place too long. She didn’t plan to pursue a career in technology and didn’t have formal training as an engineer or coder. But each open door led her to where she is today, a global leader at the intersection of tech and media, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. “Give it a try, figure it out, and you usually will” has always been her philosophy, and it has served her well. She would love to see more future leaders pursuing careers in media and tech. “One of the challenges is that when people hear ‘media and entertainment’ they only think of the creative side,” Duemo lamented. “There are so many other roles that are there, which is why I’ve had so many roles…there’s sales, program management, project management, marketing, event management, software engineering, web designer, graphic designers…these are definitely hot roles that are paying twice as much as the conventional roles of being a producer, being a writer.” Even if it may seem daunting to pivot to technology, skills are transferrable. Duemo shared that if one has managed a team in any way, one can become a project manager, and from that, one can apply those skills to another technology-oriented job, and so on. Plus, there are many bootcamps out there to learn technological skills, and organizations like Women in Tech and Girls Who Code provide free courses. For Duemo, it was a lot of reading manuals and punching buttons at two in the morning. But, she encouraged the audience to read, Google, and directly reach out to those with knowledge in order to determine the area that best resonates with them—whether it be software development, architecture, or software architecture, and go from there. “Just start asking questions… People are inherently phenomenal at sharing knowledge,” Duemo said. “You’re never going to make a wrong mistake. Knowledge is knowledge is knowledge.” Not only has Duemo taken a hands-on approach to her education in tech, she also does the same with the teams she leads, always making sure that she can also perform the tasks she asks of her employees. “When a leader can do it,” she explained, “it’s immediate trust… Not only can I do the work with them, I’m also there to invest in them so they can move on to something beyond that.” Duemo loves to learn new things, both about technology and leadership. She cites Gimlet Media’s StartUp as one of her favorite podcasts and Ben Horowitz’s What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business as a book full of sage advice. Most of all, however, Duemo emphasizes the importance of failure, and of owning up to and learning from your mistakes. Some of these lessons have come from outside of work. Duemo is an avid athlete. She has competed in multiple marathons, Ironman triathlons, and even ultramarathons. “It’s the challenge of it. It’s the fact that you got to the end of something,” she explains. Even though an Ironman triathlon—or learning how to code—may seem impossible, “you just start with a step, and then the next one, and the next one.” Standing still, whether professionally or personally, can be deadly. “Inaction is one of the worst things we do as humans,” Duemo said. “At the minimum, just start.” Failure is only a steppingstone.

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