TOPS Interview: Emily Reid

“I also know that I’m a privileged, educated white woman, and it’s my duty to stand with and offer opportunities to other marginalized people.”

One of the great things about Toronto in the summer is the plethora of outdoor screening series. No matter what your mood, neighbourhood, or tastes might be you can probably find the film that will have you messaging your friends and digging out that perfect picnic blanket from the back of your closet.

For me, it was a screening of Twister in 2014 as part of Christie Pits Film Festival’s Days Of Summer series. By this point CPFF had been around for a few years but it was this experience (Helen Hunt, outside, blankets, COWS!) that got me to take notice. Each year that followed they continued to outdo themselves with their programming and then in 2016 we finally joined forces to co-present two films for their Stranded series: Meek’s Cutoff and I Put A Hit On You. Since then we’ve been lucky to continue co-presenting with CPFF and their other Toronto Outdoor Picture Show series.

CPFF founder Emily Reid

And since we’ve been co-presenting we’ve also been wanting to interview Christie Pits Film Festival founder (and current Festival Director & Lead Programmer) Emily Reid. This year the stars aligned (read: we both finally had time to make this happen; busy women—we’re a blessing and a curse) and we got a chance to chat with our absolute fave Toronto festival founder.

Christie Pits Film Festival was founded in 2011 by Emily Reid (who was later joined by Felan Parker and Nikin Nagewadia) as a two-day event and has since grown into Toronto’s largest public outdoor film festival. In 2015, CPFF incorporated as the umbrella Toronto Outdoor Picture Show and this summer presents programming in three other Toronto parks: Corktown Common, Parkway Forest, and Fort York.

Summer isn’t over yet; there are still TOPS screenings to catch with Christie Pits Film Festival and Parkway Forest screenings kick off on August 9! See the rest of the summer lineup here.

Tell us about Toronto Outdoor Picture Show. Where did the idea come from?

Emily Reid: Well, TOPS grew out of our signature series, Christie Pits Film Festival. CPFF was my brainchild (and is still my baby and proudest achievement). I moved to Toronto, to an apartment at the corner of Bloor and Christie, in 2009 to do my Masters in Cinema Studies. I loved my neighbourhood park instantly, and I mused about seeing outdoor films there. I proposed a series (even a single screening!) to my MA supervisor as my thesis project, but was told it would be impossible. Ha! A year later I still really had the itch to see this idea come to fruition, and under-employed as I was as a recent graduate, I set out to make it happen.

Four year later, and a ton of challenges survived along the way, it wasn’t just still alive, but thriving (though still not paying me a wage), with regular 1000-person audiences and some of the nicest feedback I could have imagined—people saying they found their place in community at CPFF or a mother telling me that our screening of Rear Window prompted her budding 8-year old cinephile son to want to see all of Hitchcock’s films.

So it became time to incorporate as an official not-for-profit organization, and grow the vision, and the reach across the city. With two of my closest friends and collaborators by my side, Toronto Outdoor Picture Show was founded.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in the film industry.

ER: Though it took years before I could count on any amount of professional income from CPFF, it allowed me to showcase my skills as a cultural programmer and woman-of-all-trades (truly, that’s what all grassroots curators and EDs are!). After a year working on the launch of new Heritage Minutes (definitely a childhood dream!), in 2013 I was hired as a TIFF Programming Associate, working closely alongside one of my mentors, Jane Schoettle, for the following 5 festivals. I left that job last fall with a heavy heart but with many TOPS projects that I felt I needed to explore and dedicate more time to.

CPFF founder Emily Reid at an event

How do you go about coming up with the theme for Christie Pits Film Festival each year?

ER: Well this is the fun part! It’s an organic process but often comes out of an “aha!” moment. Sometimes it’s a combination of two or three films that we want to screen, that together allow for an interesting theme. Like last year’s Eyes on the Prize series, which was inspired by Speed Sisters — a fantastic doc about the only female race car driving team in the Middle East — and Creed — one of my favourite films of the decade, a thrilling reboot of the Rocky franchise but this time with thoughtful discussions of family, gender and race — and Christopher Guest’s comedic masterpiece, Best in Show. Thinking of those three together, and a couple of really great short films that were top of mind, we saw a really interesting series about competition, goal-seeking, and team spirit, which was eventually expanded on to include both explicit and subtle depictions of that theme, in a broad variety of styles and and from a diversity of filmmaking voices.

You are one of the few (only?) summer screening series that also shows shorts. Why did you decide to do this?

ER: I think we’re the only ones! A couple of years ago, the NFB curated some of their shorts at some of the other outdoor series, but that says more about the NFB’s mission to share their incredible body of work than it does about the series that welcomed them.

As CPFF grew into an established series, we began to find a balance between popular and established classic films that would draw our audiences to have a communal experience, and our desire to show support to the Canadian filmmaking community, especially women and racialized filmmakers (whose work is showcased much less often in feature filmmaking). Curating very specific short and feature film pairings allowed us to challenge ourselves as curators and expand on what our audiences would experience at our festival. It was icing on the cake that we received such warm feedback from filmmakers whose works were exhibited in this unique context.

“Cabaret” at Corktown Common

What has been your fave film to screen so far?

ER: Omg, this is my Sophie’s Choice! I’ll give you a top three, because we’ve now had over 50 screenings!

1. Our original live-score production of Nosferatu with Del Bel in 2015. The first live-score screening we presented, with an original score, for our 5th anniversary year, one of the most special experiences of my life, with 1000 of my friends and neighbours on a beautiful summer’s night.

2. A League of Their Own at Christie Pits. We had never had more than 500 attendees until that night, and suddenly we welcomed 1200 of the happiest people I’ve ever seen, and for a film that FOR SURE developed an 8-year old Emily into a forever film lover once upon a time. I was immensely proud of what we had created in our community. I wept with happiness a lot that night!

3. Last week’s screening of Cabaret at Corktown Common Park, a place we now consider our second home, which screened with the exceptional short film She Stoops to Conquer. These are artistically uncompromising, boundary-pushing films, with so much depth, giving us a lot to discuss and reconsider about our historical and current societies, and yet so blatantly fun and engaging to watch. And Cabaret has one of the best scores — ever! Though we don’t see the huge crowds we have at CPFF at Corktown Common yet, this screening felt like a perfect, intimate, summer experience to me. We’re so honoured to be part of that community while it continues to grow — and in one of Toronto’s prettiest parks, no less.

Tell us about why you are a feminist and why it’s important to your work.

ER: I’m a feminist because I can’t envision why anyone would not be. I believe that all people should be treated equally in life, work, rights, space. Furthermore, while I know what challenges I face in life that are different from men, I also know that I’m a privileged, educated white woman, and it’s my duty to stand with and offer opportunities to other marginalized people as many have done for white women for the better part of a century in the interest of a more just society and the sharing of all our stories.

CPFF founder Emily Reid introducing “Cabaret” at Corktown Common

Who are your favourite women working in the film industry?

ER: I’m going to highlight here some women in roles that are less often praised than Directors. Again, my TIFF mentor for five years, Jane Schoettle, who has an unparalleled skill at finding emerging talent around the world, and developing it (ever hear of Barry Jenkins or Maren Ade?). And the countless EDs at small festivals and culture orgs, women and men, who work themselves to the bone to create amazing grassroots arts and culture with modest resources but undying passion, like Ananya Ohri [Regent Park Film Festival] and Gilad Cohen [JAYU] and well, Siân Melton!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

ER: I was told by a professor during my MA that I have a great radio voice. I think he was being kind, and couching that comment in some critical feedback of a presentation I was preparing for, but I had NEVER thought of myself as a public speaker or presenter before. I would never have predicted that I would become comfortable presenting films at my own and other festivals to 1000+ audiences with sometimes famous guests, and sometimes even being a little bit of a comedic ham at it. Little did he know, he gave me confidence in an area I never felt I even wanted it.

Do you have any new projects you’ll be working on in the coming year?

ER: Well I need to keep some secrets near and dear, but our 10th anniversary of CPFF is just two summers away, so my wheels are turning… I’d love to find a way to fund a slew of commissioned short films. Know anyone with 100k to invest in filmmaking talent?

Finally, recommend one #MUFFApproved film for our blog readers!

ER: Well, obviously I *really* hope that MUFF readers came out for TOPS screenings of Ava DuVernay’s really powerful Selma at Corktown Common and then Lucy Walker’s art documentary Waste Land! But one of my favourite films by a female filmmaker, and featuring a bravura, comedic central performance, of the past couple of years is Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann. It’s a film I come back to often. Exceptionally funny and tender and unexpected, quite simply masterful. I don’t want to fall back on this crutch of a statement too often, but I think if Maren were a male filmmaker, her offers would have been through the roof after that film came out. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Summer isn’t over yet; there are still TOPS screenings to catch with Christie Pits Film Festival and Parkway Forest screenings kick off on August 9! See the rest of the summer lineup here.

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