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The Ryerson Mafia: How the university’s elusive By Bryan Meler Ryerson has grown alongside it,
forming an inevitable partnership.
film network has been leaving its mark on TIFF
A mong the Jonah Hills, Lady Ga-
gas and Timothée Chalamets,
there’s another group that stands out
It’s one that has not only benefited
TIFF, but has helped the Ryerson
Mafia grow and gain a reputation.
*Must show student ID
at the Toronto International Film
Festival: The Ryerson Mafia.
“We have screened many films
made by Ryerson over the years and
The Mafia is what the expansive, this was obviously significant for our
but exclusive network of Ryerson development as a festival,” wrote
students and alumni have colloquially long-time TIFF CEO and Director
coined themselves. It’s an organized Piers Handling in an email to The Eye.
body that takes full shape at TIFF. Fitzpatrick says that having a re-
“We sort of joke offhand about lationship with TIFF has helped the
the Ryerson Mafia,” says Andrew school understand what’s cutting
Cividino, a 2006 Ryerson film stud- edge. It’s also opened opportunities to
ies graduate. “There’s this really or- network within the industry and be
ganic network...A lot of us meet ei- part of Toronto’s growing film scene.
ther at school or afterwards through Part of that influence comes from
the [film] community.” Theresa Scandiffio, the senior di-
TIFF is literally in Ryerson’s back- rector of TIFF’s Higher Learning
yard, with the festival using the uni- program. She helps organize op-
versity’s Theatre Building for screen- portunities for students to be able
ings. From Sept. 6-16, it’ll once again to maximize TIFF resources that are
give students an opportunity to im- available to them, such as film com-
merse themselves within the indus- petitions they can submit their work
try’s best and most recent work. to, or screenings and seminars at the
For many like Cividino, TIFF Bell Lightbox, which has been open
served as an inspiration. “Having year-round since 2010.
your movie played at TIFF seemed
like a hard, but tangible goal to go
after in Toronto.” There to help him
“From directors to
were his classmates, who he had volunteers... We’re
formed relationships with through- producing talent for
out his time in the program. the industry”
His film Sleeping Giant played at
TIFF in 2015, going on to win the Ryerson has also formed their
Best Canadian First Feature Film own initiatives that have created
award. The crew was comprised informal relationships with TIFF,
solely of Ryerson alumni, even down such as the Ryerson University
to Cividino’s business partner. Film Festival (RUFF) in the spring,
“If you did an X-ray of TIFF, you’d which provides fourth-year film
find a wide range of Ryerson [alumni students a chance to showcase
and students],” says Blake Fitzpatrick, their thesis projects. The festival
the Chair of Ryerson’s School of Im- is known to be attended by the in-
age Arts, which includes the film dustry’s best, looking for work they
studies program. “From directors to can feature in upcoming festivals
volunteers...We’re producing talent like TIFF in the fall.
for the industry.” Ryerson film studies academic
coordinator James Warrack says
that because they know what TIFF
“Having your movie is looking for, it’s had an impact on
played at TIFF the type of films their students pro-
seemed like a hard, duce. Compact short films and fic-
tion have more of an opportunity to
but tangible goal”
be seen, says Warrack, which is why
they’re a focus in the program.
After enrolling in Ryerson’s film That emphasis has helped Evan-
studies program in 1977, the first geline Brooks, a third-year Ryerson
position Peter Mettler held at TIFF, film student whose short film Sheep is
which was then known as the Festi- playing at this year’s TIFF Instagram
val of Festivals, was to be the event’s shorts festival. Brooks, who’s heard
only chauffeur driver. It required him the words “Ryerson Mafia” echo
to miss the first 10 days of school in through her program for years, says
order to drive greats for a festival that the only downside of having TIFF so
had just started in ‘76, but was already close to Ryerson is that students can
a platform for top-tier international feel pressured to immediately start
cinema. “It was our education, watch- working because there are so many
ing these films,” says Mettler. competitive opportunities.
During his four years as part of the Instead she’s comfortable taking her
program, Mettler said one of the best time as a student to explore and mas-
parts was everyone working on each ter the basics. Sheep, which was pro-
other’s films. While his generation duced in her first-year film class, was
didn’t use the term “Ryerson Mafia,” made on 16 mm black and white ana-
he says the school and TIFF helped log film, shot in one day with a crew
him form career-long professional of Ryerson classmates.
partnerships. It ultimately helped “Our professors encourage us
Mettler become the first Ryerson stu- to network and work among our-
dent to have his film (Scisserre) played selves, not focus on people in the
at Toronto’s film festival in 1982. industry that are above us,” says
As TIFF has evolved into an event Brooks. “Instead, in a couple years,
that now requires fleets of cars, we can all move up together.”