The 35th Toronto International Film Festival opened this week, and the 11-day event features 300 films, some of the biggest names in Hollywood – and a local connection as well.
Linwood resident Jacob Caldwell is making his TIFF debut playing the lead role of Thomas in the seven-minute short film, “Living History,” which opens on Monday night at 6:30.
The film examines the relationship between a father and a son, played by Caldwell, as they make their way to participate in a battle reenactment from the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837.
“His father and his mother have had a divorce, and since then the son hasn’t really been that close to his father,” says Caldwell. “It’s mainly about one last war reenactment that the son’s going to with his father, and he’s not really into it, thinking ‘Oh, great I have to go to another one.’”
What unfolds is a story of humour, and an analysis of the father-son relationship by director Isaac Cravit. Caldwell says it was the comedic elements of the script which really drew him to the film.
“When I went for the audition it was just a few lines, but I like funny movies, and the few lines were comedy, so I thought ‘this sounds like fun,’” he explained.
“First of all it was war, and not that I’m saying war is funny, but it’s a war scene and I am a drummer boy walking in a field, and that was kind of funny. And when I got the full script I thought ‘Wow, this is going to be a good film.’”
The 18-year-old actor is no stranger to the camera, either. He got his first acting gig at the tender age of two when he appeared in a commercial for Sam’s Audio Shop in Orangeville, as well as several magazines.
“Then my parents took me out of it when we moved here [Linwood], and because they didn’t really want me to stay in it. They wanted me to live a ‘normal’ life,” he explained.
That was 14 years ago, and only recently has Jacob decided to get back into acting. He says he always carries a video camera around with him shooting videos and one day his mother, Vickie, encouraged him to step out from behind the camera and return to acting.
Caldwell was originally signed by Cameo Models in Kitchener, and after taking acting courses with the agency, he was noticed by Jessica Martins at MMG~Canada and MMG~New York, who signed him to a contract. He also does some modeling, and was named model of the year in 2008 by the Model Alliance Group of Canada.
He says that the biggest challenge he faces as a young actor is making sure that he gets noticed, especially living in a small town like Linwood.
“That’s the biggest thing. It’s a two hour drive to Toronto, and most of the films are shot out in that area,” he says.
“Living History” is part of the Short Cuts Canada Program at this year’s TIFF, a program with the goal of promoting up-and-coming, as well as established, Canadian short-film directors and actors.
Short Cuts Canada began in 2001, emerging from the previous short films program at TIFF called Perspective Canada, due to the growing popularity of Canadian short films.
All of the films in the show must be directed by Canadians, and they must be shorter than 50 minutes in length.
After that, the doors are wide open.
“Our program’s include animation, documentary, experimental, narrative, horrors, westerns,” explains Short Cuts Canada programmer Alex Rogalski. “You name it [and] it’s been something we’ve looked at. We really like to showcase how diverse the filmmaking quality is in Canada.”
This year’s festival features 40 short films chosen from over 600 submissions.
“There’s no checklist,” when it comes to evaluating the films that are shown at the festival, says Rogalski, “but we do like to be sort of surprised. I don’t mean that in the literal, shocking sense, but it’s nice when somebody takes a story or a character and treats it in a way we haven’t seen before.”
Rogalski says he and the other program coordinators were drawn to “Living History” because of the unique way in which the director examined the father-son relationship in the film.
“It’s a multi-layered film in that it’s not just a straight-forward drama, there is quite a bit of comedic element to it. It’s set against the backdrop of a son and a father who are at that stage in their relationship where they are maybe not seeing eye-to-eye on everything, and they are finding themselves in this unique situation.”
TIFF is world-renowned for showing some of the best independent films, and Caldwell hopes his role in “Living History” will lead to bigger and better opportunities down the road.
“It’s going to be a good movie, I hope it does really well,” he says. “The TIFF is your spot to get noticed. You go there, and something is bound to happen. It might not be right away, it might be a year from now. It’s a tough business because it does take a while, but hopefully it does well and I get noticed.”
Caldwell isn’t sure what his future holds, but he does know that film is where he wants to make a name for himself. Before he became an actor he had plans to study film at Ryerson, but is ready should another opportunity present itself.
“If the acting takes off, you’ve got to stick with that. It’s a great opportunity.”