Festival Daily

By Hailey Eisen

It is a warm summer evening, and the Bloor Street West strip is buzzing with life. The flashing yellow lights of Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor Street West) illuminate the sidewalks as people of all ages and walks of life mingle in this vibrant, mid-town neighbourhood. A landing place for many University of Toronto students, the Annex area is also home to some of Toronto’s most well-known talent. Its plethora of coffee shops, bars, restaurants, boutiques and street vendors attract throngs of people all year round.

For Martha Burns and Susan Coyne – celebrated personalities in the Toronto film, television and theatre scenes – this neighbourhood is where they eat, shop and do some of their best work. It’s also where their short film and directorial debut (How Are You?) was shot.

When I requested to meet them for this interview, they initially suggested we go grocery shopping – an activity that has given birth to some of their greatest ideas. While intrigued with the originality of the suggestion, I opted instead for a tour of the neighbourhood. We agreed to meet in front of Wiener’s Home Hardware (432 Bloor Street West), an old-school hardware shop in which they filmed part of their short.

While they are certainly celebrities in these parts, both Coyne and Burns are extremely down to earth and friendly. They’re eager to chat about the Festival and modest about their recent film success.

“This project was like our own version of film school,” says Burns with a laugh. “We never imagined it would actually make it into the Festival.” 

The 18-minute short is set on Valentine’s Day – one of the coldest and gloomiest days of the year – and follows Olivia (played by Coyne), a middle-aged woman who has recently separated from her husband. Based on a series of anecdotes (some awkward and some hilarious), How Are You? is not necessarily about responses to grief, but rather those uncomfortable moments we all find ourselves in when we just don’t know what to say.

For Coyne and Burns, who have known each other for years and worked closely together on the Canadian television series Slings and Arrows, acting as co-writers and co-directors of this film provided some interesting challenges. “We certainly relied a lot on experts in the field, who were all really eager to help us out,” says Coyne.

As we stroll along Bloor, both women are happy to share their neighbourhood faves. They’ve each been living nearby with their families for many years and are huge supporters of the area’s local merchants. Shopping for a TIFF-party outfit? Coyne recommends Trove (791 Bathurst Street), a family-run boutique with a hip selection of accessories, shoes and clothing. For a quick bite to eat between films, Burns loves Dish (390 Dupont Street), a cooking studio and café with great sandwiches, homemade baked goods and salads. The best bakery in the area – they both agree – is Frangipane Patisserie (215 Madison Avenue). And after an evening screening, they love to visit Madeleines, Cherry Pie and Ice Cream (1087 Bathurst Street) for dessert and coffee.

Visitors to the area should not miss Mirvish Village, the Markham Street strip that’s lined with boutique art galleries and trendy restaurants, and home to David Mirvish Books (596 Markham Street), one of the most extensive art bookstores in the city.

As we sit down for a cup of tea inside Lettieri Espresso Bar & Café (581 Bloor Street West), Burns and Coyne reminisce about their filmmaking experience. Though they shot the entire short in four days, the writing process took much longer. “Initially, there were many potential endings for the film,” recalls Coyne. “We spent a lot of time at Martha’s farmhouse, drinking wine and telling stories.” What they eventually decided on involves Olivia’s discovery of her inner diva – and the pivotal moment where her life changes, for the better. 

Their next film project picks up, in a way, where this one leaves off. “We’re working on an anthology – a bunch of little films about big moments in life,” says Coyne. The project will feature a number of first-time filmmakers and some very well-known mentors. “We’ve got Guy Maddin, Sarah Polley, Bruce McDonald and many more,” says Burns. “We’re also hoping to document the entire filmmaking-mentoring process.”

On our way back to our cars, Burns and Coyne pass by the brand-new Sobeys (Urban Fresh) at 503 Bloor Street. Though it’s almost 9pm, they can’t resist! As we say goodbye, I wonder what amazing new idea will come out of their late-night shop.

HOW ARE YOU? (In Short Cuts Canada Programme 5)
Sept. 11, 8:00pm, AMC 3       
Sept. 12, 2:30pm, AMC 3

GREAT WORK! Very informative!
Comment By isaac At 11/09/2021 3:33 PM
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