2021 Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival recap!

The 2021 Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival ran September 17-25 this year, with a return to the Revue Cinema as well as online showings. It was a big year for the TMFF, and we’ve got festival director Caius Tenche to share some of the details of this year’s event. See below! Beneath the Q&A, we’ve got a list of this year’s film winners, and the video of the awards presentation.
CMG: You had a record number of Canadian films this year. Why was that, do you think? And, I’m sure you’d like to push even further with your Can-Con—what are you hoping for next year, in this regard? 
Caius Tenche: I think the increased number of Canadian films submitted this year is attributed to the ongoing work TMFF is doing to raise awareness of the Festival. For next year, I’d love to see just as many submissions but to have their quality go up. There are a lot of great stories out there and we have talented filmmakers. I think it is just a matter of time.

CMG: What was it like, being back to some in-person showtimes at the Revue Cinema this year, after the 2020 festival had no in-person showings?
Caius Tenche: Being back in theatre was wonderful but also had its challenges. A couple of weeks before the Festival I walked into the Revue Cinema for the first time in two years and the first thing that hit me was the smell of the popcorn. It’s just popcorn, but it brought me right back to some wonderful memories. I was looking forward to seeing the films in a proper theatre setting, to see friends and familiar faces, and to have that charge-in-the-air experience that I felt at our previous festivals. And while government and health regulations mandated that we operate at a 50 percent capacity, I was still very much looking forward to it.
And if only we were able to reach that 50%. The reality, which I did not expect, is that ticket sales reached about 17% of total capacity. It was a gut punch and demoralizing but after some discussions with local theatres and other festivals, including some of the larger well-known festivals, it was something that everyone was experiencing industry-wide. I guess people were just not quite comfortable going back into a theatre at that point. With all that said, on opening night when I got on stage to welcome everyone, I got a bit emotional. After all, it was 714 days since we had an in-person event.

CMG: This was the first year for the TMFF’s hybrid model, with some films screened at the Revue, some screened online-only. What were the advantages of that model? Will it be the way you do things, going forward? Are there any things you’d like to change about the model?
Caius Tenche: The hybrid model is a win-win for film lovers because it gives people who want that special theatre experience the opportunity to make a night of it and see films in a venue dedicated to showcasing films in their best light. At the same time, if people weren’t ready to go back to the theatre, or perhaps they weren’t available at that time, or maybe didn’t live near Toronto, the opportunity to see this year’s Festival selection. Most of this year’s films were available to be watched from anywhere in the world.
The hybrid model is great but it requires a lot more work to organize and maintain from a scheduling perspective – for example, should we make films available online during the duration of the Festival, or schedule them for specific times, just like in a theatre? We also needed to take into account the windowing, maximum number of tickets, and geographic restriction requirement that some distributors have. On that, should we make films available globally or restrict them to Ontario, or Canada? It’s a model that has lots of options and we’re testing out different formats and learning from them.

CMG: Has the content of the films shifted a bit since the festival started? Are you seeing different storytelling techniques, or perhaps a change in who’s telling the stories (travelers vs. custom builders vs. racers)?
Caius Tenche: The first thing that stood out was the number of feature-length films that were submitted. We typically receive about a half-dozen features every year, but this year there were more than double that.
Secondly, story and production quality-wise, this was arguably the strongest lineup we’ve had in the past five years. We saw interesting and novel storylines, incredible cinematography, and some wonderful new perspectives that went beyond the traditional travelogue and connected with the viewer on a much more emotional level.
Pandemic restrictions limited filmmakers’ ability to travel and work together with others on new film productions. I assume that this kept creators inside and in front of their editors working on, and refining existing projects rather than shooting new pieces. The high quality of the films made it very hard to narrow down the films in this year’s selection – a good problem to have.
CMG: Were there any films that didn’t receive awards this year, that surprised you?
Caius Tenche: The award-winning films were great and deserve accolades. Beyond those, I personally really enjoyed The Desert Said Dance and Race Night. The Desert Said Dance is a feature-length film that follows a group of riders who prepare to take on the incredibly tough Baja 1000 offroad race. I loved this film for how it combined the individual stories of each of the racers and wove them together all focused towards the race. The cinematography and production value in this film are outstanding. Visually, it is a work of art. Hollywood could not have produced it better.
In Race Night, a short documentary that weaves its storylines around flat-track racing, the focus is all about individuals and families. It explores the hopes and dreams of the racers and the sacrifices that people make for each other. Above the beautiful cinematography, this film tugs at your heartstrings from start to finish. I don’t want to give away too much. It’s just a beautiful film that will leave you feeling warm and with a huge smile on your face.
CMG: How did COVID-19 affect the submissions you received and screened for 2021?
Caius Tenche: Beyond the comments I made previously about the number of feature-length films and the improved quality, COVID-19 has resulted in a 20% drop in submissions compared to previous years. Fewer but better films. I’m okay with that.
CMG: After five years of hard work, is awareness of the Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival growing amongst national and international viewers and filmmakers?
Caius Tenche: When it comes to filmmakers and the motorcycle media, TMFF has become recognized internationally as the leading motorcycle film festival in the world. This has resulted in filmmakers and distribution companies reaching out to us directly, targeting to have their World Premieres at our festival.
However, from an audience perspective, while we are continuing to expand our reach, it’s much slower growth. Given that we now have a year-round streaming platform, TMFF Cinema, that provides audiences access to watch films from anywhere in the world, I was expecting a significant boost to our global viewership but that has not been the case. We need to fix that. Suggestions on how we can do better to connect with our worldwide audience are welcome.

CMG: What sort of submissions are you looking for, for 2022?
Caius Tenche: I’d like to see a continual evolution of the depth of storylines in the films. We’ve seen so many adventure films about riding around the world. They’re fun but frankly, it’s becoming commonplace and the stories repetitive. I’d love to see more depth; for filmmakers to go beyond the superficial and explore motivations, emotions, and different perspectives. I’d also love to see stories about how motorcycles are impacting people’s lives, like in this year’s Best Man Corner which looked at motorcycles as a way to survive in current war-torn Liberia. And no more fist-bump shots when a group of riders come to a stop. Please. No more fist-bump shots.
CMG: How do you see TMFF Cinema integrating with the festival, going forward?
Caius Tenche: As films finish their festival runs, we’d like to add them to TMFF Cinema, our year-round streaming platform so that they can continue to be available. I’ll give you a great example. Take None Give None is an award-winning documentary about the Chosen Few MC, the first multiracial outlaw motorcycle club in America. The film is groundbreaking in many ways and important because it documented a part of our motorcycling history. After its festival run in 2017, it completely disappeared and was unavailable anywhere despite people asking to see it. Last year, we worked together with the filmmaker and brought it to TMFF Cinema where it now has a home. It would have been a shame to have lost the film and its historical value.
We’re also adding films to TMFF Cinema that didn’t make it into the Festival which can happen because we just didn’t have the programming capacity, or because of timing. Lastly, we will be using it for special online events outside of the annual Festival.
CMG: How can people support the festival throughout the year, besides a TMFF subscription?
Caius Tenche: People can support TMFF in several ways. When you rent an on-demand film from our steaming platform, we split the ticket sales with the filmmakers, which helps them to fund more projects. Together with buying merchandise from our online shop, this also provides us with funding to help support the cost involved in producing and running the Festival. People can also support TMFF by helping spread the word about the Festival so that we can continue to grow our audience – tell a friend, buy them an on-demand rental or a Festival tee or poster for their birthday.
TMFF is most definitely a passion project. The number of hours invested into organizing the annual Festival, TMFF Cinema, and the year-round activities is more than you can imagine. If I’m being honest, it does not make any financial sense; but I love it. I love the motorcycling community, the culture and I believe there is real value in preserving and sharing it, and so, my wish is to see TMFF continue and grow.

2021 Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival award winners

People’s Choice Award

Chasing the Championship, directed by Dave Baum. Runner up: 972 Breakdowns on the Landway to New York, by leavinghomefuntion and Daniel von Rüdiger.

Best Feature Film Award

972 Breakdowns on the Landway to New York, by leavinghomefuntion and Daniel von Rüdiger. Runner up: The Wall, directed by Stéphane Gautronneau.

Best Short Documentary

Chomolungma Lam Thu (Road to Everest), directed by Siddharth Shukla, Produced by Chaitali Mitra. Runner up: Race Night, directed by Sean Jackson.

Best Short Narrative

It’s Worth It, Directed by Nick Hagman. Runner up: Out There, directed by Mark Potenza.

Best Canadian Film

Route 16 Ramble, Directed by Jason Hamborg. Runner up: 257 Down, directed by David Porteous

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