After his second straight turn in the spotlight at Ottawa’s international film festival, Toronto filmmaker Maziyar Khatam says he feels like he’s found his creative niche at the capital’s annual celebration of cinema.
Khatam is the writer of the short film Baba, a 13-minute short that tells the story of “a middle-aged Iranian man” who “makes a desperate bid to keep his apartment as his relationship with his son unravels.”
The film was directed by Anya Chirkova and Meran Ismailsoy.
“I think the festival does a great job pairing great feature films and great short films together,” said Khatam, an Iranian-Canadian filmmaker who was at Ottawa festival last year with the short film Bump. “I think it’s a great strength and it’s amazing to be here. And Ottawa is pretty cool, too.”
‘I think the festival does a great job pairing great feature films and great short films together. I think it’s a great strength.’— Maziyar Khatam, writer, 13-minute short film Baba
The festival, formally known as the International Film Festival of Ottawa — IFFO for short — was held March 8-19 and featured dozens of short and full-length films from around the world.
Khatam said film festivals are hugely valuable to the film scene.
“I was just texting a friend who said they had never been to a film festival. That’s crazy to me,” he said. “A film festival is really where you get to see underground, indie, and foreign films…The beauty of a film festival is it brings together people like these; it brings together films like these.”
One of the features that Khatam says is strongest about the IFFO is the way it pairs full-length films with short films like his.
“I think the festival does a great job pairing great feature films and great short films together. I think it’s a great strength and it’s amazing to be here. And Ottawa is pretty cool too.”
This 2023 edition of the IFFO came after three years in which the festival crept ever closer back to the normal. The 2021 festival was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 edition was held entirely online, and this year’s was a hybrid version with both an in-person and online format.
The in-person events allowed for elements that were not possible in previous years, such as live question-and-answer segments with filmmakers at the IFFO’s two venues, the Ottawa Art Gallery and the Bytowne Cinema.
IFFO film operations coordinator Ben Compton was involved in the film selection process and said it’s nice to finally stage the festival the way it was envisioned three years ago.
“It’s incredibly exciting, you can definitely feel the energy in the room,” he said. “It is really gratifying to be surrounded by actual bodies watching a film together, laughing at the same things, feeling the same emotions, and coming out in the lobby and talking about it. These are the things we’ve been waiting so long for.”
This year saw the festival charged with talent from far and wide. More than 40 feature-length and short films from 26 countries were screened over the 11-day event. The IFFO bills itself as a showcase of the best of contemporary Canadian and international cinema.
“We’re trying to bolster Ottawa’s film scene both in the sense of introducing Ottawa audiences to filmmakers, but also I hope to introduce filmmakers to the incredible film audience and interest in film that Ottawa can offer,” said Compton.
‘We’re trying to bolster Ottawa’s film scene both in the sense of introducing Ottawa audiences to filmmakers, but also I hope to introduce filmmakers to the incredible film audience and interest in film that Ottawa can offer.’— Ben Compton, film operations coordinator, IFFO
Khatam’s last two productions have both been included in the renowned Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. His advice to aspiring filmmakers is to make something that appeals to themselves.
“Yeah, Sundance is great and all, but (to get there), you’ve got to satisfy your own artistic urges,” said Khatam.
“I think making something good or bad can be arbitrary sometimes. You can make something bad and it can be hilarious and people can enjoy it for that reason. Or you can make something good and people can enjoy it for that reason, but it doesn’t matter if you’re Tommy Wiseau and you made The Room or you’re Damien Chazelle and you made Whiplash. What matters is finding an audience.”
Khatam said when he was invited to Sundance and the IFFO, he realized he’d found his audience
“That really told me, wow, this is the crowd that enjoys that weird cinema,” Khatam said.
After producing three short films he can be proud of, Khatam said his focus has shifted to directing a feature length film.
And when it comes out, he said hopes to see it lighting up the silver screen at the IFFO.
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