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In April of 2021 the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (LIFT) marked our 40th anniversary. It was a quiet celebration during a tumultuous pandemic year. But since then we have been looking back and taking stock of the LIFT’s legacy as a resource and community hub for the filmmakers who have passed through our doors. This six-film program digs into work LIFT members made during the 1980s and 1990s. Although varied in style, tone and form these six films have aged incredibly well, connected by their timely quality and gentle handling of eclectic subject matter.

VUCAVU and LIFT presents:

Shadows and Light: 

Six Film Portraits from LIFT members, 1981-2001

Curated by Cayley James


Shadows and Light: Six Film Portraits from LIFT members,1981-2001

Curated by Cayley James


On the LIFT website there is a section dedicated to the publications we’ve created over the years, which includes our long-running member newsletter that ran in various forms from 1985 to 2007. Evolving from a typewritten leaflet, to a cut-and-paste photocopied zine, and its final iteration as a glossy printed magazine called Film Print, the LIFT newsletters are lovingly assembled time-capsules of a fertile period in the organization’s history. LIFT grew exponentially in the years that are documented in these newsletters. From a small collective that held notoriously long meetings to a stalwart production centre for Toronto’s independent film scene. Within each issue there are lists of projects that were either in-production, hitting the festival circuit or being sold or broadcast. Reviewing these issues during our 40th anniversary year gave me even richer insight into the history of an organization that has a tendency to underplay its enduring impact.

During a year that was sorely lacking in collective experience, there was something heartening about spending time sifting through these back issues that had such a palpable sense of community. With their screening announcements, classifieds, reviews, first person essays (“How I Sold My Film to the CBC) and eclectic interviews (check out the August 1991 issue for a history of the early days of Suspect Video!), these newsletters showed the changing landscape of Toronto’s film scene. Essays that sought to advocate for venues like the “Euclid Theatre” in Little Italy in the face of gentrification (now a Spirit Leaf) stood side by side with rigorous policy discussions about the censorious Ontario Film Review Board that defined a generation of media artists in Ontario (and which was finally dismantled by the Ontario government right before the pandemic hit us). It was thanks to these back issues which championed members’ work, from their initial funding to their distribution, that I was able to shape this program that the VUCAVU team kindly invited us to put together after the success of our previous 40th anniversary program, “UNSTEADY LANDSCAPES” earlier in 2021.


Evolving from a typewritten leaflet, to a cut-and-paste photocopied zine, and its final iteration as a glossy printed magazine called "Film Print", the LIFT newsletters are lovingly assembled time-capsules of a fertile period in the organization’s history.
black and white images from LIFT publications with portraits of people and text

Stills From LIFT's Publication Archive : https://lift.ca/publications_home/

While there is a glorious rough-hewn energy to some of the DIY aspects of this period of independent film in Toronto, the films in this program resonate remarkably well with our time. These six portraits reflect the variety of forms and genres that LIFT members were working in over the years, but they are connected through their intimate and gentle handling of eclectic subject matter. Bookended by two dream-like diary films, the program traces a journey from Tracy German’s hypnotic meditation of expectant motherhood in a private patch of blue (1998) to Jorge Manzano and Marcel Commanda’s collaborative dramatization of Commanda’s tragically short life in City of Dreams (1995). In both Jeremy Podeswas film adaptation of David Roche Talks To You About Love (1983) and Elida Schogt’s Silent Song (2001) the filmmakers speak directly to the viewer, challenging the audience to interrogate ideas about how we talk about romantic love or how we talk about the tragedies of history, respectively. Both Ruba Nadda’s Do Nothing (1997) and Michelle Mohabeer’s Exposure (1990) subvert and challenge the conception of a homogenous Canada, albeit through different means, sparking conversation around national and personal identity that have yet to be resolved.

... a glorious rough-hewn energy to some of the DIY aspects of this period of independent film in Toronto, the films in this program resonate remarkably well with our time.
A black and white image of a person sitting on the ground in a plaid shirt, looking beyond the camera. There is a poster in the background that says A.I.M.

Still from "City of Dreams," Jorge Manzano & Marcel Commanda, 29 mins, 1995, CFMDC 

As we begin a new year and LIFT enters its next new decade, this program provides a small but important way to take stock of what has come before. With so many amazing examples of the work our members have made over the last forty years, we are reinvigorated as an organization to continue to make space and facilitate opportunities for our members to make work and challenge the status quo. We hope you enjoy the program and that it inspires you to imagine what new stories you can bring to the world. We’d be happy to help. 

Essay written by Cayley James

...make space and facilitate opportunities for our members to make work and challenge the status quo.
A black and white still of a group marching. A large poster of two hands holding many gender symbols is held up.

Still image from "Exposure", Michelle Mohabeer, 8 mins, 1990, CFMDC



Marcel Commanda was an Ojibway poet, performer, drummer and emerging film and video maker hailing from Rama First Nation. Marcel passed away in 1994 just after filming was finished.


Tracy has a broad background in film and video production, installation, film art exhibition and teaching. Her career encompasses project creation, motion picture broadcast and festival exhibition, photography, installation, mixed media, painting, sculpture, sound and digital video technologies. She holds an M.F.A. from York University in film production and a Media Arts diploma from Sheridan College, where she currently teaches in the Media Arts and Media Fundamentals program. Tracy's work is firmly situated within a feminist avant-garde ideology and aesthetic which champion’s process through its production, challenging clear definitions and categories. 


Jorge Manzano was born in Santiago de Chile in 1968 and immigrated with his family to Canada following the military coup of 1973. In 1988 he began post-secondary studies at the University of Toronto, where he graduated with an Honours B.A. in Political Science and Cinema Studies. While a student, he realized his passion for filmmaking and began to explore his identity as a person of colour in Canadian society.

In 1994, Jorge formed Nepantla Films. Nepantla is a Nahuatl word that describes the reality of living between various worlds and identities. He is a producer and director, known for Johnny Greyeyes (2000), City of Dreams (1995) and Being Brave (2021).


Dr. Michelle Mohabeer is Guyana born and lives in Toronto/Canada, she is a multi award- winning filmmaker and academic. Mohabeer’s second creative feature documentary, Queer Coolie-tudes (2019) was recognized as “best female filmmaker 2020” by the Berlin Underground Film Festival, awarded, Direction Excellence from Docs Without Borders and won the “Intersect Award” from the 15th Caribbean Tales International Film Festival. Prior films include the feature essay documentary, Blu In You (2008), Coconut/Cane & Cutlass (1994), and various shorts made between 1990-2003: Echoes (2003), Tracing Soul (2000), TWO/DOH (1996), EXPOSURE (1990) and the experimental narrative Child-Play (1996).

Mohabeer’s films have showed worldwide at over 300 festivals, conferences, and galleries, and collected by over 60 University libraries across the U.S, Canada, and the Caribbean. Her films have been profiled or written about in Film Fatales: Independent Women Directors, The Romance of Transgression in Canada, North of Everything, The Bent Lens, Queering Canada: A Collection of Essays, and the article, “Putting the Cool in Coolie: Disidentification, Desire and Dissent in the work of filmmaker, Michelle Mohabeer” in The Caribbean Review of Gender Studies, among others. Michelle Mohabeer teaches at York University School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies.

Future projects include a feature doc and a contributing editor of the critical anthology, Reframing the Nation: Racialized & Queer Diasporic Women of Colour and Indigenous Canadian Independent Women Filmmakers 1990-2020. 


Ruba Nadda is an internationally and critically acclaimed writer, director and producer. She studied English Literature at York University (Toronto) and then took a 6 week course in film production at New York University Tisch School of the Arts. She has made several award winning short films, including Lost Woman Story (96), Do Nothing (97), Interstate Love story (97), Wet heat drifts through the afternoon (97), So Far Gone (98), Damascus Nights (98), I would suffer cold hands for you (99) Black September (99) Laila (99), Slut (99) and Aadan (04) before writing and directing the features SABAH (05), CAIRO TIME (09) which earned Best Canadian Feature Film at Toronto International Film Festival and Rotten Tomatoes best reviewed film (Romance) of 2010, INESACAPABLE (12) and now OCTOBER GALE (14).

In the past, she has developed series for HBO and ABC and is currently working on a new project, Casablanca Blvd with Anonymous Content. She has directed over 70 hours of Television (both on US and Canadian networks) in the last five years.


Jeremy Podeswa is a Canadian film and television director. He is best known for directing the films The Five Senses (1999) and Fugitive Pieces (2007). He has also worked extensively as a director on the television shows Six Feet Under, Nip/Tuck, The Tudors, Queer as Folk, and the HBO World War II miniseries The Pacific


Elida Schogt is an award-winning filmmaker and media artist whose work mines personal experience and questions power systems. She is best known for her experimental short documentary Zyklon Portrait. described by The Toronto Star as “elegantly haunting and perhaps the most visually lush film about the Holocaust ever made.” She holds an MA in Media Studies from the New School for Social Research (NYC) and a studio-based PhD in Visual Arts from York University. 52 Weeks, 52 Women. Artists., her 2021 social media project, celebrates overlooked voices and regions. 





Cayley is an arts administrator and writer based in Toronto. In 2013, she completed her MLITT in Film and Television at the University of Glasgow. From 2013-2015 she was part of the programming and coordinating team of Glasgow’s Document International Human Rights Film Festival. Since returning to Toronto in 2016 she has administered the impact campaigns for award winning documentaries The Messenger and Driving with Selvi, worked with the Regent Park Film Festival, Revue Cinema’s Bechdel Tested and her writing has been featured in Cinema Scope and The Globe and Mail. For the past three years has held the position of Development Coordinator at LIFT.

This program is co-presented by VUCAVU and the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (LIFT) in a partnership that was funded in large part by the following projects: Open Door (Toronto Arts Council) and VUCAVU Expanded (Canada Council) .


This curated program is part of the VUCAVU Expanded project.
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.​