(By: Angela McLean)
As one of the host venues for the Toronto International Film Festival, the Ryerson Theatre welcomes some of the industry’s biggest movie stars, directors and creative minds through its doors. Among those this year will be at least one recent Ryersonian.
Former FCAD student Akash Sherman is the director and screenwriter of Clara, a Canadian-made sci-fi drama making its world premiere at TIFF Sept. 10. It follows an obsessive astronomer, Isaac, and a curious artist, Clara. On their own, they are hopeless and troubled souls. When they come together, they are able to make magic happen. It’s at this point that the film becomes a story about the importance of human contact, regardless of individual differences.
Premiering it at Ryerson “feels like graduation,” Sherman says. He started the Image Arts program in 2014 with a concentration on film studies and left after one year to dedicate his time to Clara. Had he continued the program, he would have graduated this year.
“It’s really humbling that this all came full circle. Making this film was an education for me!”
Sherman isn’t the only crew member with Ryerson connections. Image Arts alumna Marianna Margaret was a focus puller, alumnus Matt Veen was second AC and Nick Haight, who graduated from the program a few years before Sherman, was cinematographer.
During filming, the crew had the chance to return to a familiar place as classroom scenes were shot in the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre. But Ryerson’s contributions to Clara don’t end there: Sherman thought of the idea while he was in class – specifically, an art history class in his second semester.
“The universe and its mysteries are often on my mind, plus I had the urge to create something, so I left class at the break and decided to write a story that day,” he said. “Clara was born.”
As for what drove the subject matter, Sherman said, “I grew up watching Star Wars, and I was born and raised under the clear skies of Alberta, so I’ve always been a big fan of both space and science fiction.”
Helping bring Sherman’s vision to life was producer Ari Lantos, whom he met at the 2013 Banff World Media Festival.
“Akash electrified a whole room of producers – myself included – with a pitch during the Cinecoup Film Accelerator competition,” Lantos recalled. “I told him to move to Toronto. Two years later, he moved here and got in touch with several ideas, Clara being one of them.”
Lantos was responsible for recruiting the film’s stars, Patrick J. Adams (Suits) and Troian Bellisario (Pretty Little Liars). The pair, who are married in real life, bring impeccable chemistry to the screen, despite their characters being unlikely lovers.
“Patrick was Akash’s first choice for the role of Isaac and I coincidentally went to Northern Secondary High School with him years ago,” Lantos said. “After getting Patrick on board, we met Troian and knew they were the perfect fit. Their marriage only strengthened the way they worked together and their chemistry in the film.”
The incredible acting and meaningful story – not to mention the Ryerson pride – make Clara a worthwhile watch at this year’s TIFF.
“I hope the film moves people emotionally the way the script moved me when we first began developing the project,” Lantos said.
Sherman hopes to see Ryerson students at the film’s premiere and second screening on Sept. 13 at Scotiabank Theatre.
“My advice to Ryerson film students is always be creating, especially outside of school,” he said. “Find the time and find people you like collaborating with. Ditch your fears at the door; you have something to offer. With those foundations, good things will get made and someone will notice.”
(Header photo credit: Akash Sherman and Sabrina Lantos)