We're lucky to live in a city that not only has a thriving motorcycle community but also has it's very own Motorcycle Film Fest! I met Caius Tenche, founder and organizer of the Toronto Motorcycle Film Fest when he was just getting started with TMFF and it's been really cool to see the attention to detail and level of professionalism he's brought to the festival as it's grown and evolved.
Recently the Toronto Moto Film Fest launched their TMFF Cinema which allows you to watch any of their festival films on demand from the comfort of your own home. It's a huge collection of motorcycle movies that have been featured in the festival and some that haven't. It's the perfect place to go to find a movie that will inspire you to get out and ride.
We asked Caius a few questions about the festival, how it got started and also gave him the challenging job of picking out some of his favourites in a sea of excellent films
Starting a Film Festival, let alone a Motorcycle Film Festival, on the outside seems like a huge undertaking and quite a niche thing to do. What inspired you to start the Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival?
It came about as a result of being a new rider. When I had the “I’m going to get a motorcycle” lightbulb moment, it was the middle of winter so the only avenue I had to explore this newfound interest was consuming online content. And I did. A lot! It started with vloggers, bike and gear reviews, then travel adventure series likes MotoGeo and the human stories featured in Stories of Bike, which I loved. I also discovered that there were a few motorcycle film festivals around the world which struck a chord with me because I loved the experiences I had attending film festivals in the past. Unfortunately, one didn’t exist in Toronto, and that planted a seed that kept popping up in my mind and I couldn't shake it. Two years later I finally decided that since a motorcycle film festival didn't exist in Toronto, I was going to go ahead and create one. The idea of sharing and watching great films with others who were just as motorcycle crazy as I was, sounded like so much fun; I just had to do it.
I had zero knowledge about the film industry, working with filmmakers, or putting on a public event. However, I did have expertise managing very large projects and from my own experience attending festivals, theatre shows, and other artistic interests, I knew exactly the kind of vibe I was going after so I took it one step at a time and moved forward. Starting the festival was and continues to be, a very large year-round undertaking. What I had going for me at the start is that I had no clue how consuming it would be. Had I known, I might have not done it. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.
Was TMFF Cinema something you've had in the works for a while or did having to do the 2020 film fest virtually, inspire or speed up its creation?
The idea behind TMFF Cinema is something I had thought about for some time but didn’t know how to do it. At that time, the streaming platforms with the features that festivals and filmmakers were looking for, security and encryption, the ability to manage availability windows, implemented geo-restrictions, and manage ticketing, were very costly to implement unless you were one of the big players. The pandemic changed all of that. With theatres and festivals shut down, there was a huge demand for on-demand video solutions and it fuelled a lot of innovation in the space making these platforms more approachable.
With theatres in Toronto closed last year, we had to go online for our 2020 Festival and did so using one of these new platforms. It was a steep learning curve but the experience was positive and now we’re using that same platform to host our year-round streaming service, TMFF Cinema. While we will continue to feature the newest and best films at our annual Festival, TMFF Cinema allows us to share these films with a much wider global audience and do it year-round as an on-demand service.
How has TMFF Cinema been received by filmmakers?
Feedback from filmmakers has been positive as it gives them another avenue to get their work out and seen by more people. Some of our filmmakers also have their films on AppleTV or Amazon Prime which is great but their films are lost in a sea of a million other films. While our audience is nowhere near the size of those streaming platforms, what we do have is a megaphone pointed to an engaged audience that cares about the kind of films that the filmmakers produce. We’re also splitting all the ticket sales with our filmmakers, which not only acknowledges their craft but also helps to fund their future work.
What came first, the love of motorcycles, or the love of movies?
I grew up in a household that was very much into the arts. Music, theatre, dance, film, visual arts - it was, and continues to be, a very big part of my life and feeds my soul. It wasn’t until I was in my middle 40s that I got into motorcycling. I’m not sure why it took me so long as I’ve always loved cars, racing, and adventure. I wish I would have pulled that trigger much, much sooner though.
What would you say has been the most rewarding thing for you in these last 5 years of running the film festival?
Being able to share the films with an audience that you share a common passion with is amazing so rewarding, and there have been so many great moments. One of my favourites is seeing people in the audience get so engrossed in the film on-screen that the world around them completely melts aways and they are sucked right into the story. You can see it in their eyes. Being able to create those experiences for people is magical and I don’t take it for granted. I’ve also had people come up to me and tell me about how a particular film connected with them in a special kind of way, which is an honour. This year, I found out that someone gifted film tickets to a friend, and she loved the films, saying that it changed her perspective on motorcycles. She recently decided to get her first bike and has her M2 now and she attributes that to the film festival. How incredible is that?!
The other side of that coin is the connections that we’ve built with our filmmakers. We’ve been very lucky to have filmmakers from Canada, the US, Sweden, and even the Isle of Man attend the festival. While some of our films are from big studios, most are from independent filmmakers so when we screen their films and bring them up on stage they get the spotlight and are superstars in that moment and feel the love from our audience. It's a special experience for them and our audience.
The other moment that stands out for me, took place in 2019. We worked together with Birch Contemporary and mounted a four-day gallery show that mixed high-end custom handbuilt motorcycles with moto-themed artwork from renowned builders and contemporary artists that we curated from around the world. This wasn’t a custom bike show; it was a gallery exhibit that showcased works of art, and motorcycles as art in a stunning gallery setting. We held our opening night event there and it was packed should-to-shoulder. Being able to combine my passion for motorcycles and art, and seeing everyone's reaction was one of the most rewarding moments of my life.
Do you expect the number of film submissions to go up or down this year based on the pandemic and lack of travel possibilities or have you found that being locked down seem to give people more time to share their riding stories and get creative about it?
I was very worried about that. With filmmakers not able to go out and film, either because of travel restrictions, or not being able to get together with their production teams, I was worried about the number of submissions for this year. While total submissions are down 30%, we've received many more feature-length films than shorts in comparison to previous years, and the quality of those submissions has increased significantly. I'm guessing that not being able to get out and film, gave filmmakers the time they needed in front of the editing screen. As a result, while there may be fewer submissions, the films submitted are excellent, making our selection process much tougher than in previous years.
Have you found that any of the movies you've watched inspired anything in your riding style, life, etc...? If so, fill us in!
I love traveling and the adventure that comes with it: experiencing different cultures, foods, meeting new people and seeing the world, so all of the films where riders take on these epic journeys across the world are certainly inspiring and invoke quite a bit of wanderlust. And while I love being around people, I also enjoy being alone to reflect and would love to be self-indulgent, put everything on hold for a year and ride the world with no particular destination in mind.
I’ve also been inspired to perhaps produce or direct a film at some point, but that’s just a low flame at this point. We’ll see what happens to that over time.
2021 Is the 5th year of TMFF. Do you have any special plans or things people can start getting excited about?
With not being able to have any in-person events since 2019, the thing that I’m very excited about for our 2021 Festival is getting back into the theatre. I’m in touch with various theatres in and around the city and I’m working closely with them to build out our plans for this year’s Festival. It’s challenging because there are still some unknowns, but with things opening up, I’m excited about being able to bring our audience back together again in a safe way for a great festival experience. While watching movies online has some benefits, there is nothing like sharing the same space and time with a group of people. There’s a charge in the air that’s palpable and I can’t wait to experience that again.
Last but not least, what would you say are your top 5 motorcycle film at the moment for anyone looking for some recommendations (you can also make this a top 10 if you feel like you can't narrow it down to 5)
I'm very selective about which films are chosen to be part of TMFF so not all films that are submitted are chosen; meaning, of those that make it, you can expect them to be some of the best out there. That's not to say that all the films will appeal to everyone. I know it probably sounds so predictable to say that it's hard to choose a top 5 or 10, but it's true. I tried but can't do it. Nevertheless, here are a few that stand out for me.
If you like vintage Italian bikes try GIOVANNI BURLANDO'S VISION . One of our judges described this TMFF 2017 award winner as "a warm, comforting...plate of fresh creamy fettuccine alfredo" for its heartwarming and beautifully told story.
When we watched I HATE LADIES , we thought it was one of the most important films we received in 2018 and awarded it a Special Jury Prize for its message about empowerment, equality and the ability of a motorcycle to transform.
FAST AND LEFT looks at the sport of flat-track racing but instead of focusing on the racing, it shines a spotlight on the community of racers and that's where this film shines. While the cinematography is beautiful, it's all about the characters and their stories.