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Cinematic Inspiration: TIFF 17 Recommendations for the Raptors

With the Toronto International Film Festival (and the NBA season) starting soon, it’s time to refresh with film and dish out some recommendations.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto International Film Festival is back today, but in many ways, it never really went away. All year films were out there being made, all year the organization’s programming staff travelled the world looking to discover new, worthwhile pieces of art, and all year TIFF’s website churned mercilessly in the shadows, awaiting and anticipating our collective doom (but that’s neither here nor there). All of that work culminates with today’s kick-off for the world’s largest film festival, which stretches on for the next 11 days, packed with more films then you could (literally) imagine — in fact, a veritable year’s worth!

Now, it’s true the Raptors lost their lone vocal dedicated cinéaste in Patrick Patterson, but that does not mean I can’t still recommend films for each and every player (and coach) on the team. With tickets on sale now, and training camp still a ways away, what else is a Toronto-based athlete to do? Much like last year, I have some suggestions.

So, let’s get the projectors rolling on 14 carefully selected films from #TIFF17 for our guys on the Raptors.


Player: Kyle Lowry

Film: The Florida Project

The new film from Sean Baker (director of the indie standout Tangerine) spends its time in an Orlando-area motel with its denizens and their sadly marginal lives. None of this may speak to Lowry specifically, save for the character in the film played by Willem Dafoe: he’s the caretaker of the motel, and the man who seeks to protect the film’s young denizens from the harsh realities of life. Lowry cuts a tough love figure, but I like to believe he’d acknowledge the modest emotional connection.

Player: DeMar DeRozan

Film: I Kill Giants

Maybe it is pure fantasy that drives DeRozan on his quest to upend the East, unseat LeBron, and become the next evolution of Kobe. All are tall orders, much like the mission at the heart of I Kill Giants. Here instead, we get a young girl named Barbara confronting metaphysical demons (while perhaps embracing the fantasy too much) on her way towards some sort of cathartic personal discovery. In Anders Walter’s film, there are other parts to be played here (by Zoe Saldana, for example), but it’s a singular journey. DeRozan may yet derive some satisfaction from the idea.

Player: Serge Ibaka

Film: The Rider

Chloe Zhao’s film’s description opens with a quote: “A horse's purpose is to run in the prairies; a cowboy's is to ride.” To me, Serge is that cowboy — almost Zen-like about his mission, driven to compete, working to balance work and life, injury or happenstance or come-what-may not slowing him down. Even as the NBA changes around Ibaka (suddenly stretch 4s aren’t as cool), Serge remains his authentic self. The Rider sounds like it grapples with similar themes, and like Ibaka at his best, will be beautiful for him (and us) to watch.

Player: C.J. Miles

Film: Directions

As the designated journeyman on the team — with the last name of “Miles” no less! — it feels fitting to recommend this film, from director Stephan Komandarev, about taxi cab drivers and their passengers in Bulgaria. Multiple characters, multiple stories, and always moving, the drivers (like C.J.) get to see glimpses into a plethora of lives, and then, despite whatever drama they witness, they all move on to the next one.

Player: Jonas Valanciunas

Film: Mary Goes Round

Jonas has been in Tel Aviv the past week, laying waste to both the Eurobasket tournament and narratives surrounding his viability as an NBA player. He’ll have his Canadian homecoming soon though, much like the titular lead (played by Aya Cash) in writer/director Molly McGlynn’s film, who must return home to Niagara Falls to sort out her mess of a life. Maybe Valanciunas isn’t the superstar we hoped he’d be by now, but a familiar-sounding film like Mary Goes Round augers that there’s still value in accepting some inner truth in yourself and others.

Player: Norman Powell

Film: Lady Bird

Instead of all-out bloody action like last year, let’s get Norm into a film about a young girl (played by the superlative Saoirse Ronan) as she prepares for life after high school. At first glance my reasoning here seems insane, but Ladybird should speak to where Norm is right now — filled with potential, on the cusp of possible greatness, with a daunting road ahead. Ladybird’s main character, as brought to the screen by first-time director Greta Gerwig (a seemingly outta nowhere star like Norm) is figuring out what her life is all about, and in his way, so to is everyone’s favourite up-and-coming Raptor. This one may pack more of a punch than any action movie anyway.

Player: Delon Wright

Film: A Ciambra

A coming-of-age story about a little brother attempting to rise to the fore within his family and broader society? Delon is already nodding his head. A Ciambra (from director Jonas Carpignano) centres on a wily boy from a struggling Romany family — leagues away from the Wrights’ particular life experience — but Delon may derive some strength from this aspirational tale of young Pio, said boy in the film, as he struggles to assert himself. Game recognize game.

Player: Bruno Caboclo

Film: Let the Corpses Tan

I’ve thought about it, and instead of recommending Bruno take in another safe film about the joys of youth, I say we steer into his newfound anger. This film, from Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, goes buck wild with cops, robbers, blood, guts, gold, guns, and some Ennio Morricone music. If we’re about to see Bruno’s last stand in the NBA, he should at least see a film that apparently goes down in a blaze of glory.

Player: Jakob Poeltl

Film: The Death of Stalin

Unlike some of his teammates, for Poeltl it’s best to stay the course; that means another wry and wild comedy. There’s a spot opening up in the NBA just for him, and in Armando Iannucci’s new film, there’s a significant role up for grabs too: the replacement for a dead Joseph Stalin. A gang of lackeys — Khrushchev, Malenkov, Molotov, a lot of “ovs” — rush to fill the void, but there can only be one. This will be an incisive and hilariously smart film, and somehow I think Jak will find something in it for himself.

Player: Lucas Nogueira

Film: Zama

The call of South America rings out in Bebe’s ears, so I thought it a good idea to go back into the continent’s history with this pick. Much like Bebe’s development curve, Zama took a while to make (it’s been nine years since Lucrecia Martel’s previous film); and in a pitch only Bebe might hear, it involves the crushing effect of forces outside of one man’s control. Yes, you caught me, it’s more Argentinian than Brazilian, but I’m hoping Bebe will be swept away enough to not notice this distinction.

Player: Pascal Siakam

Film: Thelma

This film centres on a woman shaped by her family, who moves to a big city, falls in love, and who may or may not have strange world-changing powers. Well, OK, three out of four ain’t bad when comparing Thelma to nascent Raptors building block Siakam. (For all I know, he’s in love too, who am I to say?) Joachim Trier has been making solid, slightly off-kilter, yet richly grounded films for awhile now. As a visionary starting point, Pascal could do a lot worse.

OG Anunoby

Film: The Carter Effect

Admittedly an obvious choice here, but this bears mentioning: Anunoby is young enough to be Vince’s actual son, and he was born just one year before Carter was drafted into the NBA, an event that changed the course of Toronto basketball and the entire Canadian sports scene, of which OG is now a part. Obvious, yes, but Sean Menard’s documentary is significant for a reason. Watch and learn, young man. (Plus, for you maniacs out there: the movie is only an hour long, so yes, OG can get back to his injury rehab in short order.)

Fred VanVleet

Film: The Conformist

VanVleet is likely safe from G-League assignment now, having proven himself an NBA-calibre player this past season, but he still exists on something of a border. Speaking of which, maybe he’d relate to the stoic protagonist of Cai Shangjun’s The Conformist, a film about a police informer living a double life near the Sino-Russian border. The stakes for VanVleet are less life and death, I’m sure, but still, I sense a certain kinship.

Coach: Dwane Casey

Film: Unicorn Store

There’s no real thematic reason for this one, I just want it to happen so I can hear Casey explain his feelings about Brie Larson’s film and actually say, out loud, the words “Unicorn Store.” That’s movie magic, baby!


And there you have it, another batch of recommendations in the bag. Now it’s time to get to the actual films — of which there are still too many to count. I’m beginning my festival experience tonight with Loveless, and then seeing 16 more movies (so far). My sincere wish is to run into a Raptor somewhere in line. Let’s make it happen guys!

Now, fellow cinema goers, what are you planning on seeing at this year’s festival?