A Toronto theatre director endures a series of creative and personal travails in this affecting and typically inventive new film from Festival favourite Ingrid Veninger (MODRA, i am a good person/i am a bad person).

Contemporary World Cinema

The Animal Project

Ingrid Veninger

Canadian indie queen Ingrid Veninger returns to the Festival with her most controlled film yet, a partially improvised tale driven by an ensemble cast. At the centre is frustrated theatre director Leo (Aaron Poole, one of Toronto's finest actors), whose recent sessions with what he calls his "misfit" troupe have stalled creatively. One of the actors, Saul (Joey Klein), is an ex-lover Leo still has unresolved feelings about — who responds to all of his suggestions with withering smirks and nasty asides. Leo's also having trouble with his teenage son, Sam (Jacob Switzer); the ongoing tension between them seems to mean they're growing apart.

One night, alone and trying to find solutions to his problems, Leo hits on an idea, or rather, rediscovers one. In one of his old short films, The Bunny Project, a preteen Sam, dressed in a bunny suit, discussed his feelings about the world and wandered around Toronto offering free hugs. Putting his actors in costume and sending them out into the real world may spark the kind of engagement they've been lacking. Or so Leo hopes.

The Animal Project is about how day-to-day life can make us lose sight of the big picture — and about the difficulty of separating the personal and the professional. Leo's problems at work cause him to lash out at Sam, who's working through his own stuff. That frustration at home only makes Leo more ornery with the troupe (which includes 2013 TIFF Rising Star Johnathan Sousa), all of whom have been struggling with their own emotional baggage. The Animal Project is a telling reminder that we can try to hide from our problems, but they certainly aren't going to hide from us.

STEVE GRAVESTOCK

Screenings

Fri Sep 06

Scotiabank 7

Industry
2:15pm
Wed Sep 11

Isabel Bader Theatre

Regular
7:30pm
Thu Sep 12

Scotiabank 13

Regular
5:00pm
Sat Sep 14

TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

Regular
7:45pm