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U of T writer's film to debut at opening of Toronto Short Film Festival

U of T Scarborough's Daniel Scott Tysdal's short film will debut at the Toronto Short Film Festival on March 13 (photo by Ken Jones)

Daniel Scott Tysdal always dreamed of one day going to film school, so when the opportunity presented itself during his recent sabbatical, he dove in head first.

“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” says Tysdal, an associate professor of English at U of T Scarborough.

It was during a class assignment where he was creating a short film that he came up with the idea for Film Frame, which was recently selected to be one of the opening films of the Toronto Short Film Festival.

He was inspired by John Barth’s short story Frame Tale, which asks readers to cut out the phrase, “Once upon a time there was a story that began,” and connect it to the back of the page containing the same phrase, creating a Möbius strip.  

“You read the strip and the story goes on endlessly in a loop with that phrase, ‘Once upon a time there was a story that began,’” says Tysdal, who is known for his poetry and short-fiction writing.

His decided to echo Barth in two ways.

First, he would create an “endless” film in which each opening scene introduces a new opening scene.

Second, he would work, “Once upon a time there was a movie that began” into each of the scenes. The scenes would then be shot in the style of different directors and genres like Jean-Luc Godard and film noir, and contain notable scenes from famous movies.

In one scene, Tysdal filmed someone watching the opening from 2001: A Space Odyssey on a laptop, while in another he filmed someone watching the opening of Apocalypse Now on a cell phone while riding the TTC. 

“I spent way too much time on this project because I was having such a blast doing it,” laughs Tysdal.

“I searched for the font used in the Wizard of Oz, then I went into Photoshop and used it to write, ‘Once upon a time there was a movie that began,’ and I pasted that into a scene from the movie. Then, I went to a small theatre and filmed the scene being played on a projector – it was just perfect for a nerd who gets way too invested in a project.”  

It seems to have worked because Tysdal’s film was selected to be one of the opening films of the short film festival. It will be shown on Monday at the Carlton Cinema.

He says being a student again during his sabbatical was a refreshing experience, especially seeing teaching techniques from the perspective of a student. 

“I was self-conscious at first because it’s different from what I do, but those close to me were very supportive,” says Tysdal, who is working on another short film in addition to writing a script.

“There’s so much value in lifelong learning, I can’t recommend it enough. Getting out of your comfort zone to learn something new is important. You don’t know where it will take you.”