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Toronto Rising Stars Program Introduces Eight Fresh Faces

Launched in 2011 as a four-day intensive mentorship that spotlights four homegrown actors on the brink of global breakout, TIFF Rising Stars this year not only expands its scope — officially adding four international thesps — but also embodies the festival’s increasingly proactive commitment to industry change (also reflected in its new Share Her Journey initiative). The eight 2018 stars all appear in Toronto films — including some of the hottest titles.

“Rising Stars not only celebrates achievements in the actors’ careers so far, but also helps them see the bigger picture of their lives as entrepreneurs and collaborative artists,” says its producer Natalie Semotiuk.

Canada is repped by Devery Jacobs (Veenda Sud’s “The Lie”), Lamar Johnson, pictured above, (George Tillman’s “The Hate U Give”), Michaela Kurimsky (Jasmin Mozaffari’s “Firecrackers”) and Jess Salgueiro (Patricia Rozema’s “Mouthpiece”); the international contingent is Ahmed Malek (Patricia Chica’s “Montreal Girls”), Stephane Bak (Joel Karekezi’s “The Mercy of the Jungle”), Josh Wiggins (Keith Behram’s “Giant Little Ones”) and Eleanor Worthington-Cox (William McGregor’s “Gwen”).

Power lunches, meetings and all manner of networking ops with casting directors, filmmakers and other top-level pros are designed to foster lasting connections; Rising Stars alumni shining in Toronto this week include Sarah Gadon (in three pics, including Xavier Dolan’s “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan”), Stephen James (Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk”) and Mamoudou Athie (Jason Reitman’s “The Front Runner”).

Jacobs won a Canadian Screen Award for her leading role (and her first ever) in “Rhymes for Young Ghouls” (TIFF 2013), gained U.S. reps, then hit a lull: “A director asked me what my dream role was and I started thinking, Why am waiting for another person to tell these stories?” Born and raised in Kahnawake Mohawk territory (around Montreal), Jacobs channelled her passion for indigenous rights into making two short films, one of which premiered in Palm Springs. With a role in Neil Gaiman’s series “American Gods” and other acting commitment, Jacobs will nevertheless “geek out” in Toronto for intel to inspire her writing on a feature that recently received Telefilm support.

Johnson  is well-known to Canadian TV auds as a dancer-thesp in youth-oriented “Pop It!” and “The Next Step.” His turn in “Kings,” alongside Halle Berry, kicked his acting career into high gear. Raised in Toronto. now based in L.A., Johnson will appear as a hustler in another adaptation, “Native Son,” as well as “X-Men: Dark Phoenix. “I went through a moment last year where I felt I was neglecting part of myself, so I produced and directed my own dance films for YouTube,” says Johnson. “Acting is now a bigger part of my work, but I will still tap into my dance world.”

Kurimsky started her path through film as a production designer who also made her own films — “learning the inner working of the film industry,” she says, before responding to the open casting call on Facebook that led to her feature acting debut in “Firecrackers.” “I’m most excited about the conversations and listening people’s opinions—learning how to send and message and project our creative voices in different ways,” she says of Stars. “I’m going to be soaking it all in.”

Salgueiro grew up in Winnipeg, moved to Toronto to study performance, and got her first break after a theater role got her cast in Canadian TV’s medical drama “Saving Hope.” TV has kept her busy, but for now, she’s now straddling Canada and L.A., where she’s be working this fall. “It’s really interesting to be there during the Trump era, where the young creatives I’m around are committed to making impactful stories.”

TIFF Rising Stars runs Sept. 7-10.

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