TIFF 2022 is supported by young talent. Here are some of the stars leading the charge

·5 min read
The young stars of Soft appear in this still from the film. It's one of many productions at this year's Toronto International Film Festival that put young actors front and centre.  (TIFF - image credit)
The young stars of Soft appear in this still from the film. It's one of many productions at this year's Toronto International Film Festival that put young actors front and centre. (TIFF - image credit)

At this year's Toronto Film International Festival, organizers are boasting an increased number of movies over the prior two years' reduced, hybrid editions.

But along with more movies is more emerging talent, as many of the biggest and most impressive productions at TIFF 2022 star brand-new faces.

CBC News has compiled a list highlighting some of those young actors leading a slate of new titles, what led them to their roles, and where they plan to go from here.

Gabriel LaBelle, The Fabelmans 

TIFF
TIFF

Nineteen-year-old Canadian-American Gabriel LaBelle is leading one of this festival's most anticipated and big-ticket titles. In The Fabelmans, LaBelle plays a somewhat fictionalized, younger version of director and co-writer Steven Spielberg, as he falls in love with the craft of movie-making.

LaBelle, who co-stars with Seth Rogan, Paul Dano and David Lynch, and has been in a few other productions though his role in Fabelmans will be his first lead in a studio film. His first credited role was in CTV's Motive in 2013 — a series developed by his father, actor and producer Rob LaBelle.

Keris Hope Hill, Rosie

GAT Productions
GAT Productions

At only seven years old, six during filming, Keris Hope Hill is one of the youngest actors leading a film at this year's festival. The Kanien'kehá:ka girl from the Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario stars as the titular character in Rosie, an ensemble film touching on family, childhood, the Sixties Scoop and Indigenous identity.

Having never acted before, Hill largely learned on set after being discovered in a provincewide talent search by writer and director Gail Maurice. She's currently working on another production, Jennifer Podemski's Little Bird, which similarly follows an Indigenous woman searching for her birth family after being removed during the Sixties Scoop.

Dohyun Noel Hwang and Ethan Hwang, Riceboy Sleeps

TIFF
TIFF

Like The Fabelmans, Riceboy Sleeps presents its child protagonist at different stages of his life. And in the Anthony Shim-directed film, that role is split between two Canadian actors: 17-year-old Ethan Hwang and eight-year-old Dohyun Noel Hwang (no relation).

The two share the role of Dong-hyun, a South Korean boy brought to Canada by his mother after the death of his father. Ethan has acted in a few projects before this — most notably appearing as "young Ben" in Netflix's The Umbrella Academy. For Dohyun, who hails from New Westminster, B.C., it is his first role.

Isaiah Lehtinen, I Like Movies

TIFF
TIFF

Born and raised in Nanaimo, B.C., and having spent considerable time in Vancouver, Isaiah Lehtinen had to brush up on his Onatrio-isms for his role in I Like Movies. The film, by first-time feature director Chandler Levack, follows a cinemaphile and video-rental clerk growing up in Burlington, Ont., in the early 2000s.

At 24, he had only small experience in that time period. He has had experience acting before, though, with roles in The Good Doctor, the Russo brothers' Deadly Class and — like LaBelle — he has been named a TIFF Rising Star at this year's festival. Outside of acting, Lehtinen is a rapper who performs under the name Hermit.

Zion Matheson, Matteus Lunot and Harlow Joy, Soft

Kirk Lisaj
Kirk Lisaj

Though slightly under the radar, Soft (previously announced as Pussy) announces the arrival of three young talents to Canadian film: Harlow Joy and Matteus Lunot, both 14, and 13-year-old Zion Matheson.

Soft details the unique experiences of growing up as a queer kid in Canada, though without a typical focus on self-discovery: the kids of Soft all know their identities.

The three stars were discovered after a year-and-a-half search by director and writer Joseph Amenta, who auditioned 300 actors. Lunot of White Rock, B.C., whose father appears as a background actor in the film, appeared previously in a Hallmark TV movie in 2021, though this is his first feature film. Joy, a fan of fashion and basketball from Toronto, has appeared in a number of short films. Matheson, a trans girl also from Toronto, previously appeared in a music video by Dutch DJ Bakermat and Canadian singer Kiesza — and says she now spends her time learning music and "awaiting [her] first Oscar."

River Price-Maenpaa, North of Normal

TIFF
TIFF

At just eight, Windsor, Ont.'s River Price-Maenpaa leads North of Normal alongside actor Sarah Gadon, in an adaptation of the memoirs by Canadian author Cea Sunrise Person. And Price-Maenpaa's success in the film industry at such a young age is perhaps a bit unsurprising: both her mother and father are actors, while she has already appeared in Tales from the Loop and Blue's Clues.

The film, directed by Carly Stone, follows Person (played as a child by Price-Maenpaa) as she searches for stability and safety — something her mother can't provide.

Sara Montpetit, Falcon Lake 

TIFF
TIFF

Quebec's Sara Montpetit, 21, had her first role and TIFF debut only a year ago, with the titular role in Maria Chapdelaine — an adaptation of the novel by the same name.

Now she's back with Falcon Lake, a contemplative feature from writer/director Charlotte Le Bon. It follows teens coming of age, and lightly terrorizing each other, in rural Quebec, and is adapted from the graphic novel Une soeur, Falcon Lake by Bastien Vivès.

While Montpetit is establishing herself as an actor, in other circles she was already well known. As a student at Montreal's Robert-Gravel High School, she co-founded a student collective for climate change action and launched Fridays for Future marches, modelled after those of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Enzo Desmeules Saint-Hilaire, Coyote

TIFF
TIFF

Also from Montreal — and grandson of late documentary filmmaker Alain Saint-Hilaire — 8-year-old Enzo Desmeules Saint-Hilaire stars in Coyote as Zachary, the estranged relative of a man down on his luck who is forced to care for him. From director and writer Katherine Jerkovic — whose film Roads in February won TIFF's best Canadian first feature prize in 2018 — the film is described as a "affecting tale of a family trying to reconstruct itself."

Despite the emotional subject matter, Saint-Hilaire says for his next role he'd like to perform in a comedy.