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Film Director Igor Drljaca on how The Waiting Room takes a new, less rosy view of Toronto

The Waiting Room (2015).

Courtesy of GAT

You might recognize Bosnian actor Jasmin Geljo as the thug from the Ethan Hawke-led remake of Assault on Precinct 13, or the thug from the Michael Douglas thriller The Sentinel, or the thug from the Transporter television series.

But in the remarkable new drama The Waiting Room, director Igor Drljaca uses Geljo's typecast career as the springboard to examine the immigrant fringes of Toronto, where a semi-fictionalized version of Geljo stumbles from one unsuccessful audition to another.

The Waiting Room is Drljaca's second film after 2012's Krivina, which also explored the immigrant experience, although from a markedly different lens.

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Ahead of The Waiting Room's release on Friday, and just after fellow Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan took home the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, The Globe and Mail spoke with Drljaca about critics, Cancon and presenting a very different view of Toronto.

What did you think about Dolan's win?

I was laughing my ass off when he ended up winning. I'm not the biggest fan to begin with – I like his earlier stuff – but I just don't think it's as bad as all the critics and press made it out to seem. Whatever the disconnect between the critics and the jury, though, it makes for an entertaining read.

How do you view the filmmaker-critic relationship, then?

It's part of the process. I guess you have to take the good and the bad, and if you just get negative and/or positive reactions to your work, I don't think you can grow as a filmmaker.

The Waiting Room made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, but it's only now being released. How do you deal with the weight of the film over those months?

Well, the film has been travelling at festivals, so I've been going along with it, to seven or eight cities. It's been great to get a reaction from different audiences, and in different countries. The international press, for instance, seem to like it more than the local press in Toronto, who seem way more split.

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Why do you think there's been a mixed reaction locally?

I don't think some people want to see the city this way, the bursting of this kind of mythology of what Toronto is like in parts. It's not an entirely Canadian film, but at the same time it is Canadian. There's a foreign element, but it's not foreign enough. Plus, there is this trap you can get into when talking about Third World issues in a very limited and exoticized way, and I think Canadian artists gravitate toward those kind of films, and this film tries to do something very different.

How much did you know of Geljo's work before working with him on Krivina?

I knew of him for a long time through the work he did in the former Yugoslavia, but I never had the courage to approach him when I was younger. Then, I realized he was very open to collaborating, and the film became inspired by his life, and the idea that even though there's a lot of immigrants in Canada, not many are represented on the screen. Just having an accent limits you in a very real way, and it's almost like a group of people have made it difficult for immigrants to enter that space, whether it's as actors or other creatives. It's something that's hopefully changing, but when you live in a city where 50 per cent of people are not born in Canada, but no one is represented on screen …

Is that why it was important for you to film in Toronto?

It was important to situate the film in a space that we thought as home. I don't see Toronto the way it's presented in that film, though. It's representing the city through the perspective of Jasmin – this grey, somewhat depressing vibe. It's something that I think, though, is present in a lot of Western cities: wide areas, lots of spaces for building and cars, and very different than the scene some immigrants are used to, with tiny little European roads and such. There's a kind of vastness that makes the loneliness that much more present.

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This interview has been condensed and edited.

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