Express tells the story of a career-obsessed Gen Zer (played by Joshua Obra) whose single-minded desire to move up in the world risks alienating his friends (played by Martin Marticorena, Rebecca Ablack and Isaiah Peck) and leads to an ugly self-revelation.
Written and directed by 24-year-old filmmaker Ivan D. Ossa, the short is set to make its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.
As Ossa explains, the film sets out to question the motivations behind our drive to succeed and serves to comment on what he calls “the toxic side of hustle culture.”
“As a generation, we’ve grown so accustomed to early success that we kind of push everything else to the side for the sake of that. [I was also raised] with the idea that you have to work to earn your life before you live it,” he says. “But we’re also here to make connections and have experiences. I feel like these ideologies that I was born with are fused inside of me and I still struggle with balancing the two.”
The 22-minute drama draws in part from Ossa’s own life experiences and features many semi-autobiographical elements. After graduating from the film production program at York University in 2021, for example, he says his focus on proving himself led him to neglect some of the people and things that really make life worth living.
“I was just hustling and working all the time. I’d wake up early, go to bed late, wake up early, go to bed late again, all for the sake of work,” he says, adding that a trip to Bali in 2022 motivated him to turn his personal journey into a film. “If you learn something from it, that’s cool. If you don’t, that’s cool. But this is the phase of my life that I’m in and this is what I’ve learned. Every character in the film is a version of me somehow.”
“This is the phase of my life that I’m in and this is what I've learned. Every character in the film is a version of me somehow.”
Ossa also served as executive producer on the project, which received $75,000 (CAD) in funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, National Film Board of Canada and OYA Black Arts Coalition. While he says this gave him a level of creative freedom he had not had on past projects, it also taught him some hard lessons about being professional.
“It was kind of a rude awakening that I was entering a world where we weren’t playing little games anymore. Money and reputations were on the line,” Ossa says. “With everything – your manners, your time, other people’s time – you’ve got to be focused on your goal, so I really learned to be intentional with what I was doing.”
At the same time, Ossa emphasizes the amazing job producer Malachi Ellis, co-producer Lauren Saarimaki and the rest of the film’s cast and crew did of helping him “breathe a little bit better” throughout the entire process.
“I just loved being on set. Almost everyone that worked on Express is a friend, someone that I’ve known for two or three years now, people that I’ve seen around Toronto that I’ve seen hustle and seen grow,” he says. “Everyone that worked on the film has a connection to it somehow in this time in our lives as young adults.”
“I’m excited for the future, but I’m taking the time to be present and accept everything that comes to me. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in my life at this moment.”
He adds that while he still feels guilty for taking days off, the experience has encouraged him to reflect more on what is important for him in his own life and to try and take things easier.
“I’m just very grateful that I was able to make this film with my friends and my family. Every time I do something like this it affirms my belief that I’m on the right path,” Ossa says. “I’m excited for the future, but I’m taking the time to be present and accept everything that comes to me. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in my life at this moment.”
With Express set to hit the screen on one of the biggest stages in the world, Ossa admits it is a moment he has been dreaming about for a long time and an opportunity to establish himself as an up-and-coming director.
“My goal was always to be at TIFF because I grew up in Toronto, this is my home, and TIFF is one of the most acclaimed film festivals in the world,” he says. “Also, as a young filmmaker, to have that under my belt as an accolade is big. You can’t say that I’m not a filmmaker if I have something at TIFF.”
He adds that he is eager to see how audiences react to the story’s message and hopes that the festival offers the chance to make long-lasting connections with others in and around the industry.
“I made this film for my peers. We’re all going through the same thing, so I’m very excited to see how they take it,” Ossa says. “I also want everyone to think about what it is that they want at the end of the day and how they can create the life that they want for themselves.”