Not any more

TIFF slate reflects new indie spirit

In Canada on August 11, 2010 at 08:56

Looking at the list of Canadian films coming to the 35th Toronto International Film Festival, announced Tuesday, you initially notice familiar names: a new rock movie from Bruce McDonald (Hardcore Logo); a film about Middle East tensions from Denis Villeneuve (Polytechnique); a sequel to Michael Dowse’s Alberta hoser metal classic, Fubar; a new documentary from Sturla Gunnarsson (Beowulf & Grendel). There are also performances from Sarah Polley, Jay Baruchel and, poignantly, Tracy Wright, who died last month, in two movies.

This represents a promising, if not necessarily historic, selection of Canadiana. There’s no Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Denys Arcand or Deepa Mehta, although the inclusion of previously announced films such as Barney’s Version, based on the Mordecai Richler novel, and the latest from One Week director Michael McGowan, Score: The Hockey Musical, will stir the pride of cultural nationalists.

Bruce McDonald's Trigger is about the reunion of two former bandmates.

Bruce McDonald’s Trigger is about the reunion of two former bandmates.

Perhaps the most suggestive title in the upcoming batch of Canadian films at TIFF is a documentary from My Winnipeg producer Jody Shapiro: How to Start Your Own Country, which focuses on micro-nations around the world. In a way, it reflects the agenda behind the first wave of serious Canadian filmmakers, in the eighties, who had a strong sense that staying at home and making a career in Canadian film was an exercise in national culture-building. Nowadays, there are an increasing number of young filmmakers working outside the official granting system who identify with the Sundance-Slamdance indie model: That makes it an increasingly diverse field, not only by genre but by cultural ambition.

In 2001, TIFF made a decision that shifted the game: It tossed out its one-stop Canadian program, Perspective Canada, and established Canada First!, for first-time feature directors, and Canada Shorts, a place to lump together several dozen short films by both veterans and newcomers. Other Canadian filmmakers join their international peers in separate programs.

Although the number of films hasn’t changed in the past decade – the 19 Canadian features this year would have been typical for Perspective Canada – the move changed the dialogue, discouraging critics and audiences from viewing Canadian cinema as a genre with certain themes (the search for identity, say, or technology) and seeing it, more realistically, as a fairly arbitrary category to include diverse filmmakers living hundreds of kilometres apart, sharing a common federal government and, sometimes, financing from Telefilm Canada.

Among the veterans, the most obvious division is by language, between French Quebec and the rest of Canada. Consistently, Quebec’s impact is proportionally larger than its population, even if those films have little commercial impact in English Canada.

Most prominent this year, there’s Denis Villeneuve, whose new film is adapted from Governor-General Award-winning playwright Wajdi Mouawad’s widely translated drama Incendies (Scorched), about two siblings who go to the Middle East and discover some disturbing facts about their mother’s past.

Next is Xavier Dolan, who brings his second feature from Cannes, les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats), a rueful tale of a youthful love triangle. Catherine Martin (Mariages) brings her sixth feature, Trois temps après la mort d’Anna (Three Times after the Death of Anna), about a mother recovering from the death of her daughter.

The English-Canadian contingent is led by McDonald. His mock rock doc Hardcore Logo remains a fan favourite, and his recent This Movie Is Broken was a welcome reminder of his understanding of rock culture. His latest, Trigger, is about the reunion of two women (Tracy Wright and Molly Parker) who once played in the same band.

Dowse brings us the Fubar sequel, Fubar 2, following the misadventures of Alberta headbangers Terry and Dean. Vancouver director Carl Bessai’s ninth feature, Repeaters, is a thriller set in a drug-rehab centre. Other familiar names include Montreal’s Jacob Tierney (The Trotsky), who returns with the comedy Good Neighbours, starring Scott Speedman and Jay Baruchel. Toronto Filmmaker Ingrid Veninger (Nurse.Fighter.Boy) heads back to her birthplace in Modra, about two teenagers visiting a small town in Slovakia. Another Torontonian, Ed Gass-Donnelly (This Beautiful City), brings us a crime story with Jill Hennessey and Martha Plimpton in Small Town Murder Songs.

The first-feature series Canada First! (with a hopeful exclamation mark) offers a half-dozen films. Among them is the meta-crime tale You Are Here by Toronto video artist Daniel Cockburn and starring Tracy Wright. But in most other cases, the actors are more familiar than the filmmaker: Michael Goldbach’s Daydream Nation stars Hollywood It girl Kat Dennings (Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist), Andie MacDowell and Josh Lucas; Quebec director Debra Chow’s The High Cost of Living stars Zach Braff.

As for the unknown 40 shorts, perhaps the quantitative approach is best: 19 from Ontario, 14 from Quebec, three from British Columbia, two from Manitoba and one from Alberta. In a very big nation of micro-nations, it seems, some places can’t even get a short break.

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