Canadian film seems doomed to remain controversial in this politically divided country. With culture under attack by Harper’s Conservative government, it’s clear that the canary in the coalmine is cinema, which has yet to produce a commercial success. To Harper and many of his millions of supporters across the country, this means that our film community is useless, draining money from Canada and creating nothing worthwhile.
And yet, if you go to film festivals and schools around the world, that’s hardly the case. The cinema of Cronenberg, Arcand, Maddin and Egoyan is widely appreciated. We’re noted for our great tradition as producers of marvelous documentaries and animation films. Sophisticated followers of cinema think of Canada as a hip, leading-edge society, capable of creating and sustaining unique artistic talent.
If there’s one festival that deserved praise for fostering Canadian cinema’s reputation on the global stage, it’s TIFF. Since the mid ‘80s, the festival has made it a point to create platforms for Canadian work to be seen and appreciated by the local public and the international industry.
This year is no exception. A slew of young Canadian filmmakers are having their first or second features launched at TIFF. Among them are: Warren Sonada, with an edgy comedy, Cooper’s Camera, Neil Burns whose feature Edison and Leo is a ground-breaking stop-motion animation film, Cameron Labine’s sexy and darkly comic Control Alt Delete and Justin Simm’s Newfoundland based drama Down to Dirt.
Talented actress, writer, producer and director Ingrid Veninger has her creative hands involved with two projects. Only, which she co-directed and co-wrote with Simon Reynolds is a simple, well-made film about two pre-adolescents who spend some significant hours together. Vera (Elena Hudgins) and Daniel (Jacob Switzer) meet at his family’s motel near Parry Sound. When Vera’s mother goes temporarily AWOL after a fight with her dad, she decides to explore the neighbourhood. Daniel accompanies her—and the two talk, joke and play act with each other. It’s an idyll that can’t last, which makes their time together just that more precious.
Charles Officer’s Nurse. Fighter. Boy, which Veninger produced and co-wrote with the director is a higher budgeted film, made under the auspices of the Canadian Film Centre, an institution despised by the current federal administration. A Canadian film featuring black actors is a rarity; this is an exceptionally stylish production, which stars Toronto’s Clark Johnson (Homicide: Life on the Streets, The Wire), as a fighter looking to change his life, who falls in love with a nurse and develops a strong bond with her son.
Another eye-popping success stylistically is La Memoire des anges, Luc Bourdon’s beautifully organized montage of life in Montreal in the 1950s. Using archival footage made by the National Film Board (NFB) during that period, this film imaginatively reworks well-shot material into a wonderful evocation of a more romantic, innocent epoch in the history of that metropolis and, in fact, this country.
This is a good year for Canadian cinema—and in the next TIFF report new films by Atom Egoyan, Bruce McDonald and Deepa Mehta will be discussed.