Arts Review, Movies

Oh Canada TIFF Report #1

Oh Canada TIFF Report #1 featured image

The Toronto International Film Festival (or TIFF as we now know it) offers such a cornucopia of cinematic treats that it seems churlish to point out that Canadian content has become a secret pleasure for those few hardy cultural nationalists amongst us. Of course, I’m one of them—give me a maple leaf any day—and it’s nice to discover that some of TIFF’s programmers must quietly share my point-of-view. 84 Canadian films will be screened during TIFF ranging from shorts to experimental features; from docs to full-length narrative films. You won’t find them in one spot—it’s been a long, long time since there was a section called Perspective Canada—but maybe that’s a good thing. Canadian films aren’t ghettoized anymore although you have to be a bit of sleuth to find them.

It is, in fact, an excellent year for Canadian films. Feature films by some of Canada’s highest profile auteurs are on display at the festival. Canadian and international guests will be able to see: Remember by Atom Egoyan, Beeba Boys by Deepa Mehta, Into the Forest by Patricia Rozema, Hellions by Bruce McDonald and The Forbidden Room by Guy Maddin. Another well-known Canadian, Paul Gross, also returns as a director with Hyena Road. Young directors  Stephen Dunn (with Closet Monster) and Andrew Cividino (Sleeping Giant) debut with films that have “buzz” attached to them.

And there are a number of impressive doc titles: This Changes Everything by Avi Lewis, a parallel project to his partner Naomi Klein’s book; Al Purdy Was Here, by Brian D. Johnson about the man who was arguably this country’s greatest poet; Ninth Floor by Mina Shum about a race riot in 1960s Montreal and Guantanamo’s Child by Patrick Reed and Michelle Shepherd about Omar Khadr.

We’ll get into the docs in greater detail next week. What about the fiction films?

I can’t tell you much yet. You may be permitted to guess that I’ve already seen many of the Canadian films but the press has been told not to review TIFF premieres until the festival begins.

What can I tell you? I think it’s fair to say that I’m excited about many of the films—Canadian and international—that I’ve already seen and that it is a good year for local cinema.

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I can also let you know a bit more about the features:

Beeba Boys is clearly a departure for Deepa Mehta. The film deals with gangsters in Vancouver’s South Asian community. It’s based on a true story about Punjabi gangs of second and third-generation Indian immigrants who get caught up in trafficking drugs and guns.

Remember is also a departure, this time for Atom Egoyan. It’s a Holocaust film with a difference. Christopher Plummer plays an Auschwitz survivor who goes on a mission of revenge soon after his wife dies.

Into the Forest is, well, another departure. One wouldn’t have predicted that Patricia Rozema would make a futuristic drama but she has—and it stars Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood. In this suspenseful tale, a power outage throws the continent into a panic that lasts for years. Two sisters have to learn how to survive as civilization is brought down to its knees.

The Forbidden Room is a series of strange dreams and tales from the hand of the master of outré, Guy Maddin. Bizarre rituals in a forest, a group of sailors trying to escape a doomed submarine and a romantic assignation on a train are just three of the many threads in Maddin’s unique tale made out of old cloth (film narratives)—not exactly whole cloth.

Hellions is a horror film by Bruce McDonald that is a new entry in the scary Halloween-style teenage terror tale.

Paul Gross’ Hyena Road is inspired by his interviews with Canadian combat soldiers in Afghanistan. You can see the trailer, which shows modern warfare in a visceral way. Gross, whose Passchendaele was a festival hit a few years ago, is clearly attached to depictions of war and how it affects Canadians.

Closet Monster is a coming-of-age film set in Newfoundland by Stephen Dunn. It deals with a young man dealing with his divorced parents, his artistic proclivities and his confused sexuality.

Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant is also about adolescence but in this case, the relationship between three young men forms the core of the narrative. Set in the area around Lake Superior, this is a truly northern Canadian tale.

Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus

Tune in to hear Marc Glassman’s Art Reviews
Friday’s at 9:07am on Good Day GTA.

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