It doesn’t often behoove me to be honest when it comes to these sorts of things, but 2014 was a rather disappointing year when it comes to Canadian film releases. Even on the festival circuit and looking ahead to films slated to have wider releases in 2015, there wasn’t much to choose from. That’s not necessarily a knock on the quality of the films that were being produced that year, but just a remark that there didn’t seem to be as many high profile Canadian releases made from high profile directors.
That’s also the reason why this year’s line-up of feature films slated to play Canada’s Top Ten (we’ll get to the shorts, special events, and recently added student film showcase next week) feels so refreshed. With the exception of two major films to secure worldwide notoriety – Xavier Dolan’s Mommy (Saturday, January 3rd, 8:45pm and Sunday, January 4th, 9:00pm) and David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars (Saturday, January 10th, 6:00pm and Sunday, January 11th, 9:15pm) – the remaining eight films that make up the ten day celebration of all films Canadian are so decidedly low key and outside the box choices that I hadn’t even heard of two of them when the titles were announced back at the beginning of December.
Many of the films from this year’s screening series (picked by a panel made up of a variety of industry professionals) highlight some of TIFF 2014’s most talked about titles, many of which were produced by first time feature filmmakers. Most recently announced as the winner of the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Jay Scott Prize for emerging talent, Torontonian short filmmaker Albert Shin made and ambitious jump to feature filmmaking with the Korean language drama of three generations of motherhood, In Her Place (Tuesday, January 6th, 8:45pm and Thursday, January 8th, 3:00pm). Montreal filmmaker Maxime Grioux previously won an award for short filmmaking at TIFF in 2006, but his debut feature – the Jewish romance and story of loss Felix and Meira (Saturday, January 3rd, 6:00pm and Sunday, January 4th, 4:00pm) – netted the Best Canadian Feature prize at this year’s festival. Another Montrealer, Mathieu Denis, garnered great notices for his debut feature from this year’s festival, the politically charged period piece, Corbo (Saturday, January 10th, 9:00pm and Sunday, January 11th, 12:00pm).
In their own way, each of these debut features has a decided youthful appeal while keeping a fixed eye on the past. The young pregnant woman of Shin’s generational drama – set in a single rural farmhouse – finds herself caught between her own feelings and a societal hierarchy designed to make her feel awful about herself. Giroux’s keenly observed romance comes with the baggage of lifetimes of religious pitfalls and mores within its margins. Meanwhile, Denis retelling of the formation of the Front de libération du Québec tells a historically rich tale of homegrown revolution that was created by the youth for what the believed would better their standard of living.
One of the two films that wasn’t previously on my Canadian cinematic radar also happens to be a debut feature, courtesy of Andrew Huculiak, best known as the drummer for indie rock outfit We Are the City (who will perform at the Canada’s Top Ten Cocktail Party on Wednesday the 7th at 7pm). The Vancouver filmmaker and musician picked up the awards for Best Canadian Film and Best BC Film back at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival with Violent (Tuesday, January 6th, 6:00pm and Wednesday, January 7th, 3:00pm). A quixotic tale of self-discovery set ostensibly in Norway, it’s the tale of a young woman trying to escape her routine day to day existence and the quirky characters she meets along the way. It’s just as youthful, but also exuberant, balancing surrealist tendencies, relatable human emotion, and never drowning or wallowing needlessly in quirk and circumstantial humour.
That’s not to say that veteran filmmakers aren’t making up a huge component of this year’s Canada’s Top Ten, but it is interesting to note that outside of Cronenberg and the still-young-but-at-this-point-an-accomplished-auteur Dolan, three of the four remaining films from industry stalwarts are documentaries and not fictional features, with the one exception being Quebecois filmmaker Stéphane Lafleur’s well received, Cannes debuting coming of age dramedy Tu dors Nicole (Monday, January 5th, 8:30pm and Tuesday, January 6th, 3:00pm), everything else is a strictly true life affair.
Series opener Monsoon (Friday, January 2nd, 7:00pm and Saturday, January 3rd, 3:00pm) finds Oscar nominated filmmaker Sturla Gunnarsson travelling to Calcutta, Mumbai, and the South Asian countryside to capture the effects of India’s notorious rainy seasons. Surviving Progress and The Corporation collaborator Harold Crooks returns with the also economically minded The Price We Pay (Saturday, January 10th, 12:00pm and Sunday, January 11th, 6:00pm), a look at shady offshore tax havens used by major corporations and tax cheats.
And in the other film that I hadn’t heard of before its selection to Canada’s Top Ten, Marie-Hélène Cousineau (Uvanga) and the Arnait Video Collective deliver Sol (Sunday, January 4th, 6:45pm and Monday, January 5th, 6:00pm), an examination of the alarmingly high suicide rate among young adults in a Nunavut community told through the story of a 26 year old singer who died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody. I haven’t seen Sol yet, but I’m quite looking forward to it.
And with ticket prices at a reduced rate of $10 per screening and with filmmakers in attendance for talks and Q&As for a majority of the screenings (everything except Mommy, which does have a video essay courtesy of The Seventh Art, has at least one Q&A session), it’s a great chance to get familiar with the most eclectic slate of Canada’s Top Ten selections to date. And come back next week for an in-depth look at the short films of Canada’s Top Ten and a wide range of special events for the closing weekend of TIFF’s second biggest in-house showcase of Canadian talent in 2015.