"There's more people in this room than saw Canadian films in the 1980s," an exultant Guy Maddin proclaimed Tuesday afternoon in the swank confines of the Imperial Room at Toronto's Fairmont Royal York Hotel.
It certainly felt that way as hundreds gathered to get the news on what Canadian films are coming to the Toronto International Film Festival next month. And it appears there's going to be no shortage of CanCon as programmers have more than 70 features, short films and premieres by first-timers ready for the screening from Sept. 8-18.
Among the highlights, of course, is Maddin's own new feature, Keyhole, which is getting its world premiere four years after his My Winnipeg scored big at TIFF. This one's described as a "rousing gangsters-meet-ghosts sonata" starring long-time Maddin muse Isabella Rossellini and Jason Patric.
"I really wanted to make an autobiography of a house," explained Maddin, who first ventured to TIFF in 1986. "But I needed a plot because I didn't want to make an essay film. I'm too lazy for that, not smart enough. I realized I needed to make a genre picture, but one genre isn't enough for me. I gotta mash things up a little bit. This is the day and age of the hybrid."
Indeed, Canadian programmer Steve Gravestock thinks one of the motifs of this year's festival is a "consolidation [of the]rediscovery of genre" that has distinguished Canadian features in recent years. David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan have shown that "you can still make a movie that flirts with genre and still make it a personal statement."
Another feature-length highlight is the world premiere of Breakaway, a Robert Lieberman hockey comedy, set in an Indo-Canadian community in suburban Toronto, starring Russell Peters and Vinay Virmani. Hockey films have tended to have a rough ride at TIFF – remember Score: A Hockey Musical, which opened TIFF 2010? – but Breakaway co-producer Frank Siracusa doesn't "consider [his film]a hockey movie. It's more a celebration of family with hockey as the background."
Getting its North American premiere is also Afghan Luke, from Mike Clattenburg (Trailer Park Boys), about a Canadian journalist (Nick Stahl) who, after his story about possible scandalous behaviour by Canadian troops in Afghanistan gets underplayed, returns to the war-torn country to gather more evidence.
Mary Harron is on the lineup as well, returning after a six-year absence to TIFF with helming a spooky Canadian-Irish co-production, The Moth Diaries; set in an all-girls' boarding school, it's based on Rachel Klein's 2002 novel of the same name and stars model Lily Cole. TIFF regular Bruce McDonald is back too, with the "Toronto premiere" of Hard Core Logo 2, the sequel to his much-loved 1996 mockumentary. And Carl Bessai brings Sisters & Brothers to the festival, his seventh feature in as many years. This one, touted as "a comedic exploration of the lives of four intersecting sister-and-brother relationships."
Documentary buffs will undoubtedly be keen to catch Pink Ribbons Inc., an exposé of the politics of philanthropy by Swiss-Quebec director Léa Pool (Emporte-moi) as well as Surviving Progress by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, a devastating critique of the notion of progress featuring the insights of Stephen Hawking, Margaret Atwood and a host of others.
Canada First!, TIFF's showcase of work by new Canadian auteurs, presents seven features this year, four from Quebec, two from Ontario and one from British Columbia.