New films from Canadian directors Guy Maddin, Philippe Falardeau and Patricia Rozema are heading to the 40th Toronto International Film Festival, organizers announced Tuesday morning. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to name a single Canadian filmmaker who isn't slated to appear at this year's TIFF.
With the exception of David Cronenberg, Sarah Polley and a handful of others, the festival's "Canadian Perspectives" slate includes nearly every name-brand homegrown director working today, including Bruce McDonald, Avi Lewis and Mina Shum, plus previously announced films from Deepa Mehta, Paul Gross and Atom Egoyan. (Québécois directors Jean-Marc Vallée and Denis Villeneuve also have films at the festival, but they are not Canadian-funded productions.) It's enough Cancon to counter any accusations that the festival is in thrall to Hollywood – even if some of the films feature a few foreign stars to help ease the sales pitch.
Rozema's Into the Forest, for instance, stars Canadian Ellen Page, but also features The Ides of March's Evan Rachel Wood in a tale of two sisters living out a survivalist nightmare in the near-future. Meanwhile, Robert Budreau's Born to Be Blue stars Ethan Hawke as jazz legend Chet Baker; Egoyan's dark drama Remember features Breaking Bad's Dean Norris; and Maddin's The Forbidden Room lists a cast that reads like the marquee of a European multiplex, with Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling and Maria de Medeiros among the many camping it up in the director's "grand ode to lost cinema."
Wedged between the bigger productions are a number of genuine curiosities. Double Happiness director Shum makes her first documentary with Ninth Floor, a re-examination of the 1969 Sir George Williams computer riot in Montreal; Falardeau's comedy My Internship in Canada focuses on a Quebec MP who stumbles into a massive political feud; and McDonald's Hellions, which played Sundance this past winter, is a gonzo horror mashed with teenage angst.
There are also a number of intriguing debuts from first-time feature filmmakers, including Andrew Cividino's Cannes favourite Sleeping Giant, which tracks a group of teens on summer vacation on Lake Superior; the surreal dramedy Closet Monster from Stephen Dunn; and the magical realism-tinged The Rainbow Kid by Kire Paputts.
Meanwhile, in a twist on the media-talent divide that so often defines TIFF – or at least the narratives of the reporters who cover it – two journalists will take a turn on the other side of the press gauntlet while promoting their new films. Retired Maclean's film writer Brian D. Johnson is set to debut his documentary, Al Purdy Was Here, while Toronto Star reporter Michelle Shephard will unveil Guantanamo's Child: Omar Khadr, which she co-directed with Patrick Reed.
"The turning of the tables feels strange, but it's just started," said Johnson, whose first film features Purdy-inspired performances from Tanya Tagaq, Gord Downie and Leonard Cohen. "Because it's a documentary, it was journalism by another name – though the biggest shock came in the last two months, when a film just explodes. Even during my most intense weeks at the magazine, I was never this busy."
Shephard, whose documentary is an updated adaptation of her 2008 book on Khadr's early life and imprisonment, worked on her film for the past two years – though things kicked into high gear once Khadr was released from prison in May. "I'm used to working alone, but being able to collaborate with Patrick and a team is amazing," said Shephard, whose film aired in a shorter form on CBC-TV and Al Jazeera after Khadr's release. "Sometimes you can be the world's best writer, which I'm not, and still can't deliver a story to people like a film can."
Festival organizers also announced the participants in this year's "Rising Stars" program, which immerses four actors in festival events and industry meetings throughout TIFF. Deragh Campbell, Stephan James, Aliocha Schneider and Karelle Tremblay will meet with international casting directors and filmmakers and receive media training. Previous participants include Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany, Sarah Gadon and Cara Gee.
TIFF, which runs Sept. 10 to 20, will announce more selections for this year's festival over the course of the summer.