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Halifax director Noah Pink was about one year old when Atom Egoyan made his first feature film, Next of Kin, in 1984.

When Egoyan had his third feature, Speaking Parts, invited to the Cannes Film Festival in 1989, Xavier Dolan was about two months old.

This year, Egoyan returns for his ninth Cannes trip, this time as president of the festival's Cinéfondation and Short Film Jury. Twenty-one-year-old Dolan is back for his second year in a row, with his new love-triangle film Heartbeats (Les amours imaginaires), and Pink, 27, has brought his film Zed/Crew, about a Zambian rapper trying to make it in New York, to the short program of the Directors' Fortnight.

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When there's reaction to your film outside your country, it can make your country exist. Xavier Dolan

On Tuesday afternoon, the three filmmakers sat down at the Canada Pavilion to talk about what Cannes means to Canada. The event, moderated by Tom McSorley of the Canadian Film Institute in Ottawa, and sponsored by Telefilm Canada and the Canadian embassy in Paris, was titled "Speaking Parts: Atom Egoyan in conversation with the next wave of Canadian filmmakers." Only in Canada, perhaps, would two filmmakers make a wave, but it was a rare opportunity to consider Canadian film from a multigenerational perspective.

Egoyan recalled living in an apartment at College and Spadina in Toronto, reading about Cannes in The Globe and Mail and thinking "that's what I would love to do."

Coming to Cannes, he said, "is a physical feeling to be surrounded by cinephiles and people who are excited about film. I watched the standing ovation for Xavier's movie on YouTube. That kind of experience is overwhelming, and although films like this are having a hard time nowadays, while you're here, it all seems possible."

Dolan recalled watching films in Montreal that had screened at Cannes, "and they were these great, inspiring movies. That's why I wanted I Killed My Mother to be at Cannes because I thought, 'If I can get there, I can touch this dream.'

"When I got here and my first film was received warmly, I realized that such a little film with a little budget wouldn't merely exist, and go to a DVD shelf, but it could really live."

Pink: "I went to the Directors' Fortnight and they showed Xavier's photo and Atom's name, along with Bresson, Scorsese and Coppola, and on and on, all these filmmakers who I aspire, one day, to be on their level. It's beyond a big honour to be here, it's surreal."

Egoyan: "For all the perils around [Canadian cinema] we've made an incredible body of work. We should be proud of auteur cinema. It's not a dirty word. There was a story in a Montreal paper, and the writer said, 'There's nothing wrong with making films like Avatar.' Well, of course, there's nothing wrong with it, but it's almost cruel to suggest we should make films like Avatar when we don't have the mechanism for it. We shouldn't forget, James Cameron is a Canadian, raised in Kapuskasing, but for the kind of film he wanted to make, he had to go there [to Hollywood]to do it. If you have that dream you go there."

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Dolan: "When there's reaction to your film outside your country, it can make your country exist ... its voice, its space, its art ... and I hope that over the years I can be part of this history."

Pink: "People said, 'Noah, don't lose yourself when you're there [in Cannes]' but I think exactly the opposite."

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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