In a slight flip of last year’s programming, the Toronto International Film Festival is focusing on established Canadian filmmakers rather than a flood of fresh faces for its 2018 festival.
Denys Arcand, Ron Mann, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier will be among the familiar names screening films this year, with just six feature debuts among the 19 Canadian titles unveiled by festival organizers on Wednesday morning. Add to that the four Canadian films that TIFF announced last week as part of its gala and special-presentation lineups – including projects from industry stalwarts Don McKellar (Through Black Spruce), Kim Nguyen (The Hummingbird Project) and Patricia Rozema (Mouthpiece) – this year’s festival offers a striking sense of familiarity.
In contrast, 2017′s Canadian lineup boasted one of the highest numbers of feature debuts in TIFF history, with nine first-time filmmakers out of 25 selections. (Rookie films that year included Sadaf Foroughi’s Ava and Kathleen Hepburn’s Never Steady, Never Still; each eventually earned eight nominations at the 2018 Canadian Screen Awards.)
Highlights from this year’s crop of TIFF veterans includes Anthropocene, a “cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive re-engineering of the planet” from Baichwal, de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky, the team behind the acclaimed Manufactured Landscapes; Carmine Street Guitars, Mann’s look at a Greenwich Village guitar-maker, which will have its world premiere in Venice; Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz, the second documentary of 2018 from Barry Avrich, who premiered The Reckoning at Hot Docs this past spring; Kingsway, from Bruce Sweeney, whose past six films have played Toronto; and The Fall of the American Empire, a crime thriller from the Oscar-winning Arcand (The Barbarian Invasions) that opened in Quebec this summer.
The most prominent slot on this year’s Canadian list, though, is a posthumous honour. In what’s being billed as a “Special Event World Premiere,” TIFF will present Sharkwater Extinction, the final film from director and conservationist Rob Stewart, who died in January 2017 during a dive off the Florida Keys.
TIFF also used Wednesday’s announcement to highlight the country’s Indigenous talent, slotting the world premieres of Edge of the Knife, the feature debut of co-directors Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown; Falls Around Her, from Darlene Naponse; and The Grizzlies, a project that the festival calls a “creative collaboration” between Inuit producers Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and Stacey Aglok MacDonald, and first-time director Miranda de Pencier (a long-time producer, and sister of Anthropocene co-director Nicholas de Pencier).
"We're especially proud to present such a diverse group of films," Steve Gravestock, senior programmer for TIFF, said in a statement. "This year's Canadian films come from every region in the country, stretching from east to west and north to south."
This year’s remaining feature debuts come from Akash Sherman (Clara), Andrea Bussmann (Fausto), co-directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein (Freaks), and Jasmin Mozaffari, whose microbudget coming-of-age film Firecrackers stars Michaela Kurimsky, one of four Canadian performers selected for this year’s TIFF Rising Stars program. (The other participants in the talent-development initiative are Devery Jacobs, Lamar Johnson and Jess Salgueiro.)
Meanwhile, while one of the highest-profile Canadian projects of the year, Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, was nowhere to be found on TIFF’s Wednesday morning announcement, festival organizers revealed in a surprise announcement later in the day that it would enjoy its world premiere at the festival.
“In only a few short years, Xavier Dolan has drawn film lovers all over the world into his personal vision,” Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director and co-head, said in a late-day statement. “That vision and his remarkable skill as a filmmaker are on full display in his English-language debut. We are honoured to premiere it in Toronto."
The 43rd edition of TIFF runs Sept. 6 through 16 (tiff.net)