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Doubles With Slight Pepper, written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Ian Harnarine (2011).

One year ago, Telefilm Canada revealed the future of Canadian film. In June of 2018, the federal agency, charged with investing upward of $100-million annually in homegrown cinema, revealed the emerging filmmakers who would be participating in the organization’s inaugural Talent to Watch program. The initiative, a revamped and beefed up version of its micro-budget production fund, offers up to $125,000 for first-time directors, with the goal of producing upward of 50 features per year. “The goal is to introduce the country to a wave of new voices that we would have never seen otherwise,” Toronto director and Talent to Watch ambassador Matt Johnson said at the time. “This is a sea change in film funding.”

Twelve months later, audiences have yet to see what that sea change looks like, exactly. Of the 45 projects developed under Talent to Watch’s first edition, none has yet to make it to big or small screens, though that is typical of industry production timelines. Some films, such as Faran Moradi’s Tehranto and Sanja Zivkovic’s Easy Land, have recently wrapped principal photography. Others have yet to go in front of the camera. But that hasn’t stopped Telefilm from announcing its second wave of Talent to Watch recipients.

This week, the organization revealed its 2019 Talent to Watch cohort, with 28 feature films and three web series set to receive support. The new batch of filmmakers includes new voices from across the country – one project from the Northwest Territories, four from British Columbia, three from Manitoba, 12 from Ontario, eight from Quebec, two from Nova Scotia and one from New Brunswick – and is a selection that represents 50/50 gender parity. (Last year’s slate, with 21 female directors, achieved 47 per cent gender parity.)

“As greater inclusion is a key priority, this year’s cohort of talent is one that better reflects the rich diversity of our country,” Christa Dickenson, Telefilm’s executive director, said in a statement. “In addition, there are multiple projects with stories and voices from the LGBTQ2+ communities.”

This year’s Talent to Watch productions include Ian Harnarine’s father-son drama Doubles with Slight Pepper, an expansion of his TIFF-lauded short film of the same name; The Maiden, from Fantavious Fritz, who last year won the $15,000 Prism Prize for best Canadian music video for his work with Charlotte Day Wilson; the immigration drama Concrete Valley from writer-director Antoine Bourges, whose mid-length film Fail to Appear impressed critics at its Vancouver International Film Festival premiere in 2017; and the coming-of-age dramedy Rejects Night from writer-director Chandler Levack (a regular Globe and Mail contributor).

Although the number of projects announced Wednesday falls short of Talent to Watch’s 2018 lineup of 45 productions, Dickenson clarified in an interview with The Globe and Mail that another four projects are also eligible under Talent to Watch’s fast-track stream for short filmmakers who’ve seen success on the festival circuit. Additionally, two past microbudget production fund recipients, Ashley McKenzie (Werewolf) and Pascal Plante (Fake Tattoos), are eligible for automatic second feature financing under Talent to Watch’s Fast Pass system (in which Telefilm automatically green-lights the second projects of filmmakers whose first features were recognized at top-tier international festivals such as Cannes or Berlin, contributing $500,000 a film).

“So really it’s 31 [productions] plus four, plus those two,” Dickenson said. “In total, our commitment to Talent to Watch recipients, between the new cohort and alumni this year, is in excess of $5-million [in funding].”

The Talent to Watch films will largely be financed through Telefilm’s Talent Fund, a private-donation fund supported by individual donors and media partners.

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