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On Wednesday, Telefilm revealed the future of Canadian film – or what it hopes might be the future.

Not only did the federal agency confirm the appointment of its new executive director, Christa Dickenson, but the organization – charged with investing upward of $100-million annually in homegrown cinema – also announced which filmmakers will be part of its inaugural Talent to Watch program.

The news follows last fall’s game-changing revamp of the federal agency’s microbudget production fund, which offers homegrown filmmakers up to $125,000 for their first features.

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’The goal is to introduce the country to a wave of new voices that we would have never seen otherwise,” said Toronto filmmaker Matt Johnson, who shaped the updates along with his producing partner Matthew Miller and Telefilm’s outgoing executive director, Carolle Brabant. ‘This is a sea change in film funding.’

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Renamed Talent to Watch, the program will now more than double the number of projects it finances per year, to upward of 50 features. Also announced last November: a new initiative dubbed Fast Track, which will automatically greenlight the sophomore efforts of directors whose feature debuts are recognized at top-tier international festivals such as Cannes or Berlin, with Telefilm contributing $500,000 per film.

“The goal is to introduce the country to a wave of new voices that we would have never seen otherwise,” said Toronto filmmaker Matt Johnson, who shaped the updates along with his producing partner Matthew Miller and Telefilm’s outgoing executive director, Carolle Brabant. “This is a sea change in film funding.”

Forty-five projects will be developed under Talent to Watch’s first edition, all from rookie feature filmmakers whose names may be unfamiliar to audiences today, but will hopefully ring loud and clear after their projects are completed by the end of 2019.

“We don’t know many of the filmmakers, and that’s the point,” Johnson told The Globe last week. “This is almost all-new blood. And these are pitches we’re extremely excited about.”

To name but a handful, the pitches include the dystopian drama 40 Acres from Randall “RT!” Thorne, the Indigenous thriller Billy from Jordan Molaro, the mother-daughter tale Easy Land from Sanja Zivkovic and the satire Stanleyville from Maxwell McCabe-Lokos.

Of the 45 projects selected, 20 come from Ontario, 11 from Quebec, five from British Columbia, three from Nova Scotia, two from Manitoba and one each from Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Yukon. Twenty-one have female directors attached, achieving 47 per cent gender parity.

The 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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“I think every country would like to have a program like this: it’s not expensive, it’s inclusive, it’s manageable,” says Jean-Claude Mahé, Telefilm’s interim executive director since Brabant stepped down in March at the end of her eight-year tenure. (Dickenson, the president and CEO of Interactive Ontario, will assume the position of executive director on July 30.) “I can’t think of a downside.”

The English-language projects were selected by a five-member jury consisting of filmmakers Albert Shin (In Her Place), Chelsea McMullan (My Prairie Home) and Cory Bowles (Black Cop), as well as producer Karen Harnisch (Sleeping Giant) and critic Adam Nayman. The composition of the jury will change each year, and operate with no input from Johnson, Miller or Telefilm.

“We had two goals: one was to pick the strongest films that had the most potential to be successful, not just in terms of market but in terms of successfully reaching an audience and earning critical acclaim,” McMullan says. “The other side was to ensure the selections were representational and considered race, region, gender and queer representation as well.”

“It’s a spectrum of voices,” adds Shin, who deliberated with his fellow jurors over three days at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto. “What excites me the most is that as the program grows, there will be filmmakers from different parts of the country who are given opportunities to share their stories.”

This week, the program’s directors and their respective producers are in Toronto to attend Talent to Watch’s inaugural summit – a two-day “boot camp” where they will learn about everything from stretching budgets to navigating postproduction.

“We’ll have meet-and-greet sessions, about 20 people coming in for panels,” Miller says, noting that guests include filmmakers Kazik Radwanski and McMullan, artists who not too long ago were struggling to make their own first features. “It was pretty easy to get speakers because everyone wants to be part of this in some way, to help the next crop of new voices.”

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