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Sadaf Foroughi’s drama Ava tells the story of a sheltered school girl in Tehran appalled by her mother checking on her virginity.

Courtesy of TIFF

Maybe it's a fluke, maybe it's a sign of a healthy industry, but in a year when few big-name Canadian directors produced features, newcomers feature prominently in Canada's Top Ten Film Festival. The list announced Wednesday – forming a national mini-festival of the year's best Canadian films as selected by programmers at the Toronto International Film Festival – includes four first features as well as several documentaries and a zombie film.

The new directors include Sadaf Foroughi, an Iranian Canadian whose drama Ava tells the story of a sheltered school girl in Tehran appalled by her mother checking on her virginity. Wayne Wapeemukwa, who won the City of Toronto Award for best Canadian first feature at TIFF in September, contributes Luk'Luk'I, a hybrid documentary about people living in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Kathleen Hepburn makes her feature debut with Never Steady, Never Still, about a woman suffering from Parkinson's disease. And still photographers Carlos and Jason Sanchez turn to filmmaking with Allure, about an unhappy young woman who seduces a teenage girl she meets while cleaning houses.

Meanwhile, Simon Lavoie, the co-director of last year's provocative Quebec political drama Those Who Make the Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves, is also included for his first solo effort, The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches. It is a drama set in the 1930s about two isolated siblings emerging from the shadow of their crazed father after his death.

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From Quebec, the lineup also includes Robin Aubert's Les Affamés, a zombie movie that won the Canada Goose Award for best Canadian feature at TIFF.

There are several documentaries in the selection, including Our People Will Be Healed, from National Film Board of Canada documentarian Alanis Obomsawin, one of the few veterans included. That film looks at the way a school in the Manitoba town of Norway House anchors its Indigenous community. The other two documentaries include Charles Officer's Unarmed Verses, which won Hot Docs' best Canadian feature prize at that festival for its lyrical account of a Toronto community facing relocation because its low-income housing is being demolished. And Catherine Bainbridge contributes the crowd-pleasing Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, about the Indigenous influence in rock music.

The opening-night film is Kyle Rideout's Adventures in Public School, a romantic comedy about a teen who drops out of home-schooling to pursue the girl of his dreams.

The festival, which also includes showings of the top 10 short films and top 10 student shorts, opens Jan. 12 and continues to Jan. 21, running simultaneously at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, Vancouver's The Cinematheque and Montreal's Phi Centre. The festival also plays Winnipeg Film Group's Cinematheque (Jan. 12 to Feb. 24); Edmonton's Metro Cinema (Jan. 26 to Feb. 4); Ottawa's National Gallery of Canada (March 15 to 17); Regina's RPL Film Theatre (April 12 to 15); and Saskatoon's PAVED Arts in collaboration with the Roxy Theatre on dates to be announced.

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