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High art, tongue-in-cheek films among Canadian Sundance entries

A scene from Hobo With A Shotgun, one of the Canadian movies at the Sundance Film Festival

The reeds of tall grass shift in the wind. The black-and-white scene along the dirt road is barren, poetic. Suddenly a large, lone horse rushes across the screen, attracted to a shining light on the horizon.

For the crowds attending the Sundance film festival, this could easily be one of the most arresting images they'll see over the next ten days. Tao Gu's short film On the Way to the Sea, one of the 14 Canadian films at Sundance, is a highly experimental work, drifting through the chaotic memories of survivors of the 2008 earthquake centred in Wenchuan, China.

Produced by Montreal's Green Ground Productions, it's the high-art side of Canada's Sundance roster, while at the other extreme is Jason Eisener's tongue-in-cheek exploitation feature Hobo With A Shotgun, about a homeless vigilante shooting down the bad guys.

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Based on fake trailers within Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's film Grindhouse, the film has long been building word-of-mouth ahead of its showing at Sundance's midnight program of films.

They are examples of what Telefilm Canada's executive director Carolle Brabant calls Canada's particular strength in niche markets. In fact, because Sundance can be such an effective springboard into the independent film market, Telefilm is looking at new ways to measure its success with these films.

Traditionally, Telefilm has used domestic Canadian box office as its key measurement for whether a film it helped finance was a success or not, Brabant said. Now, the agency plans to take international sales and a film's performance at festivals into account too.

At the same time, it's also awards season. So the reception at Sundance for Denis Villeneuve's tough political feature Incendies, Canada's official entry for an Academy Award for best foreign-language film, could help its chance at an official nomination and possibly an Oscar. Others, such as Sebastien Pilote's drama Le Vendeur, about a car salesman, and Julia Ivanova's documentary Family Portrait in Black and White, about a group of black children in foster care in an insularly minded Ukraine, will be looking for more buzz, not only to attract international sales, but to possibly reach a wider audience back in Canada.

Among the other Canadian shorts in addition to On the Way to the Sea is what looks to be a strong trio of Native-themed films: Helen Haig-Brown's The Cave, Michelle Latimer's Choke and Danis Goulet's subtle take on adolescence and generational gaps in the Native community, Wapawekka.

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