For Toronto International Film Festival senior programmer Steve Gravestock, 2015 was the year that Canadian filmmakers challenged fundamental beliefs about who we are.
In Ninth Floor, a documentary that delves into institutionalized racism – and specifically the Sir George Williams University riot of 1969 – veteran Vancouver director Mina Shum questions just how tolerant and multicultural our society really is. In the critically acclaimed film HURT, about Order of Canada recipient and fallen national hero Steve Fonyo, filmmaker Alan Zweig tells the story of a great Canadian left behind. Closet Monster, Stephen Dunn's arresting drama that won Best Canadian Feature at TIFF, tackles the ostracization and marginalization of a small-town teen who reveals his homosexuality.
The films are just three of the selections in Canada's Top Ten Film Festival, a roundup of 2015's 10 top features and documentaries, and top shorts, as chosen by filmmakers, critics and industry professionals.
"What's really intriguing is that the films link up to issues that we have been seeing over the last year – the election issues about the niqab and the snitch line, the debate about the Syrian refugees, the CBC closing comments on First Nations articles," says Mr. Gravestock of the festival, which includes films about everything from Guantanamo Bay to the emotional extremes of adolescence. "We have this assumption that we're this super-tolerant people, but there is real courage in these films in that they engage with those assumptions."
The fest represents a range of filmmakers, from first-time directors to veterans including Guy Maddin, whose film The Forbidden Room is one of Mr. Gravestock's favourites of the year – and not just from Canada. The TIFF programmer describes it as a "labyrinth of interconnected movies" that also pokes fun at movie logic.
"The first scene is in a submarine that's trapped at the bottom of the ocean, and they're running out of oxygen, so the crew is making flapjacks and breathing oxygen from the holes in the pancakes, which is as preposterous as it sounds," Mr. Gravestock says with a laugh. "It's a film that anybody who has seen a lot of movies will love. I don't think I've had more fun at a movie this year."
The TIFF programmer also points out how many films were made in, or are based in, British Columbia, among them HURT, Ninth Floor, Into the Forest (Patricia Rozema's apocalyptic drama starring Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood), Never Steady, Never Still (set in B.C.'s Interior), My Enemy, My Brother (about two men on opposite sides of the Iran-Iraq war who are reunited in Vancouver), and Balmoral Hotel, which is described as "a dance through Vancouver's Downtown Eastside."
"There are more quality films every year, and I think part of that has to do with cheaper digital cameras and things like that," says Mr. Gravestock, who is highly optimistic about the future of Canadian film. "But ultimately it's about the stories that filmmakers want to tell, and that's the most heartening thing."
Canada's Top Ten Film Festival is at The Cinematheque Jan. 8-17 (thecinematheque.ca).