For the fifth year in a row, National Canadian Film Day will hold Canada-wide screenings April 18, this year with a focus on female filmmakers like Deepa Mehta (known for the Elements Trilogy) and documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin.
The screening featuring Mehta and Obomsawin will take place at the Al Green Theatre in Toronto, hosted by CANADALAND’s Aliya Pabani. Spotlight films this year include director Sarah Polley’s 2006 drama Away From Her, based on a short story from Alice Munro, and Long Time Running, the acclaimed documentary tracking the final tour of The Tragically Hip.
The event is hosted by REEL Canada, a non-profit headquartered in Toronto, founded in 2005. For a full list of screenings and films showcased, visit canadianfilmday.ca
Check out the trailer for Fire (1996), one part of Mehta’s Elements Trilogy, below.
2018 in Canadian film and TV: 10 of our favourite picks this year
If you’ll humour me in first-person, for a moment: when I started The Mutt back in May of this year, I had a passing wonder whether there would be enough interesting Canadian film and television to fill a full content calendar. That concern was quickly dashed – our small team of writers didn’t have time to cover everything! (PS: writers, send me your pitches!)
What’s interesting to me about the Canadian film and television market is the allowance it provides for originality. While box office is important (as the good folks at First Weekend Club will tell you) few production teams plot out their features with an adherence to investors as their primary guiding principle.
That makes writing about the Canadian film scene all the more interesting, given the fact that each production usually has a passionate voice behind it or an easy hook to guide the story.
With 2018 wrapping up, we’ve chosen 10 of these stories featured on The Mutt in the past year that we found to be emblematic of this spirit, as well as some of our favourite Canadian film and TV of the year.
Letter from Masanjia
Dir: Leon Lee
The subject of this documentary traces back to 2012, when an Oregon resident shopping in Kmart discovered a desperate letter from a political prisoner in China. Letter from Masanjia, directed by Leon Lee, follows this letter back to China, uncovering the harrowing state of labour camps in the country. The doc was one of 166 submitted for consideration at the 91st Academy Awards and would wholly deserve a nod.
Letter from Masanjia is now available on VOD.
Mr. D Season 8
CBC’s beloved workplace sitcom about an ill-equipped and bumbling high school teacher came to an end as the show’s series finale aired Dec. 20. Season 8 of the show saw Gerry Duncan (Gerry Dee) start a new life in Japan, take over as principal at Xavier and send the graduating students off with the perfect parting gifts. We’ll miss the show – no one plays bumbling idiot as riotously as Dee.
The complete series of Mr. D is now available to watch on CBC.
Dir: Cam Christiansen
From award-winning director Cam Christiansen and starring British playwright David Hare, the fascinating WALL examines both the physical and cultural barriers separating the Israeli and Palestinian residents of the Israeli West Bank. The film boasts a distinct visual style partly inspired by graphic novels and one that Christiansen said he chose to emphasize a sense of authorship.
More information on WALL is available via the National Film Board website.
Dir: Michael Peterson
Mix Home Alone with The Shining and you’re getting close to understanding the premise behind Knuckleball, a gritty and pulse-pounding thriller from director Michael Peterson. Peterson draws engaging performances from Michael Ironside and Luca Villacis perfectly suited for this lively and taut feature.
Knuckleball is now available on iTunes and VOD. For more information, click here.
Baroness von Sketch Show
Picture yourself riding your bicycle on the way to work. As you’re pedaling, you see someone you vaguely know, but not enough to stop-and-chat. Instead of stopping, you awkwardly yell to them, “Hello! …I have to keep going.” For Baroness von Sketch Show writer Aurora Browne, turning those painfully awkward moments into riotous sketches have propelled her career on what has become one of the CBC’s most reliably entertaining shows.
The third season of the Baroness von Sketch Show is available to watch on CBC.
Dir: Jeremy Lalonde
In the intro, I wrote about how one of the best parts of covering Canadian film is being able to watch films where directors take big risks and play to underground tastes. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of this than in Jeremy Lalonde’s The Go-Getters, a gloriously dark and vulgar journey starring a deadbeat drunk and a junkie hooker. Just in time for the holidays!
The Go-Getters is currently playing in select theatres and launched on VOD on Christmas Day.
VIFF’s Future//Present program
Among festival programs we always keep on our radar each year is the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Future//Present program. Our writer Brandon Wall-Fudge dove into the lineup at the 2018 festival, which showcased some of the best examples of those films redefining what Canadian film can be, including Spice It Up, M/M and Mangoshake.
The Vancouver International Film Festival returns in 2019.
Slave to the Grind
Dir: Doug Brown
Napalm Death, Carcass, Pig Destroyer… maybe not household names to the average music fan, but among the principal players in the proudly abrasive genre of “grindcore.” Doug Brown’s feature-length documentary Slave to the Grind dives headfirst into the history of the genre and of its legions of disciples, many of which look nothing like you might expect.
Slave to the Grind wrapped up a world tour in November 2018. Stay tuned to the film’s official Facebook page for updates.
Wynonna Earp Season 3
To be perfectly frank, I personally am not caught up on Wynonna Earp, but after reading the weekly coverage from our resident “Earper,” Ghezal Amiri, it’s become clear to me that the show is among the most bonkers, odd and crazy good times on television. Amiri took us on a roller-coaster ride of her own emotions as she explored Purgatory along with Wynonna, Wayhaught, and one individual she calls Angry Vamp Doc, all the way to the season’s wildly emotional conclusion. Full speed ahead to Season 4!
Wynonna Earp returns on Space in 2019.
Dir: Philippe Lesage
Few directors are doing coming-of-age stories as effectively as Montreal-based director Philippe Lesage, whose second autobiographical feature, Genèse, is a total knockout. The film follows 2015’s The Demons, with characters from that film also appearing during Genèse. It’s a beautiful, intelligent and contemplative look at adolescence and young love, and one of the best Canadian films of the year.
Genèse is now screening at festivals worldwide.
VIFF’s Future//Present expands its view of what Canadian cinema can be
Anyone who has been paying attention to Canadian cinema in recent years will have noticed a major shift in where the attention is going. Over the last half-decade, Canada has developed (or redeveloped) a new definition for its art cinema, often dubbed the New Canadian Cinema. Though this movement has existed for some years, its main festival support system has only emerged recently.
Now entering its third year, the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Future//Present has become the annual hotbed for what is most exciting in Canadian cinema that year. In its brief existence, the section has helped launch new works by some of the most impressive talent ever to come out of this country: Sofia Bohdanowicz, Ashley McKenzie and Antoine Bourges, to name a few. This time around, Future//Present aims to expand its view of what Canadian cinema can be.
Two prime examples in redefining Canadian cinema come in the form of The Stone Speakers and The Museum of Forgotten Triumphs, a pair of films that both approach the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina in distinct ways. The Stone Speakers comes from director Igor Drljaca, making his documentary debut after a pair of narrative features. In the film, Drljaca pairs images of the nation’s burgeoning tourist industry with various voiceover narrations that recount the history of the country through these landmarks. Through these two devices, modern images and detailed history, Drljaca finds a way to bridge the past with the present, while also examining the nation’s conflicts between religion, politics and economics.
In The Museum of Forgotten Triumphs, Bojan Bodružić takes a more intimate and personal approach to the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ostensibly a documentary about his grandparents spanning a decade and a half, Bodružić uses their stories to paint a portrait of a nation that has gone through turmoil. Essential to the film is the manner in which Bodružić makes the viewer aware of and comfortable in the family living space, the space where most of the film is set. Images of a nation ravished by war are paired with recollections and memories, setting the context for the film that follows. Though much of the film can be seen in relation to the nation it takes place, the scope of the film extends beyond just a history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The film also operates as a mediation on the passing of time, seen through the slowly aging subjects, as well as the various mediums used for recording. In the end, Bodružić returns to the images of the house, a house that carries the weight of history, presenting the intrinsic connection between the personal and the national.
Continuing on the documentary front, first-time director Aïda Maigre-Touchet’s Song of a Seer proves one of the greatest artistic statements in this year’s Future//Present section. Shot with great intimacy, Song of a Seer is a portrait of Haitian artist and intellectual Dominique Batraville. In its early scenes, Song of a Seer bears a striking resemblance to the films of Straub-Huillet, as Maigre-Touchet films Batraville reciting a series of texts and songs. As the film progresses, Maigre-Touchet finds her own voice in making the film. Much attention is given to Batraville’s home, a tight space brimming with knowledge, as books clutter every corner and pour out of the shelves. Despite the film’s tight focus on Batraville as the subject, there is a a strong sense of universality to the film, especially in its meditation on the self. Eschewing any traditional documentary traditions, Maigre-Touchet’s minimalist glimpse into the mind and life of Batraville is as artistically exhilarating as it is pensive.
The only director to make their return to Future//Present this year, Andrea Bussmann, makes her solo directorial debut with Fausto, following 2016’s collaboration with Nicolás Pereda, Tales of Two Who Dreamt. Taking her camera to the Oaxacan coast, Bussmann presents a dreamlike story of ghosts and myths, all shot on video transferred to 16mm. Arguably the most dense and difficult work to screen in Future//Present yet, Fausto feels like a series of unsolvable riddles, a layered meditation on history through a series of tales that feel as if they have been passed down for generations. Fausto is a modestly ambitious film that demands a lot from its viewers, but those who can find the film’s rhythm will be rewarded tenfold.
Olivier Godin, arguably the only “veteran” filmmaker in this year’s Future//Present section, makes his first entry in the section with his fourth feature, Waiting for April. Much like his last work, 2016’s The Art of Speech, Waiting for April is once again an abstract cop comedy. Waiting for April is essentially a fantasy planted in the real world, replete with assassins, barbarians, a man with a gorilla arm and a much coveted singing bone. In the film’s emphasis on the use of shadows and the makeshift irises, Waiting for April is as much-rooted in the traditions of early cinema as it is looking forward to the future of the medium. While The Art of Speech appeared to take direct cues from the later works of Jean-Luc Godard, Waiting for April is far less alienating, while retaining the core absurdity that helped make the former feature a rousing success. Much like Fausto, Waiting for April requires patience and a suspension of belief, but the simple pleasures of the film’s brutal absurdity make it one of the most instantly pleasurable films in this year’s Future//Present lineup.
Mangoshake marks the biggest risk to ever be taken by the Future//Present programmers. The first feature from director Terry Chiu embodies the spirit and aesthetic of lo-fi/DIY cinema like few films to ever play a major festival. Telling the story of two rival food/beverage carts over the course of one summer, Mangoshake is a surreal and unpredictable consideration of suburban ennui. While the characters and their exploits in Mangoshake fully rest in the realm of suburban ennui, even the film itself feels birthed out of this concept; a group of bored suburban young adults coming together to make a low-budget film to occupy themselves. While this may not be the truth of the film’s genesis, everything about the film feels born out of this. Despite its rough around the edges look, the film is oddly poetic, allowing characters to reflect on their place in their community and the world at large. Above all of this, Mangoshake is side-splittingly hilarious. In the way it plays with expectations (if you can even have any with a film like this), in the characterization, in the physical comedy, Mangoshake is brimming with hilarity and sincerity.
The finest film to play this year’s Future//Present selection comes in the form of M/M, the feature debut from Drew Lint. What initially appears as a fairly innocuous tale of a man isolated in a new country quickly shifts into a a wild psychosexual thriller. M/M chronicles a tale of deep obsession through sleek, cool style. The film feels at once both cold and clinical as well as brimming with life. Lint’s style plays directly into the tense energy and unease of the film, building and exhibiting the characteristics of the characters at the centre of it. M/M is a terse, glossy peek into the world of love and infatuation, marking Drew Lint as perhaps the most exciting new filmmaker to emerge in 2018.
Another film dealing with obsession in its own right is Spice It Up, a collaboration between Lev Lewis and directing duo Yonah Lewis & Calvin Thomas. The film tracks a young film student working on a feature-length project. Through interaction with others, she receives the feedbacks and criticisms that drive her to obsessively tinker with her project. The film is largely built on an aspect of cringe, which is honed to elevate both the drama and the humour of the film. Spice It Up is equally an observation of the artistic process and a consideration of feeling alone and dejected in the world. The end result is a film that is both beguiling and bizarre, a truly singular work unlike anything to ever emerge within Canadian cinema.
As Future//Present has shifted its focus away from films confined within Canadian borders, the program has become all the richer for it. Every film laid out in the 2018 lineup feels significant in its own right, while the program is also using this year as an opportunity to help redefine what Canadian cinema is and can be. If the first two instalments marked the introduction of a slew of new English language Canadian directors, this year is largely about diversifying the voices on display in this platform. It marks the riskiest selection that has been curated yet, but the rewards are largely bigger and more exciting than ever.
Calgary Film 2018: 10 Canadian picks we can’t wait to see
The 19th Calgary International Film Festival returns Sept. 19 to 30, 2018, with a full slate of Canadian films on the lineup once again (including a prominent focus on Albertan artists). Stephen Schroeder, executive director at Calgary Film, said festival organizers aim to program a high ratio of Canadian film.
“Even by Canadian film festival standards, in comparing notes with the folks at Telefilm Canada, they tell us we’re unusually high even for our peer group. We love that,” Schroeder said. “Our Canadian films actually tend to do, if anything, better at the box office with the general audience than the average film in the overall program. So there’s a strong interest in Canadian film here.”
Canadian entries at Calgary Film in 2018 include Man Running, the latest feature from Calgary-based director Gary Burns (The Suburbanators, Radiant City), Keith Behrman’s Giant Little Ones and Circle of Steel, the first feature from Calgary-based director Gillian McKercher. Schroeder weighed in on 10 Canadian films announced as part of this year’s festival.
Dir: Keith Behrman
“Giant Little Ones is one of the films that is coming to us with a lot of buzz around the filmmaker. We had a film called Sleeping Giant (from director Andrew Cividino at the 2015 Calgary Film festival),” Schroeder said. “It was kind of one of those films that was a first feature by a relatively unknown director and it kind of got everybody talking, like, ‘Is this the emergence of a major new talent?’ (Giant Little Ones) has a little bit of that feeling around it.”
Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story (Closing Gala)
Dir: Don Metz
“It’s a great documentary. I really enjoyed it. And you don’t have to be a hockey fan (to love it),” Schroeder said. “As Wayne Gretzky said, Grant Fuhr was the best athlete he ever played with. It’s a very simple documentary – it’s not like it’s outside the box in terms of form or anything like that – but the footage, I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen in terms of save after save after save, and (he was) so acrobatic. You rarely see somebody give their entire body to what they’re doing in such a completely immersed and focused way.”
Dir: Maxime Giroux
“(Giroux) is a director that we watch and whose work we champion,” Schroeder said. “(The Great Darkened Days) is about the darker side of the American Dream. It’s definitely, it’s absurd and it’s got a dark edge. It’s about a character who is travelling home and who he encounters on the way and the darkness and the madness of the time he’s living in.”
Dir: Akash Sherman
“I was really impressed. It’s extremely strong, it’s one of the best Canadians I’ve seen in a while. It covers this idea of this scientific, reductionist way of analyzing the world versus the mysteries of love and intuition and quantum entanglement. So it’s a bit heady,” Schroeder said. “Other movies have tried to cover this subject to varying degrees of success, but I think the way they did it in Clara is wholly original and it’s a really fresh script and a really moving film.”
Dir: Kim Nguyen
“This is one of those films that has everything. It’s very compelling with great characters, it’s funny, it’s deep, it’s rich and philosophical and it’s beautifully shot,” Schroeder said. “(The film’s central metaphor) becomes a juxtaposition, it’s a cross section of America. It’s a brilliant metaphor and a brilliant device or meditation on technology and the state of modern society and that very profound tension and really timely concern around where the blind adherence to technology has taken us. I really love that film.”
Dir: Gillian McKercher
“(McKercher) is a young filmmaker who has already made her mark. She’s made short films and she has one of the most encyclopedia knowledges of film that I’ve encountered in someone her age,” Schroeder said. “Her passion and her attention to detail as a person and as a filmmaker and her deep thoughtfulness make her a filmmaker to watch.”
Dir: Gary Burns
“(Burns) is arguably the best-known Calgarian director working. He’s been quiet for a while in a lot of ways, but he’s literally been part of the festival since the first go,” Schroeder said. “This is a film where the main character is pushing themselves and immersing themselves in their pursuit because there’s something deeper that they don’t want to face.”
Dir: Jonathan Sobol
“Tim Roth is so great at playing jaded and cynical and tough and slippery and dusty and dirty and sleazy characters – it’s a great Tim Roth role,” Schroeder said. “It’s a great popcorn flick. That’s one that I think people will really enjoy. I’m a big Tim Roth fan, I just find every character of his so compelling.”
Dir: Miranda de Pencier
“The Grizzlies is a crowd-pleaser,” Schroeder said. “It’s definitely an inspirational film. It’s the story of a young high school teacher who is assigned to go teach up in an Inuit community in the far north, with all of the challenges that exist in that community.”
Dir: Bruce Sweeney
“What I’m really looking forward to – I haven’t seen every film in the festival yet – I’m excited to see and I’m personally looking forward to Kingsway, which is set in Vancouver,” Schroeder said. “It’s by Bruce Sweeney, and I’ve enjoyed his work in the past quite a lot.”
The 19th Calgary International Film Festival runs Sept. 19 to 30, 2018. For a full list of films scheduled, visit Calgary Film.