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VIFF announces Canadian lineup for 2018 festival

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Edge of the Knife, the first feature film in the Haida language, will make its Western Canadian Premiere at VIFF 2018. Photo courtesy Vancouver International Film Festival.
Edge of the Knife, the first feature film in the Haida language, will make its Western Canadian Premiere at VIFF 2018. Photo courtesy Vancouver International Film Festival.

One of the biggest showcases of Canadian film in the world, the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) is set to return with the 2018 iteration of the festival Sept. 27 to Oct. 12, 2018. Along with its international programming, VIFF puts special care in selecting strong B.C.-based and Canadian work. The festival is a chance to get exposed to diverse stories and voices, according to VIFF executive director Jacqueline Dupuis.

“(Canadian film) presents the opportunity to tell really diverse stories that don’t necessarily have a specific theme or a specific identity. It’s a freedom to tell different types of stories. We’re seeing really unique voices and projects coming out of emerging filmmaking talent in Canada,” Dupuis said. “I think it’s a really interesting time for Canadian film and a really exciting time.”

The festival’s B.C. showcase, dubbed Sea to Sky, include’s Bruce Sweeney’s Kingsway, Vancouver Grizzlies love letter Finding Big Country and the first film produced in the Haida language, Edge of the Knife. Dupuis said the showcase includes a number of Indigenous features and allocates awards to chosen films in order to support the development of B.C. filmmakers.

“We’ve got such incredible talent here in British Columbia and in Canada,” Dupuis said. “We wanted to really highlight that and continue to grow and build their skills. B.C. has a really strong creative ecosystem because the creators have the opportunity to stay here in B.C. and work on some of the service production that happens here in the province, honing their skills while still developing their own projects.”

Though the festival has been screening Canadian film for years, Dupuis said this year’s lineup was another great chance for audiences to take in unique homegrown stories and perspective.

“If you haven’t seen a Canadian film before, come and see one and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Especially in these times where we’re really focused on ensuring that female filmmakers have the tools and opportunities at their disposal to make great work and that Indigenous stories are made and shown,” she said. “We’re talking about real problems and real situations and real opportunities in the world. Film is meant to change hearts and minds. It’s a good time to watch any film, but it’s a great time to watch Canadian stories in terms of the history of our country.”

Included below are a list of a few of the Canadian films announced August 9 as part of the 2018 Vancouver International Film Festival:

Edge of the Knife

Dir: Helen Haig Brown and Gwaai Edenshaw

More information

Finding Big Country

Dir: Kathleen S. Jayme

More information

Kingsway 

Dir: Bruce Sweeney

More information

N.O.N.

Dir: Zebulon Zang

More information

This Mountain Life

Dir: Grant Baldwin

More information

For full listings of the VIFF 2018 Canadian lineup, visit the Vancouver International Film Festival website. Stay tuned to The Mutt for previews of a number of films featured at this year’s festival. 

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Director Justin McConnell’s Lifechanger shapeshifts in fresh and surprising ways

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Lifechanger is part body horror and part thriller as Drew (played by multiple actors) seeks to correct his misdeeds with the woman he loves, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. The film stars Lora Burke, Jack Foley, Elitsa Bako and more. Photo courtesy GAT PR.
Lifechanger follows Drew (played by multiple actors), a shapeshifter seeking to correct his misdeeds with the woman he loves, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. The film stars Lora Burke, Jack Foley, Elitsa Bako and more. Photo courtesy GAT PR.

In Lifechanger, writer/director Justin McConnell’s (Broken Mile, Skull World) gripping and innovative thriller, a shapeshifter seeks to make things right with those he’s wronged, all the while leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. It’s a confident and refreshing take on the genre, one that effectively plays on its surprisingly affecting premise.

McConnell spoke with The Mutt to discuss Lifechanger, the challenges of utilizing an ensemble to play the same character and his strategy when it comes to standing out in a competitive genre. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

THE MUTT: The concept behind Lifechanger is pretty novel. Where’d you come up with it?

JUSTIN MCCONNELL: Well, in 2014 I was trying to come up with an idea I could do for a really low budget because I was frustrated trying to get a couple of larger projects off the ground. So I started brainstorming what I could do with basically pocket change. During that brainstorming session I just let ideas percolate and I was on a bus one day and thought, “What if I saw myself in public?” Which, of course, is Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy. But from that point, the idea organically grew into what this became. And then tonally, at that time I had been introspective, going through a lot of self-examination and depression, and that fed into the story and the tone of the script and who the character ended up being.

TM: What else played into the script? Were you influenced at all by other films in the genre?

JM: I watched every horror movie I could get my hands on growing up, and I still do. I’ve obviously seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, The Hidden, The First Power… the list is long of things that would make up the DNA of this idea, but it’s not like I was specifically thinking about one or two of those movies and thinking, “I’ll make a movie like that.” It just sort of came out of me.

TM: You incorporating that element of having a heart and a brain behind the horror elements of this movie… why do you think that’s important in this genre?

JM: I think it’s important in this particular film and in a lot of horror because you need to make something that stands out. The more personal you can get on an emotional level, the more they’re going to remember the film and the more it will cut through the noise. There’s way too much out there now. There’s a lot that doesn’t rise to the top and it’s very difficult to get noticed. So it’s good to break through into other genres and appeal to people who aren’t just hardcore goreheads. Though there’s nothing wrong with that approach, either I wouldn’t necessarily say a lot of the projects I’m working on now are full of heart. But for this one, it just organically kind of became that way, and I wanted to do something a little bit more grounded and personal while still being a horror film.

TM: I’ve seen the film described as part psychological thriller, part body horror… at this point in the process, how do you tend to explain the story to the unfamiliar?

JM: I like to say that it’s about a murderous shapeshifter on a mission trying to make things right with the woman he loves, and I leave it at that and let people come to their own conclusions. But there’s a lot you could say about the story. It’s less of a love story and more of an obsession story and about trying to be a better person and coming to terms with guilt. There’s a lot of other stuff going on, but I usually pitch it to people in the flattest way possible, with a hook, and let them come to their own conclusions.

Lifechanger director Justin McConnell said utilizing a diverse cast to portray the same character of Drew was a challenge, but one he relished taking on as a filmmaker. Photo courtesy GAT PR

Lifechanger director Justin McConnell said utilizing a diverse cast to portray the same character of Drew was a challenge, but one he relished taking on as a filmmaker. Photo courtesy GAT PR

TM: So, really, the shapeshifter element, that’s a tool to tell a deeper story. What was the balance there in telling that deeper story and pairing it with the shapeshifter story?

JM: It was important to me to do something fresh and new and get into the head of what a creature like this would be like at this stage in their life, having to live like a human all the time but having to life just outside of the species. So that was absolutely important, but you can pull that away and look at it on a metaphorical level. He’s changing and becoming someone else until he becomes someone else who appeals to the woman he loves. So it’s almost like a metaphor that if you’re in a bad relationship, you put on a mask and try to become who your partner wants you to be. If you do that your entire life, you end up living your entire life and never being yourself.

TM: As a director, what throughlines did you want to communicate to your cast to ensure they were playing this character using their own strengths as actors while still playing the same individual? 

JM: Well, the first thing I did when I had everyone casted was that I had written up a two- or three-page summary so they knew who this person is, where they are coming from, how they’d be psychologically. I tried to get that up front. We also had a “Drew boot camp,” where everybody who had to play Drew sat at a big conference table and we just talked for a few hours. In that session, we came up with stuff like the common tics that he has, the tone of voice that he uses fairly regularly, but I didn’t really want to step on their individual performances. So it was very specific things that could tie them to the character in a visible way without them having to overthink and have to act like the other person as much as possible, because I figured that would make all the performances really stilted. I tried to control that on set as best I could without stepping on it too much. In post-production, we as a team had to be very mindful of how Drew comes across on screen. If any particular actor had a scene or a delivery that was too far outside of what Drew’s character would be, it was cut out of the film.

TM: You guys were working with a limited budget, but the makeup and effects are very strong in the film. You took home the Best Practical Effects award from the Toronto After Dark festival. What was your approach to the effects given your budget?

JM: I’m pretty decently connected with the prosthetic and makeup effects community in Toronto, and there are a lot of really high-end effects people in the city. I knew that David Scott had wanted to work with me for quite a while, with his company Form & Dynamics, so I approached him with a listing of all the effects breakdowns. It was really quickly realized that we could actually pull off what I wanted to pull off. And we were clever and cut some corners and adapted past effects that they’d done and reskinned them and found other ways to cut costs, because we had a low-budget but we still wanted to pull off a ton of effects.

TM: Any parting words to moviegoers who haven’t seen Lifechanger yet?

JM: You don’t necessarily have to be a horror fan to enjoy this film. Anyone who is looking for a different kind of story, (Lifechanger is) something that’s violent but isn’t so gory that it’ll turn you off if you’re not into that kind of thing. And just to see a sample of what Canadian indie genre films are doing these days, because I think we’re in an independent renaissance in Canada right now. There are so many great Canadian independent films that have been funded outside of the Telefilm system in the last five years or so. It’s worth checking out and removing some of the stigma of thinking, “Oh, it’s just a Canadian movie.” That’s what I would say to Canadians. Anyone else, you’ll know pretty quickly by seeing the trailer whether you want to see it or not. Go into it with an open mind. If you like it, great, if you don’t, well, it’s not for everybody. Hopefully you enjoy it.

Lifechanger is now available on VOD across North America. For more information, click here.

To go back to the front page, click here.

Next up on The Mutt: Trench 11 takes the horror of the First World War deep underground

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The Woman Who Loves Giraffes follows life of famed zoologist

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The Woman Who Loves Giraffes focuses on zoologist Dr. Anne Innis Dagg, pictured here feeding giraffes at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago in 2016. Photo courtesy Elaisa Vargas
The Woman Who Loves Giraffes focuses on zoologist Dr. Anne Innis Dagg, pictured here feeding giraffes at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago in 2016. Photo courtesy Elaisa Vargas

Canadian zoologist Dr. Anne Innis Dagg, the central figure of The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, still finds it difficult to articulate exactly why her fascination and love for giraffes has persisted throughout her entire life. But Alison Reid, director of the 83-minute documentary, has a theory.

“She’s just captivated by the way they move. They’re such a tall and impressive creature. And (Anne) says, even if a giraffe is just walking, she always says, ‘Isn’t that stately?’” Reid said. “I think there’s something about their personalities that touches her, as well – they’re just so gentle and understated, but curious.

“I think it was because she was captivated at such a young age. There’s something about them imprinted on her. It became part of her DNA, somehow.”

Born in 1933 in Toronto, Dagg became fascinated with giraffes after visiting the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois at a young age. During the mid-1950s, she traveled alone to South Africa to study the animals, years before a similar expedition was undertaken by English primatologist Jane Goodall.

“(Studying animals in this fashion) wasn’t done at all at this time,” Reid said. “She was groundbreaking. Scientists did not study animals in the way they do now.”

After she returned to Canada, Dagg completed her PhD in animal behaviour at the University of Waterloo. Though her research and publication quickly became highly-lauded in academia, Dagg’s attempts to secure tenure at the University of Guelph were denied by administrators, who questioned her fitness for the role despite her ample qualifications. 

“I think at the time she was incredibly hurt and incredibly affected by it. She says in the film that she was so depressed over it – it cut to the core of her being,” Reid said. “And quite frankly, we were ripped off. The scientific community was ripped off in not allowing her to continue her studies. She was an incredible teacher. She ended up being a resource person at the University of Waterloo.”

But though Dagg was hurt and affected by the mistreatment, she pushed back. She began to research and write on gender bias in academia, something Reid said is as fundamental to her legacy as an educator as her work on giraffes. 

“They’re so intertwined. Her giraffe journey was so affected by the discrimination she faced and inspired her feminist activity. The two are co-mingled, for sure,” Reid said. “She’ll always be the pioneer of giraffe biology. She’ll always be that. But we’re hoping, she’s been nominated for the Order of Canada, so we’re really hoping that that comes to be. I think that would be a really good recognition for her.

“But we’re also hoping that the universities that prevented her from continuing her studies, perhaps they will come up with something that will be a legacy.”

Director Alison Reid (right) initially intended to make a narrative feature based on the life of Dr. Anne Innis Dagg before discovering the zoologist planned on making a return trip to Africa. Photo courtesy Anne Dixon.

Director Alison Reid (right) initially intended to make a narrative feature based on the life of Dr. Anne Innis Dagg before discovering the zoologist planned on making a return trip to Africa. Photo courtesy Anne Dixon.

It’s a fuller understanding of Dagg, and of her return to the field of giraffe research, that is documented as part of The Woman Who Loves Giraffes. Prior to beginning work on the documentary, Reid had started scripting a narrative film based on Dagg’s life. It was only upon meeting Dagg and conversing with her that Reid discovered the famed zoologist was planning to return to Africa.

“I just thought, this is historic. We have to shoot it,” Reid said.

It was in Africa that Reid discovered Dagg as she likely had been back in the 1950s – adventurous, tenacious and full of “get-up-and-go” attitude.

“I interviewed her in the Pearson Airport before we left. To see her a couple days later in Africa, in a pop-top vehicle, with the wind in her hair, just glowing and watching giraffes… she just came alive,” Reid said. “It was like she was a kid again. It was just amazing.”

Utilizing interview and both archival and present-day footage, Reid assembles an affecting and moving portrait of Dagg and of the animal that has captivated her rousing, unstoppable spirit.

“I want to be moved when I watch a film, and (The Woman Who Loves Giraffes) moves people,” Reid said. “So I made the film because it’s exactly the type of film I would want to see. So I hope others continue to be drawn to it as well.”

The Woman Who Loves Giraffes will play across Canada in January. For showtimes, click here.

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2018 in Canadian film and TV: 10 of our favourite picks this year

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(From left to right) Baroness von Sketch Show, Letter from Masanjia, Knuckleball, Wynonna Earp and The Go-Getters all made the list of our 10 favourite TV and film picks from 2018.
(From left to right) Baroness von Sketch Show, Letter from Masanjia, Knuckleball, Wynonna Earp and The Go-Getters all made the list of our 10 favourite TV and film picks from 2018.

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

Letter from Masanjia follows Sun Yi, a man who had been held as a political prisoner in Masanjia, a notorious labour camp. Above, he holds the letter that provoked a firestorm of coverage after a Oregon resident found it included with Halloween decorations purchased at KMart. Canadian film and TV news. Photo courtesy Flying Cloud Productions.

Letter from Masanjia follows Sun Yi, a man who had been held as a political prisoner in Masanjia, a notorious labour camp. Above, he holds the letter that provoked a firestorm of coverage after a Oregon resident found it included with Halloween decorations purchased at KMart. Photo courtesy Flying Cloud Productions.

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.

Read our story on Letter from Masanjia here.

Letter from Masanjia is now available on VOD.

Mr. D Season 8

CBC

The final episode of Mr. D airs Dec. 18 on CBC. The Mutt - Canadian film and TV news. Photo courtesy CBC

The final episode of Mr. D aired Dec. 18 on CBC. Photo courtesy CBC

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.

Read our interview with Gerry Dee here.

The complete series of Mr. D is now available to watch on CBC.

WALL

Dir: Cam Christiansen

WALL boasts a distinct visual style, something director Cam Christiansen said he wanted to emphasize to create a sense of authorship. The Mutt - Canadian film and TV news. Photo courtesy National Film Board of Canada

WALL boasts a distinct visual style, something director Cam Christiansen said he wanted to emphasize to create a sense of authorship. Photo courtesy National Film Board of Canada

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.

Read our story on WALL here.

More information on WALL is available via the National Film Board website.

Knuckleball

Dir: Michael Peterson

Knuckleball, directed by Michael Peterson, is described as a mix of Home Alone and The Shining. The Mutt – Canadian film and TV news. Photo courtesy GAT PR

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.

Read our interview with Peterson here.

Knuckleball is now available on iTunes and VOD. For more information, click here.

Baroness von Sketch Show

CBC

Before co-creating and starring on Baroness von Sketch Show, Aurora Browne co-starred on Comedy Inc. and was part of Toronto's Second City troupe. The Mutt - Canadian film and TV news. Photo courtesy Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Before co-creating and starring on Baroness von Sketch Show, Aurora Browne co-starred on Comedy Inc. and was part of Toronto’s Second City troupe. Photo courtesy Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

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.

Read our interview with Baroness von Sketch Show’s Aurora Browne here.

The third season of the Baroness von Sketch Show is available to watch on CBC.

The Go-Getters

Dir: Jeremy Lalonde

Directed by Jeremy Lalonde (How To Plan An Orgy In A Small Town), The Go-Getters is a dark comedy starring Aaron Abrams and Tommie-Amber Pirie as a hooker and a drunk trying to claw their way back from rock bottom. The Mutt - Canadian film and TV news. Photo courtesy Northern Banner Releasing.

Directed by Jeremy Lalonde (How To Plan An Orgy In A Small Town), The Go-Getters is a dark comedy starring Aaron Abrams and Tommie-Amber Pirie as a hooker and a drunk trying to claw their way back from rock bottom. Photo courtesy Northern Banner Releasing.

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!

Read our interview with Lalonde here.

The Go-Getters is currently playing in select theatres and launched on VOD on Christmas Day.

VIFF’s Future//Present program

Shot in modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, director Igor Drljača's The Stone Speakers is set to play as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival's 2018 Future//Present series. The Mutt - Canadian film and TV news. Photo courtesy Timelapse Pictures

Shot in modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, director Igor Drljača’s The Stone Speakers played as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival’s 2018 Future//Present series. Photo courtesy Timelapse Pictures

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.

Read the feature here.

The Vancouver International Film Festival returns in 2019.

Slave to the Grind

Dir: Doug Brown

Slave to the Grind is a documentary focused on grindcore. The Mutt - Canadian film and TV news.

Slave to the Grind is a feature-length documentary focused on the grindcore genre.

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.

Read the story here.

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

Space

Wynonna Earp airs Fridays at 9 p.m. E.T. on Space. The Mutt - Canadian film and TV news. Photo courtesy Bell Media

Wynonna Earp aired Fridays at 9 p.m. E.T. on Space. Photo courtesy Bell Media

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!

Read Ghezal Amiri’s recap of the double-sized Season 3 finale.

Wynonna Earp returns on Space in 2019. 

Genèse (Genesis)

Dir: Philippe Lesage

Director Philippe Lesage's Genesis is the second autobiographical film from the Quebecois director, following 2015's Les démons. The Mutt - Canadian film and TV news. Photo courtesy Ixion Communications

Director Philippe Lesage’s Genesis is the second autobiographical film from the Quebecois director, following 2015’s Les démons. Photo courtesy Ixion Communications

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.

Read our interview with Lesage here.

Genèse is now screening at festivals worldwide.

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