Thursday, August 08, 2013

TIFF13: Oh Canada!

Ariane Legault in Catherine Martin's Une Jeune Fille
Gabrielle-Marion Rivard in Louise Archambault's Gabrielle
One of the oldest and most important roles of TIFF has been to introduce and promote home grown talent. Since the old Perspective Canada  programme was eliminated from TIFF in the early 2000s, Canadian feature films have been turning up as part of general fare, scattered throughout the other programmes where they appropriately fit into a theme or style. I found the decision to eradicate Perspective Canada a controversial one at the time and am still not convinced. Since we are a nation of diverse and separate film industries, it was helpful for Canadians to have a programme that shows how Canadian filmmakers view the world, and provided the rare opportunity to compare and contrast those voices. On the other hand, the movement this year of Canadian filmmakers like Atom Egoyan, Jean-Marc Vallée and Denis Villeneuve to making high-profile American films about American subjects does perhaps affirm the TIFF decision. While these films are likely to be strong entries in the fest, we cannot call them Canadian. Or can we? I'm sure we will hear some debate on this!

The good news, however, is that we won't have to wait til next year to have a Canadian film from at least one of these gentlemen. Denis Villeneuve will be offering two films in this year's fest: besides the already announced Prisoners, he brings to the festival Enemy, about a Canadian professor (Jake Gyllenhall) who discovers his doppelgänger and becomes obsessed with that man and the man's life. If Villeneuve's previous films were not already enough to prepare us for a darker edge to this psychosexual thriller, the presence of Isabella Rossellini as his mother, makes it vivid. From a filmmaker who never disappoints.

Jennifer Baichwal's Watermark
In my wrap-up to TIFF on this blog in 2006, I listed two Canadian films that were among the ten that most impacted me that year: Jennifer Baichwal's Manufactured Landscapes, and Catherine Martin's L'esprit des lieux. Both films looked at how we perceive environments, and the role of the artist in capturing and archiving the ever-shifting geography of those places. I am very excited that both women are back this year with new films. Baichwal's Watermark, marks a return to collaboration between the filmmaker and photographer Edward Burtynsky, as they explore the global customs and traditions and cultural relationships to water that have impacted the way in which that most essential of resources is being depleted. It is also shot in ultra-hi def with impactful aerial shots. (Watch the compelling trailer here.) The short explanatory note given for Une Jeune Fille reads, "Inspired by Robert Bresson’s classic Mouchette, the new film from Catherine Martin (Trois temps après la mort d’Anna, L’esprit des lieux) follows a teenage girl who flees an unbearable home life for the rugged beauty of Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula." It will be interesting to see if the film falls into the recently increasingly-of-interest 'essay films' genre, as Bresson's films certainly do. At the very least, the combination of filmmaker and subject matter, make both these films heavy-hitters for me.

Xavier Dolan in his own film, Tom à la ferme
Last year, I was knocked out by Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways, which went on to win the Best Canadian Feature Film of that year. An accomplished filmmaker who is still in his early 20s, Dolan is more than just a stylish provocateur: his films capture human crisis against the backdrop of vivid social context. This year Dolan is back with Tom a la ferme, which he also stars in. Featuring Evelyne Brochu, named on Wednesday as one of TIFF13's four "Rising Stars", it follows a young man as he visits the parents of his dead lover. Dolan co-wrote the screenplay with Québecois playwright Michel Marc Bouchard, adapting from his own play. Also noteworthy is an original score by Gabriel Yared, who scored The English Patient

Louise Archambault's Gabrielle (see above) is her second dramatic feature following the impressive Familia in 2005 (though Archambault has made a documentary feature and two shorts since then). Gabrielle is a young woman with intellectual challenges whose capacity for independence and autonomy is ignited when she falls in love with a man in the choir they sing in. The trailer indicates a film of subtlety and beauty from the producers of Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar, two of the best Québecois films of recent memory. 

Robert Lepage and Pedro Pires' Triptych
And speaking of Québec, while I was in Québec City this past summer, I had the opportunity to see a projected son et lumiere show outdoors in the lower city, presented by Robert Lepage's company Ex Machina. A tribute to the great Canadian animator Norman MacLaren, it ingeniously celebrated his work with clips and animations that ran along a series of buildings, lighting up the portlands. I was reminded of how brilliant Lepage is (though no one who has been keeping up with his productions with The Metropolitan Opera, where he has brought extraordinary technological innovation to stagecraft, could ever doubt it.) It has been a while, however, since he's made a film, so I am happy that Lepage is bringing one to TIFF. Based on his own theatrical project Lipsynch, Triptych follows three individuals in Montreal: a bookseller, a brain surgeon and a jazz singer. Co directed with Pedro Pires who is also the cinematographer, the programme notes promise a "sublime narrative geometry" as the three lives all eventually overlap and intersect.

Short Cuts Canada
Luckily, around the same time they eliminated Perspective Canada, TIFF created the Short Cuts Canada Programme as a way of staying true to celebrating emerging filmmakers. It used to be that shorts were only of interest in how they led an artist to make a feature film. In the last two decades, with the advent of internet and digital video technologies, that has all changed. Now shorts are becoming more and more refined and sophisticated, and the filmmakers' ages are getting younger.

Magalie Lépine-Blondeau in Monia Chokri's
Quelqu'un d'Extraordinaire
TIFF tweeted proudly that fifteen of the Short Cuts Canada directors are returning filmmakers from previous years. The six compiled programmes feature a higher number of animation and 3D entries than in previous years, with the promise of some innovative work. Short Cuts Canada Programme 5 is the particular collection that I have flagged, with four animations that look at slice of life realities (two of them in 3D), an essay film (see above), and the first directing effort from Québecois actress and Xavier Dolan favourite Monia Chokri. The films are: Impromptu (Alcock), The End of Pinky (Blanchet), The Chaperone 3D (Munden/Rathbone), Crime: Joe Latoya - The Beirut Bandit (Lambert/Chou), Numbers & Friends (Carson), Roland (Cornish), and Quelqu'un d'Extraordinaire (Chokri). The brief write-ups of these miniatures suggest a nice mix of the experimental and the animated comedy.

Among the other innovations in the SCC line-up: within 24 hours of their TIFF premieres, the Canadian shorts will be available on the TIFF youtube channel and a youtube award will ultimately be given. While this seems like a great idea to increase accessibility, reflecting the most relevant way that shorts get viewed these days, I find myself thinking it would be much wiser to do so at the end of the fest itself. Putting them online so soon into the festival is likely a nod to Industry folks who need to spend their screening time in more important veues than the shorts screenings. But if the films are available online, who will attend the live screenings? Movies were made to be watched on screen - even shorts! The festival is a showcase exhibition that has been carefully curated. I'm not sure how this decision extends that truth. It seems like just a way to tap into the social media aspect of shorts production. Why follow the trend? 

Much more to come!

No comments: