Magazine article Variety

2016: Have Canadian Films Achieved Cultural Legitimacy?

Magazine article Variety

2016: Have Canadian Films Achieved Cultural Legitimacy?

Article excerpt

Few people have had a better front-row seat to observe the changes in Canadian film than Piers Handling, director and chief executive officer of the Toronto International Film Festival. In 1984, he coordinated a Canadian film retrospective of more than 100 feature films. That same year saw the establishment of the decennial Canadian all-time top 10 poll and the long-running Perspective Canada program.

More than 30 years later, Handling can feel satisfaction that, by 2016, Canadian film has achieved cultural legitimacy. This year, Canadian co-productions, Brooklyn and Room, earned Oscar best picture nominations and turned in some strong performances at the box office both at home and in the U.S., while Quebec wunderkind, Xavier Dolan, took the runner-up Grand Prize at Cannes for It's Only the End of the World.

Over the last five years, between 2011-2015, Canadian films have accounted for 12% of the overall Canadian independent film box office - in a highly competitive market.

In the eighties, says Handling, the festival caught the crest of a wave of a generation of new young filmmakers such as Atom Egoyan, Peter Metler, Patricia Rozema and Bruce McDonald, who tended to focus on personal, local films.

"The big difference as I jump ahead thirty years is that the scope and aspirations are far more international. Directors are working with other scriptwriters and other stories. [Quebec directors] Jean-Marc Vallée or Denis Villeneuve and now, Xavier Dolan, they're working in another language. There's been a huge opening in terms of subject matter well beyond the boundaries of this country."

Last year, TIFF dispensed with its Canadian-themed programs, putting its Canadian films in an international context. Handling cites Indo-Canadian director, Deepa Mehta as a filmmaker who "set the tone" for contemporary filmmakers by working both in India (her Elements trilogy, Earth, Fire and Water) and Canada ("Republic of Love", TIFF 2015's Beeba Boys). Her current TIFF feature, Anatomy of Violence, is based on the 2012 sexual assault and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a Delhi bus.

By now, TIFF audiences understand that Canadian films can be set anywhere. Ann Marie Fleming's animated feature, Window Horses, about a young Canadian poet whose life is transformed when she attends a poetry festival, takes place in Iran, while Johnny Ma's taxi driver drama, Old Stone, is set in a provincial city in mainland China. Joan Andrés Arango Garcia's X Quinientos, a story of parallel lives and their experiences dealing with the death of loved ones, is rooted in Colombia, Mexico and Canada, while Jamaican-Canadian filmmaker, Stella Meghie's Jean of the Joneses, about the mishaps of a young aspiring writer and her dysfunctional multi-generational Jamaican-American family, is set in Brooklyn. …

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