Canadian film riches at VIFF deny shaky future

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      If there was ever a time when supporting Canadian film was a political act, now is definitely one of them.

      Bill C-10, federal legislation that would enable the government to deny tax credits to film productions that are “contrary to public policy”, and the recent funding cuts to national training schools have cast an uncertain light on the future of Canadian film.

      On the line from Port Alberni, Terry McEvoy, the Canadian Images programmer for the Vancouver International Film Festival (September 25 to October 10, ( who has 25 years of filmmaking experience, says that although he has faith in Canadian talent, he is concerned that the cuts will have a profound impact.

      “All this money that’s been taken away, all the federal support from the Canadian Film Centre and other various entities across the country that are training institutions, is staggering. If you look at the list of films that I’m bragging about—the high level and quality of Canadian films—and you subtract everyone who had a pivotal training in Winnipeg or Toronto or Vancouver through one of these centres of learning and excellence, it’d be a hell of a lot shorter conversation.”

      In fact, McEvoy and associate programmer Sarah Muff narrowed down 600 Canadian submissions (250 of those from B.C.) to 90 selections for this year’s VIFF. “I have another pile of 50 on my right-hand side that could be in the festival,” McEvoy, in his third year of programming this series, says. “We have an embarrassment of riches.”

      Several common themes emerged. One was parenthood. Local director Carl Bessai used the $12,000 Citytv Western Canada Feature Film Award he won at last year’s VIFF to create the improvised comedy-drama Mothers & Daughters, starring a collaborative ensemble cast, including Babz Chula and Tantoo Cardinal.

      From Atlantic Canada, there’s Growing Op, about a son contending with pot-growing parents. And from Quebec are Maman est chez le coiffeur and C’est pas moi, je le jure! “Both ones,” McEvoy says, “are about family and kids in an existential crisis in relationships between them and their parents.”

      McEvoy, who grew up in Ottawa and went to a French-language school, says: “If wishes were horses and I could program as many films as I wanted, I would program more films from Quebec.” One selection that particularly impressed McEvoy was Suivre Catherine, about a Québécoise filmmaker’s move to Paris to be with her girlfriend. “A lot of people do navel-gazing films. Rarely does one have the eye, the ear, and the wit that this woman [director Jeanne Crépeau] exhibits.”

      Cross-cultural family matters are addressed in Heaven on Earth, in which an Indian bride immigrates to join her Canadian husband in Brampton, Ontario. Compared to Deepa Mehta’s other films, McEvoy says “it’s not as grand a scale. But for those to whom that was a complaint, this may satisfy them”¦I would have to say she’s one of Canada’s great directors.”

      Others who inhabit that rarefied realm include Kari Skogland, who follows up last year’s The Stone Angel with another literary adaption, Fifty Dead Men Walking. Of Atom Egoyan’s Adoration, McEvoy notes that “some people are saying it’s the most accessible Atom Egoyan film. It’s hard for me to disagree.”

      Another quintessentially Canadian theme was hard to escape. “I saw several films that were three months in a canoe or a kayak or a raft.” One that stood out was the documentary Borealis, a 75-day canoe trip through the boreal forest. “It [the film] transcended its means in the sense that there’s two guys and there’s no other crew with them—you can tell.”

      Vancouverite Ryan Knighton, who has a degenerative eye condition, takes a different kind of journey in As Slow as Possible, a documentary about his trip to hear a single note change in a 639-year performance of a John Cage composition in a German church.

      McEvoy noticed an increase in mockumentaries, possibly due to the success of 2006’s Radiant City.One that “really shone”, in his opinion, is Let Him Be, about the discovery of a man in Canada resembling John Lennon.

      The torch of Canada’s sex-fetish genre is carried by Control Alt Delete, about—believe it or not—computer hardware sex. (Tellingly, local director Lynne Stopkewich, of Kissed fame, is a producer.) McEvoy calls it an interesting “period piece” set in 1999. “It’s a very interesting kind of treatment. Throws you back to the dinosaur days of computers. It seems like a million years ago when you watch it.” He also thought local actor Sonja Bennett (Young People Fucking) stood out. “I think she really nails it this time.”

      With a little something for everyone, there’s even Edison & Leo, one of the first Canadian stop-motion animation feature films, which McEvoy describes as a “quirky story for a sophisticated family audience”.

      The good news is that the Canadian films are traditionally “in the higher levels of popularity” at the VIFF. “People who complain about Canadian film I don’t think are coming to watch much of the program here,” McEvoy says, “because it really is pretty good.” Hopefully, not only the general populace but also our politicians will take note.