'Canada First' exits TIFF?

Wetlands, one of the breakouts from 2011's Canada First series.
The Toronto International Film Festival released today its list of programmes for the 2012 edition of the festival. As always, it looks promising; however, one can’t help but notice the absence of the Canada First programme. The Canada First programme is an important component of the festival because it showcases first features by emerging Canadian filmmakers. While TIFF requires big hits like Moneyball or The Descendants (my favourite film from last year’s festival) to draw in the big stars, crowds, and money that help make the festival as strong as it is, the Canada First series offered a section that guaranteed a place for new Canadian talents. The big hits help create the audiences and the hope is always that festivalgoers will branch out from the hot tickets and discover something new.

Did The Whistleblower benefit from being a Special Presentation?
For example, among the breakouts from last year’s Canada First section were Wetlands and Nuit #1 . On the other hand, though, Canadian first features have always found a place elsewhere in the festival, with strong films like The Whistleblower and Edwin Boyd playing in the Special Presentations programme, and plenty of films by new Canadian talents sit comfortably in the Contemporary World Cinema series (see, for example, A Night for Dying Tigers and 388 Arletta Avenue). There is also the Discovery series, too, which shows films from new directors. Slots in the Special Presentations, CWC, or even the Gala Series are probably more likely to expand the audience beyond Can-Con groupies such as myself, so the omission of the Canada First series might not be a bad thing. Likewise, the perilous state of funding for Canadian arts might simply make it impractical to devote an entire series to new Canadian films. But if a Canadian festival does not offer such a series, then who does? The programme always notes the country of origin, though, so it might simply be the case that those on the hunt for new Canadian films might just have to look closer.

It’s important to note that the omission of Canada First does not come at a complete loss to Canadian films. New to the festival is a programme called TIFF Cinemateque, which offers “Curated gems from the history of Canadian and international cinema.” So perhaps festivalgoers can take in hard-to-find Canadian classics while also seeing something new. Hot Docs, for example, devoted an entire series to the films of John Kastner in the 2012 edition of the festival, as well as a trio of films by Michel Brault. TIFF’s mission throughout the year is to educate Torontonians about classic films through its Cinemateque, so why not use the festival to show audiences the films that offer the foundation of the industry?

What do you think? Is it better to group all the new Canadian talents together, or might the switch be beneficial?

Also, here is the list of programmes for TIFF 2012:

City To City
Bringing international cities to Toronto audiences. A snapshot of where’s hot right now. This year, City to City focuses on Mumbai.

Contemporary World Cinema
Compelling stories, global perspectives.

Directors to watch. The future of world cinema.

Future Projections
Taking the moving image from the cinema to the gallery — and beyond.

Gala Presentations
Movie stars. Red carpet premieres. Major audience interest.

The latest from the world's most influential arthouse filmmakers.

Engaging on-stage conversations with leaders in the film industry and beyond.

Midnight Madness
The wild side: midnight screenings of the best in action, horror, shock and fantasy cinema.

Short Cuts Canada
The best short films from emerging and established Canadian filmmakers.

Special Presentations
High-profile premieres and the world’s leading filmmakers.

TIFF Cinematheque (new this year)
Curated gems from the history of Canadian and international cinema.

TIFF Docs (formerly Real to Reel)
Candid and unscripted: the best non-fiction cinema from around the world.

Family films from around the world: entertaining and illuminating.

Provocative, sexy, possibly dangerous. This is what’s next.

Daring, visionary and autonomous voices. Films that expand our notions of cinema. (Beginning in 2012, Visions and Wavelengths unite under one programme). 

TIFF 2012 runs September 6-16.