Anticipated Canadian Titles for TIFF

Podz (centre) with Dolan and Castonguay on the set of Miraculum
Happy Canada Day! As we celebrate our national holiday, let’s look forward to the biggest Canadian event of the year, the Toronto International Film Festival. TIFF, in spite of becoming a red carpet bonanza and a launching pad for award season hopefuls, still holds its Canadian roots rather well. Canuck films have already had a strong presence at festivals this year, with Vic and Flo Saw a Bear and Sarah Prefers to Run receiving strong receptions at Berlin and Cannes, respectively. Denis Côté’s Vic and Flo, unfortunately, probably won’t show up at Toronto since in opens in theatres September 6th. TIFF starts September 5th, so it could have a screening alongside the opening night selection on Thursday and use the festival to kick off its theatrical release. (The silver lining of Vic and Flo’s absence at TIFF means that one could then see it in theatres for half the price during a lull in the festival.) Sarah, meanwhile, opened theatrically in Gatineau, Quebec, but not in Ottawa, so it could be at TIFF with hopes to use its subtitled-Canadian premiere as a run to the Oscars.

I’ve also been lucky to see several upcoming Canuck festival hopefuls in various stages at test screenings and whatnot. I can’t say which ones, unfortunately, but I will say there is a lot to look forward to, as the four films ranged from very good to very humorous to midnight B-movie fun to not-so-great-but-could-be-if-given-a-substantial-recut. I’d see all of them in their final versions, too, and I look forward to reviewing them at the festival.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman in Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners
Interestingly enough, some of the most high profile films by Canadian directors will bring the intersection of local and global to the festival, as many of the country’s top filmmakers will likely be hitting the festival with international films. Denis Villeneuve, Atom Egoyan, Paul Haggis, and Jean-Marc Vallée will presumably present Prisoners, Devil’s Knot, Third Person and Dallas Buyers Club, respectively, in top spots at Toronto and/or Venice and Telluride. Villeneuve and Egoyan could actually appear with both hands full, as they each have a Canadian film that could be at the festival. Villeneuve’s José Saramago adaptation An Enemy is almost inevitable for the festival(s), but Egoyan’s Toronto-shot Queen of the Night might not be 100% ready. Likewise, Denys Arcand has his first film in six years, Deux nuits (Two Nights) in the works, but it too might not be complete for TIFF.

Even if the big players aren’t ready, Toronto could really shine a light on Canadian talent. I’ve already written about a few Canuck films that could make a splash at TIFF, like Gabrielle, Hold Fast, and An Enemy, and Xavier Dolan’s Tom à la ferme has already be predicted as a festival contender by many other outlets, so instead here’s a list of ten additional films I hope to see at the festival:

Baby How’d We Ever Get This Way

 “He's trying to get his mojo back and she's in jail for screwing a twelve-year-old,” says director Bruce McDonald (Trigger) while summing up his new film to NOW Magazine. There’s also some mention of a big eight foot cube containing a naked chick debating reading Das Kapital. Sounds like classic Bruce McDonald indeed. I’m psyched. McDonald once again shoots against the backdrop of Toronto—nobody else frames the city like he does—for this dark comedy. Baby How’d We Ever Get This Way stars Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, who co-wrote the screenplay with Kelly Harms, and Sarah Allen (from How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You!) alongside Stephen McHattie (Pontypool), Meghan Heffern (Old Stock), and Jodi Balfour (“Bomb Girls”). The title comes from the song by Andy Kim, so maybe we can hope for another great soundtrack from McDonald? (And another great film, of course!)

Empire of Dirt

Peter Stebbins’ 2009 debut Defendor is a hilarious parody of and addition to the wave of silly superhero films that have inundated screens the past decade. Stebbins, directing a script from debut writer Shannon Masters, looks to be working in the opposite direction with Empire of Dirt, a family drama about a single mother (Cara Gee) who returns home in order to save her young daughter from a life on the streets. Upon her homecoming, she must confront the hatred for her own mother (played by Jennifer Podemski, whose Red Cloud Studios produced the film) that led her to leave home in the first place. Podemski’s Take This Waltz co-star Luke Kirby also appears in the film. Mongrel Media already has Canadian distribution for Empire of Dirt, which gives a pretty good hint that Stebbins is just as good at drama as he is at comedy.

The Grand Seduction

This production sounds intriguing. It’s a remake of the Quebec hit La grande seduction (called Seducing Doctor Lewis in its English release), which was quite a hit when it was released in 2003. The film, a warm, Waking Ned Devine-ish charmer is impossible not to love. It's such a crowd pleaser that it even won an audience award at Sundance. The remake, directed by Don McKellar and written by Michael Dowse and Ken Scott (the latter of which wrote the original screenplay for Seducing Doctor Lewis), stars Brendan Gleeson as the proverbial doctor who is enticed by members of a small town to stay in their community so that they can secure a factory that will bring them some much-needed jobs. Starring alongside Gleeson is a list of notable Canadian actors like Gordon Pinsent, Taylor Kitsch, and Liane Balaban. With an audience friendly tone, a range of Canadian and non-Canadian stars, and a story that might have more resonance than it did in 2003, The Grand Seduction could be one of the more high-profile Canadian titles at this year’s festival.

Hard Drive

William D. MacGillivray’s career has been fairly quiet since 1988’s Life Classes. Life Classes is an unusual tale of how we see and express ourselves through art. It might have been eclipsed by David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, which offered a similar allegory with a greater punch, but Life Classes is nevertheless a notable film for Maritime Canada from the 1980s for its lovely story that highlights the importance of seeing ourselves on our own screens. MacGillivray returns with his first dramatic film in over twenty years with an adaptation of Hal Niedzviecki’s novel Ditch. Hard Drive is a dark psychological drama and tale of young love between an American runaway named Debs (Laura Wiggins) and a Canadian underachiever named Ditch (Douglas Smith). Joining MacGillivray and company in this Halifax-shot film is Anne of Green Gables star Megan Follows, who helped attract audiences to Canadian content with the hit miniseries based on the book by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Could Hard Drive be a comeback for her too?

I Put a Hit on You

Full disclosure: I really want this film to do well. I contributed to the Indiegogo campaign last year (not much/ blogger funds), but it’s one of the only projects I’ve come across to wind up on the positive side of my love/hate relationship with crowd-sourcing. I Put a Hit on You is worth the donation because directors Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart have proven themselves as adept tellers of lo-fi love stories. (Their short Margo Lily is truly lovely.) Hit, their feature debut as directors, could provide a good snapshot of contemporary Canadian cinema with its unconventional love story about a broken-hearted woman (Sarah Canning, “The Vampire Diaries”), who teams up with her ex-boyfriend (Aaron Ashmore, “Smallville”) to stop the hit man she accidentally hired to kill him. It’s already been a good year for indie comedies in Canada, so fans of Picture Day, Molly Maxwell, and Old Stock (for which Clark wrote the clever script) will want to put Hit in their sights if it plays at the festival.


Podz (aka Daniel Grou) earned Genie/Canadian Screen Award Best Picture nominations for his previous films 10½ and L’affaire Dumont. Nevertheless, Canadians outside Quebec probably had a better chance of seeing the impressive L’affaire Dumont on an airplane than they did of watching it in a theatre. It sounds like Podz is working on a larger scale than before with Miraculum, so this might be the film that introduces him to a wider audience. The film has the added attraction of reuniting I Killed My Mother stars Xavier Dolan and Anne Dorval for a multi-narrative ensemble film in which characters intersect and affect the lives of others. L’affaire Dumont star Marilyn Castonguay also appears as Dolan’s fellow Jehovah’s Witness. Produced by Pierre Even and Marie-Claude Poulin, who took Canada to the Oscars last year with Rebelle, Miraculum brings some of Quebec’s biggest talent together both in front of and behind the camera. Miraculum sounds like an event for Canadian film! Miraculum only wrapped filming in early May and TIFF’s submission deadline was May 24, so it’s possible that something was submitted on time for the film to be accepted and arrive at the festival in a final cut. Fingers crossed. Miraculum opens in Canada November 15, so the wait won’t be too long if it doesn’t show up in Toronto.

Queen of the Night

Is it too much to hope that Atom Egoyan will pull double duty at the festival? Devil’s Knot seems like a stronger bet to make an appearance in Toronto while Queen of the Night might wait until Berlin. Egoyan and some of his Devil’s Knot co-stars must have gotten along well, as Mireille Enos and Kevin Durand are working with the director on both projects. The actors join Ryan Reynolds, Rosario Dawson, and Egoyan film regular Bruce Greenwood in this thriller about a father (Reynolds) in search of his missing daughter. Queen of the Night sounds to have overtones of Devil’s Knot, plus Exotica, with its tale of lost children, and it’s the kind of delicate subject matter that the director handles extremely well. Queen only began filming in February, but it seems to be moving quickly enough to hope that post-production will finish on a similar schedule. It would be nice to see Egoyan in Toronto with another Canadian film.

Photo by Daniel Francis Haber

Rhymes for Young Ghouls

Canada needs more films like Rhymes for Young Ghouls. Few films bring stories of indigenous Canadians to the screen and even less of them have told of Canada’s history with Residential Schools. Rhymes for Young Ghouls, told in a mix of English and Mi'gmaq, is a tough, gritty tale of how the schools’ legacy haunts the present generation. Devery Jacobs stars as Aila, a fourteen-year old girl determined to restore order to her reserve when her father returns home from prison. Both a revenge drama and a mythical tale of righting the wrongs of the past, Rhymes for Young Ghouls could yield one of the biggest discoveries for festival audiences with their introduction to writer/director Jeff Barnaby.

Stage Fright

Did you feel the urge to kill about partway through Score: A Hockey Musical? If yes, you might want to see the slasher-musical Stage Fright, which paints the town red with the campy fun of musical-comedy kitsch. Score’s Allie MacDonald stars in this horror comedy about a killer on the loose in a musical theatre camp. Meat Loaf co-stars as the camp director and Minnie Driver makes a hilarious cameo as Allie’s mother. The Midnight Madness crowd might want to find the lyrics to one of the Stage Fright tunes to get the crowd going as they pass the beach ball before the screening.

That Burning Feeling

Everyone likes to add a fun little sex-comedy into a festival line-up, right? Last year’s TIFF hit My Awkward Sexual Adventure provided some refreshing humour and escapism amidst the heavier fare that usually dominates festival programmes, and the unconventional rom-com That Burning Feeling could do the same. Dubbed “a romantic comedy about the least romantic thing,” That Burning Feeling puts Adam (Paulo Costanzo) on an awkward adventure as he must confront the lovers/one night stands of his past and see which of his former lovers gave him a venereal disease. My Awkward Sexual Adventure’s Emily Hampshire co-stars as one of Adam’s former flings alongside John Cho (Star Trek into Darkness) and Tyler Labine (“Breaker High”) in this funny and surprisingly sweet love story. That Burning Feeling marks the directorial debut of Jason James, who produced the films Repeaters (2010) and Cole (2009), which screened at the festival.

Which Canadian films do you hope to see in Toronto?