TIFF Announces Canadian Line-up: A mix of veterans and newcomers (and no Dolan!)

Ingrid Veninger's Porcupine Lake debuts at TIFF
Courtesy of TIFF

There were three recurring questions at today’s TIFF press conference for Canadian films screening at this year’s festival:

1) Where’s the Dolan?
2) What about opening night?
3) Which of these people have you heard of?

Let’s unpack the #tiff17 interrogation in a game of bon cop/bad cop.

Xavier Dolan's The Death and Life of John F. Donovan
Shane Laverdière / Les Films Seville
Question the first: it was widely assumed that Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F. Donovan would be the major addition to this year’s Canadian programming at TIFF. The new film from one of Canada’s hottest directors is just about as big as Canadian films can get. Dolan’s first English-language film stars red carpet friendly Jessica Chastain, Natalie Portman, Kit Harrington, Susan Sarandon, Jacob Tremblay, Kathy Bates, and Adele, among others. After rebounding at TIFF last year following a toxic Cannes reception, Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World finished impeccably on the artistic front, scoring Screenies, Jutras, and Césars galore in addition to being one of nine films shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Everything made sense for Dolan to be here, including a recent blip on the marketing front with character posters teasing the film’s release, but it wasn’t. Ask around and theories abound. Friends in the industry and media side of things report a relatively consistent, if speculative, story that says Dolan was unhappy with the berth TIFF offered him: A respectable red carpet affair, but not opening night or a slot in the prestigious Masters programme, which would’ve stroked the ego and capitalised on the event. One member of TIFF’s Canadian programming team, however, says it simply wasn’t ready. I’m inclined to believe the latter, unless Dolan simply found a better offer from Sundance or Berlin.

On to question two. A few people previously thought that Dolan’s film might have been the opener when neither it nor the opening night Gala were announced at the first major press conference two weeks ago. That film turned out to be the Shia LaBeef brodown Borg vs. McEnroe, if for no other reason than that the Emma Stone/Steve Carell tennis title Battle of the Sexes wanted to go to Telluride first. The latter film would have been a much better fit for the festival’s #shareherstory campaign to promote women filmmakers and talent.

On the other hand, a few conversations corroborated speculation that a hipper Canadian film was tossed around as the opener and TIFF’s choice to have directors/partners Jennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier speak at the conference somewhat validated this assumption. The festival generally pairs the speeches with a newcomer and a veteran, and the Long Time Running duo took the stage despite having their film announced two weeks ago. One might have guessed Platform winner Alan Zweig or, more likely, Alanis Obomsawin would have been the right choice for veteran talent announced today. But that’s all speculation, theories, and talk over poutine.
Alanis Obomsawin's Our People Will Be Healed
Courtesy of TIFF
Finally, the most frequent question of the day was one of name recognition. In this case, however, the consensus was one of excitement. It was a thrill to see such a wave of discoveries on the horizon.

Aside from veteran filmmakers Obomsawin, Zweig, and DenisCôté representing documentary at the festival, there weren’t many recognisable names announced. (Check back at POV for an interview with Côté on his doc closer to the festival.) There’s Kim Nguyen with Eye on Juliet and Ingrid Veninger with the terrific looking Porcupine Lake, plus Mina Shum with her fourth dramatic feature Meditation Park, but familiarity wasn’t the name of the game today. Discovery was.

Many TIFF announcements and events have been heavily embroiled with identity politics and today’s announcement was no exception. However, the Canadian team made a fair effort to promote new artists while emphasising the originality of vision and freshness of the voices on display at the festival this year, which was important in terms of advancing the conversation for promoting talent from all backgrounds.

Molly Parker's Bird
Courtesy of TIFF
This year’s Canadian line-up unveiled a lot of features from emerging talents with Guidance’s Pat Mills and Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves’ Simon Lavoie returning to the festival with Don’t Talk to Irene and The Little Girl Who Played with Matches offering intriguing comedy and art film fodder, respectively, while Backcountry’s Adam MacDonald offers more genre fare with Pyewacket as does zombie flick director Robin Aubert. Equally promising was the short film front with a new doc from Michelle Latimer produced by Laura Poitras, the directorial debut of actress Molly Parker, and a new short from actor/up and coming director Connor Jessup. Filmmakers making the jump from shorts to features include Molly McGlynn (Mary Goes Around), Wayne Wapeemukwa (Luk'Luk'I), and Grayson Moore and Aidan Shipley (Cardinals), who’ve had some of the stronger shorts at recent festivals.

Whatever happened with the Dolan and the potential opening night, however, is their loss and our gain.

Canadian films at TIFF are:


Eye on Juliet
Kim Nguyen, Canada | North American Premiere


Our People Will Be Healed
Alanis Obomsawin, Canada | World Premiere

The Carter Effect
Sean Menard, Canada/USA | World Premiere

Living Proof
Matt Embry, Canada  | World Premiere

There is a House Here
Alan Zweig, Canada | World Premiere


A Worthy Companion
Carlos Sanchez, Jason Sanchez, Canada | World Premiere

All You Can Eat Buddha
Ian Lagarde, Canada | World Premiere

Sadaf Foroughi, Iran/Canada/Qatar | World Premiere  

Black Cop
Cory Bowles, Canada | World Premiere

Grayson Moore, Aidan Shipley, Canada | World Premiere

Wayne Wapeemukwa, Canada | World Premiere

Mary Goes Round
Molly McGlynn, Canada } World Premiere

Never Steady, Never Still
Kathleen Hepburn, Canada | World Premiere


Tarique Qayumi, Canada/Afghanistan | World Premiere

Don't Talk to Irene
Pat Mills, Canada | World Premiere

Les Affamés
Robin Aubert, France/Canada | World Premiere

Meditation Park
Mina Shum, Canada | World Premiere

Porcupine Lake
Ingrid Veninger, Canada | World Premiere

Public Schooled
Kyle Rideout, Canada | World Premiere

Adam MacDonald, Canada | World Premiere

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches (La petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes)
Simon Lavoie, Canada | World Premiere


Alias Grace
Mary Harron, Canada/USA | World Premiere


Blake Williams, Canada | North American Premiere

Ta peau si lisse (A Skin so Soft)
Denis Côté, Canada/Switzerland | North American Premiere

TIFF runs Sept. 7-17.