Growing up in Gatineau, Magali Simard never paid much attention to Canadian cinema, or at least not to ROC (rest of Canada) cinema.
“I certainly had a grasp of Québécois cinema,” said Simard, who is in her third year programming the Canadian selection at the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs Sept. 7 to 17.
As usual, Quebec is more than well represented, with nine features among TIFF’s 28 Canadian titles. As a native Québécoise, Simard is well placed to strike the necessary balance.
“I’ve lived in Toronto for 13 years,” said the University of Toronto cinema studies graduate, who is entering her 11th year with the festival since starting in 2007 as an intern.
“Moving here, I got very accustomed to English-Canadian culture, Toronto culture,” she said, “and to the English-Canadian cinema that I did not consume as a kid, a teen or a young adult. Now, I bathe in it every day. I believe it brings perspective and a good balance for TIFF to have at least one programmer rooted in (Quebec).”
Leading off this year’s Quebec contingent is François Girard’s Hochelaga, terre des âmes (Hochelaga, Land of Souls), a 750-year-spanning epic about the history and pre-history of Montreal, centred around an archaeological dig under Percival-Molson Stadium. The film screens as part of TIFF’s prestigious Gala presentations.
“It’s one of the best movies I’ve produced in a long, long time,” said Roger Frappier, whose track record includes Denys Arcand classics Le Déclin de l’empire américain and Jésus de Montréal, and Denis Villeneuve’s first two films, Un 32 août sur terre and Maelström.
“François has touched everything in the media,” Frappier said of Girard, who made Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould and The Red Violin. “He has directed shows for Cirque du Soleil, opera at the Met in New York, theatre at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde and movies that were praised in major festivals around the world.
“He integrated all these different levels to work on Hochelaga, Land of Souls. It’s an amazing movie,” Frappier said. “It’s like a musical and a historical film, with grand set pieces and a fantastic story about who we are at the moment in relation to all the people who were on this land centuries ago.”
Made with support from Montreal’s 375th anniversary committee, Hochelaga, terre des âmes will premiere in Montreal on Sept. 6 before making its way to TIFF. For Frappier, the festival holds the key to the all-important American market.
“The big question is always (finding an) American distributor,” he said. “Now, the tendency for European distributors — the first thing they ask is, ‘Who is the American distributor?’ If you’re able to sell to an American distributor, it’s like a stamp that the movie will work well at the box office. It’s ridiculous, but that’s the way it works at the moment.”
Simard is aware of TIFF’s role in facilitating matchups between Canadian films and international buyers, noting that the festival does everything it can to showcase homegrown talent in the best possible light.
“A lot of the time, the big (international) films are already acquired, so distributors are looking at everything else,” she said. “Every film that has not been acquired is a possible gem. A breakthrough from a different country could be a possible best foreign language film Oscar nominee. We certainly try to make a splash with the Canadian lineup. We really believe it’s on par with the best films in the world.”
Indigenous Montrealer Alanis Obomsawin’s 50th film, Our People Will Be Healed, gets the royal treatment, screening as part of TIFF’s Masters programme. It’s the third time the 84-year-old filmmaker has been granted the honour.
“I don’t praise myself,” Obomsawin said. “I’m just happy for what it represents, for our people and for (the chance to share) the message in the films. It’s so important. It’s got a lot of prestige to have your film at TIFF. The theatres are full. It’s quite special.”
Kim Nguyen has been a hot commodity since his 2012 feature, Rebelle, was nominated in the Oscar category of best foreign language film. His latest, Eye on Juliet, follows an American hexapod operator who strikes up a relationship with a woman he sees only through the eyes of the machine he uses to monitor a pipeline in north Africa. The film will have its North American premiere at the festival after screening next week as part of Venice Days.
“TIFF is really a platform to show our films and get people interested,” said Eye on Juliet producer Pierre Even, of Item 7. “For Kim, as a filmmaker, it’s important to have a Canadian festival that follows a writer-director from one film to another. TIFF is always there to support him and us.”
For Even, TIFF is not only a place to promote current projects; it’s also a place to make connections that could lead to eventual partnerships.
“It’s a place where you meet other producers — potential European co-producers, American producers. It’s where everybody comes. You can start business relationships that might lead to productions in the future. You basically have as many meetings as you can over a few days.”
The rest of the Quebec lineup at TIFF runs the gamut. Quebec auteur Denis Côté turns up in the experimental Wavelengths section with Ta peau si lisse, an idiosyncratic look at the world of bodybuilding. Photographer brothers Carlos and Jason Sanchez make their feature debut with A Worthy Companion. Produced by Montreal heavyweight micro_scope, the film stars Evan Rachel Wood as a woman whose friendship with a teenage girl (Julia Sarah Stone) borders on obsession.
Simard was particularly excited about two up-and-comers: Ian Lagarde’s offbeat comedy All You Can Eat Buddha, which tracks a strange guest with mysterious powers at a Cuban all-inclusive resort; and Montrealer Sadaf Foroughi’s first feature, Ava, detailing a 16-year-old Iranian girl’s struggle to contend with family pressure.
“It’s very close to my own adolescence, and what I lived in Iran,” Foroughi said. “I find it very important to talk of taboos in countries like Iran, to open the debate and discuss the problems facing women so that change comes.”
All of which brings us to a pair of extra large elephants in the room: two highly anticipated films by internationally acclaimed Quebec directors which will not be at TIFF this year.
All signs pointed to Xavier Dolan’s star-studded English-language debut, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, landing at TIFF. Kit Harington, Jessica Chastain, Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Thandie Newton and Jacob Tremblay converge to tell the tale about the pitfalls of celebrity via a famous actor’s correspondence with a young boy.
Ultimately, it all came down to timing. The film was just not ready. Though disappointed, Simard was understanding.
“We really thought it was going to happen,” she said. “In the end, the film was not on the schedule they had set out. We were so excited to get to do this film with Xavier, who we’ve known for years. It could have been a perfect storm; but it’s about the quality of the film, always. Artists should be able to delay in post-production if they think their film is not ready.”
And then there are movies that are too big even for TIFF. Due in theatres Oct. 6, Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 promises to be the cinema event of the fall, if not the year.
“It’s the type of film that may not touch festivals,” Simard said. “It’s on a Star Wars level of event cinema, where the big film companies see the theatrical release as the ultimate event. (They don’t need) the prior approval of festivals. “Like everyone else, we can’t wait to see it, as lovers of cinema.”
Here’s a complete list of the nine Quebec features among the 27 films in TIFF’s Canadian lineup:
Hochelaga, terre des âmes
François Girard (Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, The Red Violin) explores the history and pre-history of Montreal over the past 750 years, beginning with a football game at Percival-Molson Stadium and going back to an Iroquois massacre in 1267.
Eye on Juliet
Kim Nguyen (Rebelle, Two Lovers and a Bear) continues his existential exploration of other cultures with this story of an American hexapod operator who becomes intrigued by a woman he sees through the eyes of the surveillance contraption he uses to monitor a pipeline in North Africa.
Our People Will Be Healed
In her 50th film, Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin finds a positive Indigenous story at a special school in the Manitoba First Nations community of Norway House.
Ta peau si lisse
Quebec auteur Denis Côté is known for both his offbeat fiction films (Vic et Flo ont vu un ours, Curling) and his surreal documentaries (Bestiaire, Carcasses). His latest is an immersive trip into the world of bodybuilding.
A Worthy Companion
Photographer brothers Carlos and Jason Sanchez make their feature debut with this story of a 30-year-old woman (Evan Rachel Wood) who becomes obsessed with a teenage runaway (Julia Sarah Stone).
All You Can Eat Buddha
Ian Lagarde’s first feature injects dramatic quirk to the tale of an oddly charismatic man at an all-inclusive resort who begins performing minor miracles.
Montrealer Sadaf Foroughi’s debut feature is the semi-autobiographical tale of a teenage Iranian girl who begins to question her family’s values when her mother brings her to a doctor to test her virginity.
Robin Aubert crafts an unusual zombie flick with this story of a town in rural Quebec adjusting to the post-apocalypse.
La petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes
Co-director of last year’s TIFF best Canadian feature winner, Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau, Simon Lavoie returns solo with this black-and-white adaptation of Gaétan Soucy’s 1998 novel about a pair of children left to their own devices following the death of their overbearing, religious father.
Source: Montreal Gazette