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Canada Does Park City

Canada Does Park City

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My home and native land is in full force here in Park City, and not just because Ellen Page and Ryan Reynolds both are in movies here. 13 Canadian films are being showcased at Sundance, and another 4 are screening at Slamdance. Telefilm head honcho Wayne Clarkson said of this presence: “Programmers at prestigious international festivals, such as Sundance, continue to recognize that Canadian independent filmmakers stand with the best in world cinema. In addition to extensive visibility in national and foreign media, Canadian players will be able to take advantage of Park City’s vibrant market, where we have a solid record of attracting buyers and garnering awards.”

Among the notable Canadiana is Be Like Others, a Canadian produced look at a generation of Iranian men who undergo sex change surgery; Yung Chang‘s (a graduate of my Concordia University) debut, Up The Yangtze; Bruce LaBruce‘s Canada-Germany co-prod, Otto or Up With Dead People (aforementioned a few entries down as a gay zombie love story); and a Canada-US co-prod, Steven Schachter‘s The Deal, starring Meg Ryan and William H. Macy. A Canadian film is opening Slamdance for the second year in a row (last year was Weirdsville) with Real Time, starring Randy Quaid and Jay Baruchel.

But perhaps Canada’s most interesting presence is in the shorts section, where they occupy 6 of the 84 slots…

Three of those six shorts come from Bravo!FACT, a foundation to assist Canadian talent (aka FACT). Over the years, Bravo!FACT has awarded millions of dollars in grants toward the production of over a thousand shorts from all over Canada. Notable examples include Jesse Rosensweet‘s “The Stone of Folly,” which won the jury prize at Cannes in 2002, and Guy Maddin‘s “Sissy Boy Slap Party,” which won the National Society of Film Critics’ award for best experimental film.

Established in 1995, the program was originally intended to support shorts on dance or opera only, and eventually began to include drama and animation. Currently, its listed objectives are as follows:

-stimulate public interest in Canadian excellence in the arts
-encourage the creation of new ways of presenting the arts on television
-increase public recognition of Canadian artists and their works
-provide professional opportunities for film and video-makers

Four yearly deadlines drawing 150 applicants each turn into quite the process for executive director Judy Gladstone, who sits on a committee with the board of directors and two rotating consultants in dance or music to choose the recipients. The program operates on 5% of Canadian TV network Bravo!’s gross revenue, which in 2007 amounts to a budget of almost $2 million.

I sat down with Gladstone in Toronto before I headed to Utah and she showed me the three shorts the program has in this year’s Sundance: Josh Raskin‘s “I Met The Walrus“; Cam Christiansen‘s “I Have Seen The Future” and Sara St-Onge‘s “The Funeral“. Though all quite different in theme, each represent a first-time filmmaker.

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“Walrus”‘s nearly 40 year voyage is quite incredible. In 1969, 14-year old Jerry Levitan snuck into John Lennon’s Toronto hotel room and convinced him to do an interview for his school newspaper. This was in the middle of John’s “bed-in” phase, where he and Yoko used to stay in hotel beds to promote peace. Either way, John agreed, and Levitan taped an hour long interview. Now a lawyer in Toronto, 51 year old Levitan got director Raskin on board. Raskin created a stunning animated narrative to coincide with a few minutes of Lennon’s testimony. Multi-layered, both aesthetically and thematically, the short film that resulted has won a slew of awards, including AFI Fest’s best animated short and a place on TIFFG’s Canada Top Ten short films. Centered around the idea of the people’s opportunity to change, in John’s own words:

“Think peace and you’ll get it. It’s up to the people… If we really wanna change it, we can change it.”

Gladstone agreed, this message proves remarkably true today.

“I Have Seen The Future” is also an animated affair, though drastically different from “Walrus.” A simple story of a tennis court confrontation between some Calgary youth and a boy and his father is beautifully captured in stop motion to the tune of Alberta musician Peter Moller. The film also made TIFFG’s Top Ten, and has already screened at numerous fests, including Toronto, Seoul, Vancouver and the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films. “The Funeral” is unique in that Sundance will be its first screening. A live action dark comedy about a woman planning her own funeral, its a great showcase for actress Holly Prazoff. Director Sara St-Onge will also be showing the film at a special series in Park City where the films screen for local students followed by a Q & A. Combined, the three films offer a varied look at Canadian talent, as well as the effects of BravoFact’s ambitions. Each debuted yesterday, with four more screenings to follow.

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