TORONTO 2000: Canadian Perspective Out of the Shadows
by Sarah Chalk
(indieWIRE/9.13.00) -- Upon the opening of the Perspective Canada program at the Toronto International Film Festival, concerns were raised that the presence of
Canadian films would be "overshadowed" by the dominating force of big
budget, big name features. It's a true story, but in reality, Canuck filmmakers don't seem to be complaining.
And so they shouldn't. At a recent press screening for "Deeply,"
(starring Kirsten Dunst and Lynne Redgrave), droves of disgruntled press
were turned away because the theater was full. (Also, early in the festival, Myrian Pictures acquired international rights to the film). And at Monday's screening of Jim Allodi's "The Uncles," a Canadian film shot on digital (blown up to 35mm), with no major star power behind it, about 50 would-be viewers were turned away from the doors -- another sold out house. Hardly the fates of under-represented films.
"I don't feel like the red carpet is being rolled out in front of me or
anything," admits Halifax-based filmmaker Andrea Dorfmann, "but I'm just
completely thrilled that our film is being shown here." Her enchanting
first feature, "Parsley Days" (shot on the east coast of Canada on 35mm
for under US$67,000), has yet to nail down a distribution deal, but
Dorfmann says she has been more than pleased with the interest her film
has attracted. "The festival has been so great in connecting us with the
industry," she says. "I don't feel like I'm lost at all. I actually feel
like our little film has a lot of buzz."
"Parsley Days" is one of 20 features screening in this year's
Perspective Canada program, along with an additional 29 short titles.
Launched 17 years ago as a separate sidebar to the festival,
Perspective offers Canadians a slice of the hype surrounding the
international event, while providing an intimate niche for filmmakers to
interact with industry and audience alike. And while the bulk of films
may slip into the shadow of the Hollywood behemoth, the exposure they
gain is not to be underestimated -- in fact, for some, it can be
career-changing. Adds Dorfmann, "[A Toronto screening is] huge. It has
catapulted our film into a realm that's larger than the film itself."
For Stacey Donen, one of two Perspective programmers, 'bigger,'
glossier films are not necessarily better when it comes to making the
grade for the Canadian program. "I look at all the elements," he
explains, "and to me, production value is not the most important element
in the film. It's the characters and the soul and the essence of what
they're trying to do. I think you can achieve a great deal without it
looking beautiful." There is no better evidence of that than Blaine
Thurier's digital feature "Low Self Esteem Girl," one of two features to
be screened digitally in the program. (Three theaters will be outfitted
with digital projectors for the festival). Rough-hewn, with infuriating
lighting and sound quality, the film does captivate, purely by virtue of
its quirky, clever story, about a girl trapped between the allure of
lusting young men, and a group of religious zealots who want to convert
her to Christianity.
Thurier's sole filmmaking experience comes from a 7th grade incident in
which he and a friend played around with a Super 8 camera. For "Low Self
Esteem Girl," Thurier started out with US$5,400 in borrowed cash, bought
a digital camera and a computer and set about making the film.
Donen foresees that this kind of filmmaking will increasingly become a
viable option for Canadian filmmakers as digital projection becomes more
commonplace in theaters. "I think things are going to be different in
about 5 years or whenever the delivery systems are altered, but, soon
you'll be able to show whatever you shot on your home camera in a
1,000-seat theater. It makes it easier for a [distributor] to take a
chance on a film like that because they won't have to spend a million
dollars on it."
On the other hand, the Perspective program is not without its 'big'
films (relatively speaking). Certainly among the new garde of Canadian
auteurs is Québec filmmaker Denis Villeneuve ("August 32nd on Earth,"
1998), who returns to the festival with "Maelstrom," which opened
Perspective Canada on September 8. The dark, yet playful tale about a
woman's descent into chaos after committing a hit-and-run earned a
standing ovation from Toronto audiences -- a key win for the
French-language film, and a relief for the modest filmmaker, who fretted
about showing the film to the English crowd. Said Villeneuve prior to
the screening, "I'm really anxious about how the people of Toronto will
react. It's not a comedy, although there's a little bit of humor in it.
French people laugh, but I wonder how English people reading subtitles
[will react]." Evidently, he had nothing to worry about. (The film was
also screened at the Montreal World Film Festival, winning the award for
best cinematography and the audience choice award for best Canadian
Other notable films screening during the Perspective program include
"waydowntown," Gary Burns' ("Kitchen Party," 1997) third feature, about
a group of office employees who wage a month's salary to see who can
stay inside a city's tunnels, office towers and food courts the longest.
Clement Virgo ("Rude") returns to the festival to present the much
awaited "Love Come Down," starring Canadian R&B singer Deborah Cox, as well as Sarah Polley and Jennifer Dale. Lynne Stopkewich's second feature "Suspicious River," is a fittingly gut-wrenching follow up to
her first effort "Kissed" (1996). The film stars Molly Parker as a motel
clerk who prostitutes herself with the motel's guests. And in the
documentary genre, the National Film Board's Alanis Obomsawin presents
her remarkable document of violence against Native communities in
Quebec, "Rocks At Whisky Trench."
[Sarah Chalk is a Toronto-based entertainment writer.]