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The Canadanian Perspective: A look at Toronto’s Local Heroes

The Canadanian Perspective: A look at Toronto's Local Heroes

The Canadanian Perspective: A look at Toronto's Local Heroes

by Jason Margolis and Maureen Prentice

It’s been a banner year for Canadian cinema. Earlier this year, the
country rejoiced in the success of Atom Egoyan’s “The Sweet Hereafter,”
the first Canadian-made film to be nominated for two Academy Awards,
including best director. Then, Don McKellar’s “Last Night” won the Prix
de les jeunesse at the Cannes Film Festival. Now, this celebration has
been brought home.

Perspective Canada, one of the many programs at the Toronto
International Film Festival, is well… a celebration of contemporary
Canadian film. With a record number of submissions at 366 entries (89
features, 277 shorts), up from 284 (81 features, 203 shorts) the
previous year, proof is positive that Canada is currently experiencing a
filmmaking renaissance. In the end, 62 films were accepted (19 features
and 42 shorts) to be screened in Perspective Canada, 10 of which were
world premieres.

1998 was clearly the year of Don McKellar, which may have caused a wee
bit of discomfort for the rather down-to-earth Canadian icon. McKellar,
already recognized for his popular Canadian TV series “Twitch City” and
his performances in Bruce McDonald’s cult classics “Roadkill” and
Highway 61,” was involved in six films screened at the festival.

The Toronto International Film Festival opened with the Canada/Italy
co-production “The Red Violin,” which was co-written by McKellar and
director Francois Girard. McKellar also appears in “The Red Violin” as
a violin restoration expert who along with an auction appraiser played
by Samuel L. Jackson, solve the mystery of the eponymous stringed

The Perspective Canada programme opened with McKellar’s “Last Night”,
his feature directorial debut, which he also acted in and wrote. “Last
Night” grapples with and answers some difficult questions on the evening
of the world’s end: Who Should I be with? Where will I go? and What
should I do if the world is ending? The world’s end was the last thing
on the mind of revelers at the “Last Night” party, which for one brief
moment became the epicenter of Canadian pop culture (and yes, in Canada,
it is spelled “epicentre”) with top actors (Sarah Polley, Maury Chaykin)
mingling with musical superstars (The Philosopher Kings, Sloan). Fiddle
sensation Ashley MacIsaac, seen in last year’s festival fave “The
Hanging Garden,” hopped onto the bar for a frenetic performance to get
the crowd going. “Last Night” picked up the prestigious CityTV Award for
Best Canadian First Feature.

Among McKellar’s other contributions to the festival were the ingenious
short film “Elimination Dance,” which he acted in and co-created with
Bruce McDonald and Michael Ondaatje (author of “The English Patient“),
and a notable cameo in the feature “The Herd,” a National Film Board
production about an Arctic Moses from “Project Grizzly” director Peter
Lynch. A retrospective honoring the tenth anniversary of the Canadian
Film Centre included the remainder of the McKellar oeuvre on display.

Besides McKellar, the lineup for Perspective Canada included ten feature
debuts, up from eight in 1997. Included among the newcomers is the
witty hyphenate John Kalangis, writer, director and actor of “Jack and
.” This lighthearted romantic comedy is produced by Simone Urdl,
executive produced by Atom Egoyan and distributed by Alliance
Releasing. Director Amnon Buchbinder discovered the script for his
feature debut “The Fishing Trip” while teaching screenwriting at
Toronto’s York University. The film deals with the oft-explored topic
of incest, but was noted for strong performances from its young cast.
Kids In The Hall’s Bruce McCulloch made his feature debut with “Dog
,” which features an eclectic cast of Natasha Henstridge, Luke
Wilson, Kathleen Robertson and Janeane Garafalo, who ranks only second
to McKellar for the festival’s unofficial appearances-in-most-films

Canada’s West Coast was well represented with Bruce Sweeney’s second
feature and Sundance screener, “Dirty“, Raul Sanchez Inglis’ feature
debut “The Falling” which he also wrote, and Jonathan Tammuz’ “Rupert’s
“. The dark and twisted “Dirty” surprised some fans of Sweeney’s
humorous debut “Live Bait,” a previous winner of the CityTV Award,
although Sweeny’s adherence to the Mike Leigh school of filmmaking
always results in very engaging work from his actor/collaborators Tom
Scholtze and Babz Chula. “Rupert’s Land” is being distributed in Canada
by Red Sky Entertainment and stars British-born Samuel West (“Howard’s
“), Ian Tracey (“Free Willy III“), and George Wendt (“Cheers“). Its
a road movie about two estranged half-brothers who reunite for a journey
of rediscovery en route to their father’s funeral. “The Falling” is a
dark and tragic love story that manipulated audiences by telling a story
from three people’s different point’s of view a la “Rashomon.” Both
“The Falling” and “Rupert’s Land” were shot by 1997 Genie-nominated
cinematographer Greg Middleton (“Kissed“), a rising star on the West

Quebec was represented by a number of movies, including two feature
debuts from segment directors of the popular 1997 omnibus feature
Cosmos“: Manon Briand’s “2 Seconds” and Denis Villeneuve’s “Un 32 aout
sur terre
.” The only film from Canada’s East Coast represented in the
programme was John Doyle’s “Extraordinary Visitor,” another feature
debut. Some notable Canadian comedic talent, namely Mary Walsh (“This
Hour Has Twenty Two Minutes
“) and Andy Jones “(Codco“), appear in this
humorous exploration of human compassion.

Every year, the Toronto International Film Festival, CityTV and
Rothman’s World Film host a giant schmooze for Canadian filmmakers at
the ChumCity Building, home of the Canadian version of Bravo! and the
music video network MuchMusic. Held on Friday, September 11th, glittery
stars, filmmakers and wannabes crowded into the parking lot where a
makeshift tent was erected to toast the Canadian talent. Benny and
Jerry’s ice cream even got in on the action with complimentary ice cream
cones. Notable celebrities at the party included Billy Zane, Christian
Slater, and Canadian actor Saul Rubinek (“True Romance“) who was in town
with his directorial feature debut, “Jerry and Tom.” The extra kick to
this party was that it was broadcast live on CityTV (with highlights to
appear on both Bravo! and MuchMusic).

The shorts selections in Perspective Canada were continuously sold out,
and included a diverse and entertaining selection. Commercial director
Tim Hamilton’s “Shrink,” dazzled with more optical effects than a
typical feature, but used them to enhance his storytelling technique.
Popular festival shorts such as David Birdsell’s “Phil Touches Flo,”
Jennifer Kierans’ “The Rogers’ Cable,” and Nathan Garfinkel’s “Sploosh!
made appearances in their directors’ homeland.

Best Canadian Feature Film was awarded to “No“, a Quebec film by Robert
Lepage. His first feature, “Le confessionnal” opened the Toronto
Festival in 1995 and went on to win a number of Genie Awards for Best
Film, Best Artistic Direction and Best Direction. The province of
Quebec paid tribute to Lepage mid-festival by hosting a reception at the
CN Tower, the world’s tallest man-made structure, where the bar included
a drink named in his honor.

[Jason Margolis and Maureen Prentice are partners in Vancouver’s Jump
Communications Inc., a company with several music videos and short films
to its credit.]

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