Section features up-and-coming, established helmers

MONTREAL — Perspective Canada, the Toronto fest’s all-Canuck program, was launched in 1984 and since then has become the most important annual showcase of homegrown filmmaking from the Great White North.

Over the past few years, much of the acquisitions activity by U.S. studios and indie distribs at Toronto has been focused on titles from the program, notably Lynne Stopkewich’s necrophilia drama “Kissed” in 1996 and Thom Fitzgerald’s ‘The Hanging Garden” in 1997. Other well-known films to have unspooled in Perspective Canada include Don McKellar’s “Last Night,” Deepa Mehta’s “Fire,” David Wellington’s “I Love a Man In Uniform” and Atom Egoyan’s “Speaking Parts.”

This year’s Perspective Canada section, as usual, focuses on both up-and-coming and more well-established helmers. What follows is a snapshot of a couple of emerging directors — Arto Paragamian, John L’Ecuyer — along with profiles of two of the country’s best-known arthouse helmers — Anne Wheeler, John Greyson — and one director, Clement Virgo, who made a big splash five years ago but hasn’t been active on the big-screen since.

ANNE WHEELER

It’s hard to pigeon-hole Vancouver film-maker Anne Wheeler. She delivered one of the surprise success stories of Canadian film last year with the lesbian comedy “Better Than Chocolate,” but she is much better-known for draining, emotionally charged dramas.

Wheeler first made a mark on the international festival circuit with “Loyalties” in 1986, the hard-hitting story of a relationship between a doctor’s wife and a native-Indian nanny in the Canadian north. She next turned heads in a big way with, “Bye Bye Blues,” a romantic World War II drama about a mother of two who joins a prairie dance band and ends up having an affair with the trombone player. She also directed the A&E/CBC mini-series, “The Sleep Room,” based on the true story of CIA-sponsored LSD experiments on Canadian psychiatric patients in the 1950s.

Wheeler’s latest film is “Marine Life,” which makes its bow in Perspective Canada at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival. The drama about a middle-aged lounge singer and her chaotic home-life stars Cybill Shepherd and Peter Outerbridge.

JOHN GREYSON

Toronto writer-director John Greyson is best-known for gay-themed pics, most notably 1993’s “Zero Patience,” a musical about AIDS, and “Lilies,” adapted from the popular Michel-Marc Bouchard play and winner of the Canadian Genie Award for best film in 1996.

Greyson’s latest, “The Law of Enclosures,” marks a thematic break with his previous four features. Adapted from the acclaimed Dale Peck novel, it is the odd story of Henry and Beatrice, a couple who — for reasons that are never explained — are stuck in the year 1991. Pic follows them as young lovers (played by Sarah Polley and Brendan Fletcher) and then four decades later as a rather tired, unhappy old couple (played by Diane Ladd and Sean McCann).

JOHN L’ECUYER

John L’Ecuyer specializes in gritty, true-to-life stories from the downtown streets, tales told with the Toronto-based helmer’s unique poetic style.

The director’s career was launched at the 1995 Toronto Intl. Film Festival with the premiere of his first feature, “Curtis’s Charm,” an offbeat comic drama about two junkie pals dealing with their private demons. His exploration of the underbelly of urban life continued with “Confessions of a Rabid Dog” in 1997, a documentary inspired by his days living on the streets of Montreal.

His new film, “Saint-Jude,” is described by producer Sandra Cunningham as picking-up where “Curtis’s Charm” left off. “In ‘Curtis,’ you follow two buddies on the street. In ‘Jude,’ you get to know an entire neighborhood,” she says. Pic stars young thesp Liane Balaban (“New Waterford Girl”), with a number of Canuck veterans, including Nicholas Campbell (“Da Vinci’s Inquest”), Bernie Coulson (“Hardcore Logo”) and Louise Portal (“The Decline of the American Empire”).

ARTO PARAGAMIAN

It was quite a coup for up-and-coming Montreal writer-director Arto Paragamian to snare John Turturro for the lead role in his second feature, “Two Thousand and None.”

The thesp says he decided to star in the pic because he was impressed with Paragamian’s script about a paleontologist with a fatal brain disease. “It’s about something that relates to everyone,” says Turturro. “Normally films like this are tear-jerkers and I thought this was different. It has a certain complexity to it.”

Paragamian’s first feature was the quirky comedy “Because Why,” which traveled the fest circuit. He also contributed a segment to the anthology film “Cosmos,” which screened in the 1996 Directors Fortnight section in Cannes.

CLEMENT VIRGO

“Love Come Down” has been a long time coming for Toronto filmmaker Clement Virgo. The pic was set to be shot in 1997, two years after the world preem at the Cannes fest of Virgo’s debut, “Rude,” a stylish inner-city drama. Then plans for “Love Come Down” were shelved when Virgo decided to shoot the made-for-TV pic “The Planet of Junior Brown,” starring Sarah Polley and Margot Kidder.

Between “Rude” and “Love Come Down,” which finally began shooting last year, Virgo made a number of TV projects in Canada.

Pic marks his return to directing his own script. “It’s nice to be finally working with my own material again, to be in my own head and making this as personal as possible,” says Virgo.

“Love Come Down,” the story of two brothers whose family was torn apart by tragedy, stars Polley, Larenz Tate, R&B singer Deborah Cox and Clark Johnson.

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