In “Hochelaga, Land of Souls,” one of more than two dozen Canadian features unspooling at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, Quebec filmmaker Francois Girard traverses 750 years of history by staying in one spot — a Montreal football stadium that could be the site of an historic Iroquois village.
“It’s about the recollection and relationships of the different people that have met in that place, from the First Peoples to the Europeans to us,” veteran Montreal producer Roger Frappier says of “Hochelaga,” which had its world premiere on the Gala screen Saturday night. Seville Intl. is selling.
Frappier says Girard (whose 1998 film “The Red Violin” won an original score Oscar) began working with pioneering American minimalist composer Terry Riley and son Gyan Riley on music from the earliest draft of the script three years ago. “Francois has been staging operas at places like the Met, and he really is a master of musical language in everything he does — so it’s historical drama, but also very a very musical and spiritual movie.”
To reflect and be truthful to 750 years in two hours, the filmmakers worked with First Nations, French and English people across all departments. Quebec thesp and first-ever Algonquin-language rapper Samian plays the archaeologist who starts the film’s dig into history.
A very different portrait of a city, Sean Menard’s documentary “The Carter Effect” explores the short and long-term impact of basketball superstar and former Raptor Vince Carter (who gives the pic’s core interview) on Toronto’s cultural life and image. On the red carpet at its Saturday premiere were Toronto rap superstar Drake, who is one of the film’s exec producers and also in the film, as well as exec producers Maverick Carter and LeBron James, whose Uninterrupted shingle produced and is selling “Carter” in Toronto.
Later in the festival, auds get the first chapter of Netflix-bound, all-star Canadian miniseries “Alias Grace” — Sarah Polley adapts Margaret Atwood’s novel, Mary Harron directs, Sarah Gadon stars, with music by Mychael and Jeff Danna — and a close encounter with The Tragically Hip, the country’s most beloved rock’n’roll band, in Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier’s doc “Long Time Running,” screening in Gala.
But big cities, epic narratives, and star power are certainly not the norm in this year’s Canuck slate, which is strong on emerging talent and reflects Canadian perspectives and diversity through more intimate, indie, and in-the-moment forms of storytelling.
Ahead of its Sunday world premiere, acquisition title “Ava” (Mongrel Intl.), about the conflict between an upper-middle class Tehran teen and her parents, is gaining buzz for Iranian director Sadaf Foroughi, now based in Montreal, one of several Toronto filmmakers nominated for Directors Guild of Canada’s 2017 Discovery Award, which was unveiled pre-fest.
Kathleen Hepburn, another DGC nominee, has also been receiving pre-fest buzz as a talent to watch for her assured feature bow “Never Steady, Never Still,” which stars Shirley Henderson (“Southcliffe”) as woman who has been battling Parkinson’s most of her married life.
Stephen Campanelli’s “Indian Horse” (Elevation in Canada), a late addition to the lineup, adapt Richard Wagamese’s acclaimed novel that tell the story of a northern Ojibway child placed in one of Canada’s notorious Catholic residential schools.
“This is the dark side of Canada, like a cultural genocide purposely made against people who were stripped of their culture and even their names,” says Roger Frappier, one of the film’s exec producers. The other is Clint Eastwood, who called the film “powerful, important storytelling, authentic and moving” in a statement.
“This story is very courageously brought to the screen,” Frappier continues. “I am proud to be part of it, and I think now is a time that Canadian people, and international people, are ready to face that period. These are stories that have to be told.”