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Palm Springs Film Festival: Canadian Films Draw Praise

Canadian films and filmmakers are drawing more and more global recognition, and the 25th Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival has programmed a hefty sidebar of films from the Great White North that make a compelling case for a Canadian renaissance.

Palm Springs artistic director Helen du Toit notes that some 7% of the festival audience is Canadian, with about 70% of festival attendees traveling from outside Palm Springs.

Quebec is the engine that is driving the country’s international film aspirations, as such Quebecois helmers as Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”), Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Xavier Dolan (“Tom at the Farm”) have gained international followings, and some, notably Villeneuve and Vallee, have crossed over into Hollywood.

“There’s a strong sense of identity in Quebec,” du Toit says. “An artist is in a place of honor in French Canada — in Quebec, artists are celebrated.”

French-Canadians also support their local filmmakers at the box office, where auteurs and French-lingo dramas and comedies regularly hit the top 10; therefore, Quebec government funding body Sodec has more incentive to invest in French-Canadian films.

English-speaking Canada behaves more like the U.S. mainstream, with Hollywood movies swallowing indies.

Du Toit also notes that there are some English-speaking Canadian filmmakers who try to compete with the U.S. fare. “Resources are limited, it’s a limited market and it’s hard to compete in that commercial space,” she adds.

There have been some successes, such as “Goon,” which took in $6 million worldwide in 2012, and “Starbuck,” which made $3.8 million worldwide and was recently remade by DreamWorks as “Delivery Man,” starring Vince Vaughn.

“English-language pics have to get out of the shadow of the U.S.,” du Toit says.

Francophone filmmakers can tap into Sodec, which offers development money as well as other grants for filmmakers. Some 80% of its funding goes to French-language projects

Telefilm Canada is another giant in the country’s filmmaking development, with funding for almost every stage of film production, marketing and promotion.

Telefilm Canada and Sodec will be in the desert as the key supporters of the Palm Springs sidebar.

“We follow their triumphs around the globe — including at the Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival — Canadian talent makes us proud,” says Carolle Brabant, Telefilm Canada’s executive director.

Telefilm Canada is tapping private investors for its Talent Fund, and to that end hosting a private party during the festival for philanthropic Canadians looking to support the arts

“The Talent Fund is an innovative initiative to offer our creators new financial tools to attract larger audiences,” Brabant says. “The expertise, experience and prestige of our seven advisory committee members — who hail from across the country and who represent a diversity of sectors — play an important role in inspiring business and community leaders to be a part of developing talent.”

She notes that last year’s fundraising reception in Palm Springs, hosted by Canadian philanthropists Carol and Paul Hill, featured welcoming remarks by festival director Darryl Macdonald and was attended by more than 100. “We look forward to holding this successful event again,” she adds.

As a Canadian, du Toit is very excited about the Palm Springs program. Every year the festival focuses on one country, but this year Canada really stood out for the programmers.

“For distributors, Palm Springs is a great way to get word-of-mouth started across the U.S.,” says du Toit, adding that all key Oscar publicists use the festival to build buzz and a profile for their pics.

International Oscar-chasing fare is de rigueur at PSIFF. In fact, the international sections have become “wildly popular,” according to du Toit, with the programmers becoming more curatorial.

So who among the Canadians gets the PSIFF staff excited?

Denis Villeneuve has crossed over to make commercial films,” says du Toit, noting that “Prisoners” may be mainstream entertainment but is still an auteur film. “I think Denis has hit the master level, which is why we put his film (“The Enemy”) in the Modern Masters section — he’s hit that level.”

She also names Dolan; Vancouver-based thesp-writer-director Benjamin Ratner (“he’s an actor who gets beautiful performances in his film ‘Down River’ ”); Elan Mastai, who wrote Toronto fest hit “The F Word” (and is on Variety’s 10 to Screenwriters Watch list this year), and Michael Dowse, who directed it; and Rafael Ouellet (“prolific and talented and we’ll continue to see strong films from him every year”). She also cites such veterans as Bruce McDonald (“The Husband”), Patricia Rozema, Sarah Polley, Ingrid Veninger and Bruce Sweeney among the Canadian talents that aren’t at the fest but are worth watching.

“When you look at this lineup of directors, there’s so much talent in this group — I feel very excited about the kinds of films that will be made in Canada,” du Toit says. “You have the new Denis, Atom (Egoyan) and (Deepa) Mehta in the making.”

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