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Toronto Festival Touts Canadian Rookies and Auteurs in Lineup

This year’s Canadian feature slate — 25 in all — can be seen in six TIFF sections including Discovery, TIFF Docs and Wavelengths.

Among the selected features are highly anticipated films from fest alumni including Denys Arcand, Barry Avrich and the late Rob Stewart.

Arcand’s “The Fall of the American Empire” stars Alexandre Landry as Pierre-Paul Daoust, who faces a moral dilemma after discovering two bags of money. Sony Classics bought the North American rights to the film during the Cannes Film Festival in May. The film, which will play in TIFF’s special presentations section, is a thematic cousin to Arcand’s Oscar-nominated “The Decline of the American Empire” and the Oscar-winning “The Barbarian Invasions” (2003).

Avrich returns to TIFF’s docu section with “Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz,” a portrait of the United States’ chief prosecutor during the Nuremberg trial. Stewart’s final film, “Sharkwater Extinction” will debut as a fest special event. (The filmmaker-conservationist died in February while making the “Sharkwater Extinction”  —  a sequel to his first documentary “Sharkwater,” which premiered at TIFF in 2006.)

While last year’s Canadian feature lineup had one of the highest numbers of feature directorial debuts in the festival’s history (over 30% of the titles were directed by a newbie helmers) this year’s lineup boasts a strong female director roster. In all 10 of this year’s 25 selected Canadian features were directed or co-directed by a woman.

But Danis Goulet, TIFF Canadian features programmer, was quick to point out that the strong presence of women at this year’s fest in not in reaction to any gender parity movements.

“Inclusion in the industry is important, and for the Canadian selection, support for women directors has been a goal for us since before the #Metoo movement arose,” Goulet said. “So I would say that the percentage of women directors in the line-up this year is not a direct response to the #Metoo movement, as I think we’ve been engaging in the conversation about inclusion for longer than that… Women’s voices are essential to cinema and we are committed to supporting them.”

Jennifer Baichwal, Miranda de Pencier and Darlene Naponse are among the emerging and established Canadian female filmmakers TIFF is standing by this year.

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” is Baichwal’s third collaboration with photographer Edward Burtynsky and filmmaker Nicholas de Pencier. The documentary continues the trio’s exploration of industrialization and extraction following “Manufactured Landscapes” (2006) and “Watermark” (2013).

“Anthropocene,” will make its debut in the special presentation section alongside Arcand’s “The Fall of the American Empire,” Keith Behrman’s “Giant Little Ones,” Kim Nguyen’s “The Hummingbird Project,” Patricia Rozema’s “Mouthpiece,” Don McKellar’s “Through Black Spruce” and Miranda de Pencier’s “The Grizzlies.” :  The Special Presentations also include Xavier Dolan’s “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” and Patricia Rozema’s “Mouthpiece.”

Based on a true story, “The Grizzlies” is de Pencier’s feature film debut. The film is about the determination and resilience of a group of Inuit youth in a small Arctic community. It is one of three Canadian features that showcase Indigenous talent. Alongside “The Grizzlies,” Darlene Naponse’s dramatic feature “Falls Around Her,” pictured, and Helen Haig-Brown’s “Edge of the Knife,” which she co-directed with Gwaai Edenshaw, also highlight Indigenous peoples.

Naponse’s “Falls Around Her” is a portrait of a world-famous Anishinaabe musician who returns to the reserve to rest and recharge — only to discover that fame and the outside world are not easily left behind, while Haig-Brown and Edenshaw’s “Edge of the Knife” is the first feature-length film made in Haida, which is classified by UNESCO as an endangered language.

Goulet predicts that audiences will be particularly taken with the four Canadian features featured in the Discovery section, which is described by programmers as the “directors to watch and the future of world cinema” section.

In addition to “Edge of Knife,” Akash Sherman’s “Clara,” Jasmin Mozaffari’s “Firecrackers,” and Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein’s “Freaks” are featured in the Discovery section.

Goulet calls it an “exciting time” to be a part Canadian cinema.

“The Canadian film scene has been marked by greater volume in recent years, and most of the volume seems to be in new low budget production,” says Goulet. “I would say that this new wave of work challenges our ideas of Canadian politeness as it is anything but that. Instead the work feels unapologetic, scrappy and bold. Canadian filmmakers are being defining, instead of allowing an existing context or system to define them.”

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