In this “is the cinema half-empty or half-full?” world, Canadian producers are focusing on the perks of a leaner, hybrid Toronto fest, rather than empty seats.
“There is so much happening in the world on social and political levels, I am curious how that influences the consciousness of the marketplace,” says Toronto vet Charles Officer, director and co-producer of gang drama “Akilla’s Escape,” starring poet-actor Saul Williams.
“Screening in a smaller pool of titles allows for more visibility,” says Officer. “It’s important the cast of talented Black actors receive exposure at a festival like Toronto, and it’s rare that Black filmmakers in Canada make features — we can’t afford to be passive about opportunities to participate.” XYZ Films is selling the film.
WaZabi Films’ “Beans,” Tracey Deer’s coming-of-ager set during the 1990 standoff between Mohawk communities and government forces in Oka, Quebec, is “relevant to the times we are living in,” says producer Anne-Marie Gélinas. “Ensuring women’s and BIPOC voices are heard was also a deciding factor to show the film here.”
Toronto’s tight slate should boost awareness of “Violation” (from XYZ), a microbudget first feature and one of three titles in perennial fan and buyer fave Midnight Madness. The sibling-rivalry chiller’s “incredibly explicit and disturbing moments . . . bring something new to the revenge space,” say writer-director-producers Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer, also a TIFF Rising Star 2020.
The TIFF Talent Lab alums believe today’s social upheaval, including #MeToo, is the ideal milieu for challenging content: “Audiences don’t want to be placated by film at this moment.”
“The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel,” by Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott, updates themes of influential 2003 doc “The Corporation.” The filmmakers paused editing to record new “bunker” interviews and create new sequences relevant to the pandemic and protests.
“We’re hopeful [the new doc] can repeat the popularity and provoke the same kind of reaction,” say producers Betsy Carson and Trish Dolman. “Trying to release a film in COVID is like shifting sand — hard to predict the future.”
Viggo Mortensen’s writer-director bow “Falling” (sales reps are UTA and HanWay) is “a very rare triple,” Scythia Films’ Daniel Bekerman, its Canadian producer, points out — “the only film selected for Sundance, Cannes, and TIFF this year.”
“Viggo’s close relationship with Canadian crews highlights the way these collaborations benefit Canadian as well as international partners,” says Bekerman. “We’re going to need to find ways to continue to co-produce, or we’ll be losing one of the industry’s core strengths.”
As Toronto unspools, Canadian and Quebec media producers associations will be lobbying federal agencies and lawmakers to reexamine immigration and insurance policies in relation to strengthening the industry for both studio and indie productions. While industry survival is the top concern, deeper systemic change is something many producers hope the new festival model will foster.
“It would be revolutionary if buyers took a committed stand to celebrate films by the black creators and reimagine perceptions of the audience,” says Officer. “There is an audience for films like ‘Akilla’s Escape,’ and that audience is speaking loudly right now.”
Other Canadian features at TIFF include: “Fauna” (sales: CAA) by Mexican-Canadian auteur Nicolas Pereda; doc “Inconvenient Indian” (sales: NFB) by Michelle Latimer; Abidjan-set “Night of the Kings” (sales: Memento) by Philippe Lacôte; doc “No Ordinary Man,” about trans icon Billy Tipton, by Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt; “ Shia LaBeouf starrer “Pieces of a Woman” (Bron Releasing) by Kornél Mundruczó; Emma Seligman’s feature bow “Shiva Baby” (sales: Paradigm); and female DJ doc “Underplayed” by Stacey Lee.