Victoria Day among Sundance picks

A quartet of Canadian films will crash America's most prestigious indie party...

A quartet of Canadian films will crash America’s most prestigious indie party, the Sundance Film Festival, next month in Park City, Utah.

Award-winning writer/director David Bezmozgis will debut his feature Victoria Day in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition along with Before Tomorrow, the latest production from Igloolik Isuma Productions (Atanarajuat) by Madeline Piujug Ivalu and Marie-Helene Cousineau, which screened first at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The World Cinema Documentary section has also included two Canadian entries, Nollywood Babylon, a National Film Board coproduction directed by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal (Discordia), and the first major production in 20 years by veteran filmmaker and photographer Paul Saltzman, Prom Night in Mississippi.

Victoria Day chronicles the turbulent events of a 16-year-old boy who experiences a dramatic Canadian hat trick — sex, death and the hockey playoffs — in less than a week. Starring Mark Rendall (Childstar), the film is an intimate character study set in North York in the spring of 1988, when the Edmonton Oilers dominated hockey and suburban kids still headed down in droves to Ontario Place to hear ’60s rock icons.

When a young hockey player goes missing after a Bob Dylan concert, the lives of his team, including Rendall and family, are convulsively transformed.

Asked whether he is surprised that Sundance chose such an unabashedly Canadian film, filled with hockey and titled after a holiday that no one knows in the States, Bezmozgis parries with a question of his own. ‘What’s wrong with Canada? Sundance has films from everywhere — Mexico, China and Spain. My film, like my stories, isn’t parochial or marginal. Toronto is a major North American city, where I experienced things quite similar to the ones that friends in Chicago, New York and L.A. had while growing up.’

A Markham Street production, Victoria Day will be distributed by E1 in Canada, with Charlotte Mickie, head of Maximum Films International sales division handling foreign rights.

Considering the international success of Bezmozgis as an author — he’s been published in The New Yorker and nominated for the U.K. Guardian First Book Award — Victoria Day should have a promising future.

Atanarajuat screened successfully in major U.S. markets, so hopes are high for Isuma’s Before Tomorrow. A tough, poetic film, it dramatizes the tragic effect that Western society brought on to North America’s original peoples through the tale of a grandmother and grandson struggling to survive after manmade disease has devastated their tribe.

Far more comic in tone is Nollywood Babylon, a colorful look at the Nigerian film industry, which now ranks third in productivity to Hollywood and Bollywood.

Returning to documentaries after nearly two decades, Paul Saltzman, who was Deepa Mehta’s life and business partner, offers a tense, insightful doc about the first integrated senior prom in a small-town Mississippi high school. For Saltzman, who spent time in the South during the Civil Rights era, Prom Night marks a true return home.