TIFF13 Reel Reviews: The festival wrap

Does TIFF13 mark the beginning of a Canadian star system? Film writer and critic Thom Ernst culminates his Playback festival coverage with an essay on Canada's red carpet moment.
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Throughout the Toronto International Film Festival, Thom Ernst,  film writer, critic and former exec producer and host of TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies, offered insight into, and market analysis on, Canadian films in the festival lineup. Here, in his final take on Canada’s presence at the world’s second-largest international film festival.

TIFF 2013 may be the year that began what Canada’s always been told it could never have – a star system.

The realization that the landscape of the Canadian film industry is shifting happens somewhere between watching Megan Park in The F Word and Gabrielle Rose in The Dick Knost Show.  These performances make you want to know more about the women performing them.

Any previous attempt to create a star-system – like starting a late night talk show – failed because most Canadians couldn’t tell the difference between Art Hindle and Nicholas Campbell.  I did it myself when I told Art Hindle how much I loved him in Algonquin (2013), when in fact it’s Nicholas Campbell who stars in Algonquin.

But all that could change if the current state of Canadian cinema is represented by the films seen in TIFF13.

Movies like Michael Dowse’s The F Word, Don McKellar’s The Grand Seduction and Jonathan Sobol’s The Art of the Steal all show great potential for commercial success on a global market. Even Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot, although dismissed by some as redundant, has the story and the star power to play very well once it gets away from the cinephiles and into Cineplex.

Notable, too, is director’s Cliff Prowse and Derek Lee’s found-footage horror film, Afflicted.  Genre films always travel well given that their success lies almost always in the visual. Language barriers and lack of stars are hardly a barrier. Afflicted leaves the festival having sold international theatrical rights including both Canada and the U.S.

Films with more regional sensibilities like Sébastien Pilote’s Le Démantèlement, Bruce Sweeney’s The Dick Knost Show, and Xavier Dolan’s Tom at the Farm may have less commercial potential, but still reveal an industry growing in strength and confidence while Richie Mehta’s Siddharth takes Canadian filmmaking off home soil to tell a remarkably moving and universal story.

It all adds up to a surge of strong and confident narratives rising up from an industry that once took a back seat on the international market.

It seemed like a star system was being nurtured at this year’s TIFF awards lunch.  It was a bit like being at the Oscars.  The crowd of industry insiders were silenced by the sudden dim of lights and a baritone voice that broke through the chatter of festival gossip and the distinct wisp of business cards exchanging hands to welcome everyone to the 2013 TIFF awards banquet.  And then on two multiplexed size screens, a highlight reel of the past week brought everyone together in a unified love of this movie-centric summer camp for adults.

The YouTube Award for best Canadian Short Film, a $10,000 cash prize, went to Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg for their film, Noah. This 17-minute short film has reached over 620,000 hits since being put up on YouTube five days ago.  In a brief interview following the ceremony, Woodman and Cederberg expressed interest in doing a feature – but certainly not an extended version of Noah.

Veteran documentary filmmaker Alan Zweig won the award for best Canadian feature film, beating out such favourites as The F Word and Sarah Prefers to Run. Zweig, who’s been making films since 1983, provided the afternoon’s most amusing acceptance speech by confessing that he didn’t think the film was all that good – that his last film was far better. Zweig’s win comes with a cash prize of $30,000. SuperChannel grabbed the first window to air When Jews Were Funny.  The Documentary Channel picks up the rights in 2015.

The final award for best Canadian first feature, a cash prize of $15,000, went to Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver’s animated feature, Asphalt Watches.