Star fighters, indie gamers and grizzly bears: Canadians at Sundance 2012


Three documentaries and two shorts in competition, a spotlight on a potential Oscar contender and storytellers exploring new frontiers make for an impressive Canadian presence at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which runs Jan. 19 to Jan. 29, 2012.

Payback, written and directed by Jennifer Baichwal, is based on Margaret Atwood’s bestseller Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, and will screen in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.

The NFB production traces how debt influences relationships, societies and governing structures, looks at the link between debtor and creditor, and the ideas of “owing” and “being owed” in different contexts.

The doc was produced and executive-produced by Ravida Din. Nicholas de Pencier, a frequent Baichwal collaborator, directed cinematography. Screening at Sundance will mark the film’s premiere, and is Baichwal’s third film to play at Sundance.

Sundance also marks the premiere of Indie Game: The Movie, created by Winnipeg’s James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot, follows indie game creators on the road to developing video games and getting them to market. The project, also screening in the doc competition category, was funded entirely from Swirsky and Pajot’s personal savings and through two internet crowd-sourcing campaigns.

China Heavyweight, directed by Montreal’s Yung Chang, is the other contender in the documentary category. The film follows rural teenagers in southwestern China who are recruited by boxing coach Qi Moxiang – the doc’s star – to train as potential star fighters.

Chang saw success with his first feature, Up the Yangtze, which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2008.

He first pitched the Canada-China copro in 2010 at the Toronto Documentary Forum panel at Hot Docs, where another of his pitches, for The Fruit Hunters won the $40,000 Canwest-Hot Docs Pitch Prize.

China Heavyweight is produced by Peter Wintonick, Bob Moore, Daniel Cross and Mila Aung-Thwin of Montreal’s Eyesteelfilm, and Yi Han, Zhao Qi, and Lixin Fan of China’s Yuan Fang Media.

Animated short Les Conquérants, written and directed by Sarolta Szabo and Tibor Banoczki, is a co-production between France’s Folimage (Pascale Le Nôtre) and the NFB (Julie Roy and René Chénier). The 12-minute, black and white film is an allegory of the origins and civilization, told through the story of a man and woman carried by stormy seas to an unknown shore where they must form a new life.

Surveillant, written and directed by Yan Giroux, is a 17-minute French-language short with English subtitles, in which teens form clans and dominate a city park in an encapsulation of human society and social status. Annick Blanc of Montreal’s Alt Collection produces.

Bestiaire, directed by Denis Cote, explores the relationship between animals, nature and humanity, and will screen out-of-competition in the New Frontier Feature program. Sylvain Corbeil produces.

The New Frontier program at Sundance also presents installations and performances that incorporate new media, highlight work “that pushes the boundaries of storytelling and the moving image.”

One such installation this year is Bear 71, from Jeremy Mendes and Leanne Allison, an adaptation of their online interactive documentary about a grizzly bear in the Canadian Rockies, in which audiences use an augmented reality application to show how humans interact with wildlife. Bear 71 is produced by Loc Dao, Bonnie Thompson, Rob McLaughlin and the NFB’s Digital Studio, and the screenplay is written by J.B. MacKinnon.

The Spotlight program will shine a light on Monsieur Lazhar, which was named Wednesday as one of two Canadian films (the other is Canada/Germany/Poland copro In Darkness) advancing to the next round of voting in the Foreign Language Film category of the Academy Awards. Lazhar has consistently topped the Canadian box office since its release, and was named best Canadian film by the TFCA and took the best Canadian film prize at TIFF.