Only two Quebec feature films with a refined TIFF

The Toronto International Film Festival will be different this year. Farewell, red carpets and lavish parties. Hello, limited capacity screenings and films streamed online.

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There is usually a convoy of Quebec filmmakers coming down the 401 at this time. Our province’s cinema occupies a privileged place at the Toronto International Film Festival. One of the biggest film events in the world in terms of industry presence and the gateway to the coveted US market, TIFF is a big deal. Everyone goes to TIFF. Except this year.

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Like many global festivals lucky enough to take place, TIFF has had to shrink due to the pandemic. Its 45th edition presents only 50 feature films – compared to the usual around 250 – including titles by Spike Lee, Halle Berry, Werner Herzog, Chloé Zhao and Viggo Mortensen.

Of this number, only half a dozen come from Canada and only two from Quebec. In a normal year, our province sends four to six times that number of films.

And downtown Toronto will look a little different this year. Farewell, crowds, red carpets and lavish parties. Hello, limited capacity screenings in cinemas, drive-ins and movies streaming online for everyone else. A reduced number of media will attend the festival, but only virtually, watching films on their computers.

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On the other hand, with the reduced program, each film will receive more attention.

Violah Beauvais and Kiawentiio in Beans.  Despite the unusual circumstances, “we will still have the laurels of TIFF on the bill,” says co-producer Anne-Marie Gélinas.
Violah Beauvais and Kiawentiio in Beans. Despite the unusual circumstances, “we will still have the laurels of TIFF on the bill,” says co-producer Anne-Marie Gélinas. Photo by TIFF

“We already feel it,” said Anne-Marie Gélinas, co-producer of the semi-autobiographical film Beans by Montreal Mohawk screenwriter and director Tracey Deer, about a young girl who comes of age during the Oka crisis.

Deer is the recipient of this year’s TIFF Emerging Talent Award, and Beans actress Rainbow Dickerson is one of this year’s TIFF rising stars.

That said, Gélinas admitted that “it’s very strange” to create a feature film at the festival without all the usual brouhaha.

“We have been working on this film for seven years. When we started, I kept telling Tracey it was going to be hard to fund, but we’d do our best. Then the political winds changed and funders wanted to promote and fund films made by women. With the events of the 30th anniversary of the Oka Crisis this year, everything was falling into place (for the release). Then all of a sudden, poof, the world explodes.

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When they learned that Beans had been accepted into TIFF, they still didn’t know what form the festival would take.

“We felt really lucky and honored to be one of the 50 films,” Gélinas said. “But honestly, we had to talk about it (if we should go ahead, given the unusual circumstances). In the end, we said to ourselves, even if it happens virtually, we will still have the laurels of TIFF on the bill, and the film will be released in 2020, when it matters.

The late American transgender jazz musician Billy Tipton is the subject of the documentary No Ordinary Man by Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt.
The late American transgender jazz musician Billy Tipton is the subject of the documentary No Ordinary Man by Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt. Photo by TIFF

The other film with a Quebec connection is No Ordinary Man, a documentary about the late American transgender jazz musician Billy Tipton, co-directed by Montreal cisgender writer-director Aisling Chin-Yee and trans writer-director and videographer Toronto-based Chase Joynt.

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It’s a moving, multi-layered exploration of Tipton’s life in jazz from the 1930s to the ’70s, and the flurry of tabloid-like media attention that followed the revelation of Tipton’s trans identity following his death in 1989.

The result is a nuanced study of the evolution of trans identity, which the filmmakers say can only benefit from the weight of the TIFF industry.

“We always built this film with multiple audiences in mind,” Joynt said. “We hope this will make sense to an audience who know nothing about trans-ness, and also find a home with the people closest to the story.

“We understand that the premiere of a mainstream, international, large-platform festival like TIFF is an opportunity for us to say, ‘You can do things on many levels, simultaneously. You can ask complicated and complex questions and also create a story that has the potential to be far reaching. ”

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Chin-Yee frequented TIFF for years as a producer before returning last year with her debut film The Rest of Us, starring Heather Graham. She knows what TIFF can do for a film and thinks the festival’s reduced lineup could be a bonus.

“We were bouncing off the walls when we heard they had the movie scheduled,” Chin-Yee said. “They are such tastemakers. Documentaries, in other years, were more of a conversation than a headliner, with all the flashy stars and red carpets, which are the kind of things people love to read and see. We are definitely very proud that Toronto is embracing the film.

“We were bouncing off the walls when we heard that (TIFF) had scheduled the movie,” said No Ordinary Man co-director Aisling Chin-Yee. “They are such tastemakers.” Photo by Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette files

Other feature films in Canadian programming include two documentaries: Inconvenient Indian by Michelle Latimer (TIFF also features the first two episodes of the CBC drama series Trickster directed by Latimer) and The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary by Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott, the sequel to their acclaimed 2003 film The Corporation.

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On the fiction side, there is Violation by Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli, in the Midnight Madness section; and Fauna by Mexican-Canadian director Nicolás Pereda.

“There were fewer slots this year,” explained TIFF’s Steve Gravestock, lead international programmer for Canada and the Nordics. “It had an impact on the types of films we selected.”

The main absentees from the festival are French-speaking Quebec films. TIFF is usually the launching pad for major Franco-Quebec productions; this year, there are none.

Part of the reason may be that with such a limited roster, the festival leaned towards world premieres. That ruled out a few obvious contenders, like Pascal Plante’s Olympic swimming drama Nadia, Butterfly, which was part of Cannes’ official selection and hits theaters on September 18; and Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette’s The Goddess of Fireflies, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February and opens here on September 25.

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Even the English comedy-drama My Salinger Year by Philippe Falardeau, with Sigourney Weaver, which opened the Berlinale, was not selected. (It closes the Festival du nouveau cinema de Montréal in October.)

“We’ve been a serious launch pad for great Canadian works for many years now,” Gravestock said. “Other films are successful at other festivals. We usually do about 90% premieres anyway. So that’s how it happened.

IN ONE LOOK

The Toronto International Film Festival takes place from Thursday September 10 to Saturday September 19. All films will be streamed online and viewable across Canada. For tickets and more information, visit tiff.net.

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  1. Writer-director Tracey Deer stands on the barricade as she gives instructions to the actors during rehearsal of a scene from Beans, her story about the experience of a young Mohawk girl growing up in Kahnawake during the crisis from Oka in 1990.

    A Mohawk filmmaker revisits the Oka crisis through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl

  2. Montreal's Aisling Chin-Yee, left, and Heather Graham at the world premiere of The Rest Of Us at the Toronto Film Festival in Toronto on Saturday, September 7, 2019.

    Graham gives star power to the Montrealer’s first feature film

  3. More from T’Cha Dunlevy

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