CanCon compromise

The rebranded Canada's Top Ten Film Festival has added star power, but at what cost?

14th Annual Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King West) from today (Friday, January 2), to January 11. 

If this year’s lineup is any indication, last year’s rebranding of TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten series as Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival has sent the Lightbox’s annual celebration of homegrown cinema spinning just a little bit off its axis. 

In addition to a screening series that brings back the features and shorts judged the finest produced in this country over the past calendar year – with the added zing of many filmmakers and stars on hand to introduce them – now TIFF is throwing in extra sizzle to get audiences in the door. 

This makes sense since it’s difficult to entice people to venture out in frigid early January to see movies that have already enjoyed a theatrical run in Toronto. (At this point, I’d be willing to bet anyone who wanted to see Maps To The Stars or Mommy has long since caught up to them.)

But where the satellite events around Canada’s Top Ten used to be tied directly to the winning films, that’s no longer the case. Two years ago, when Sarah Polley sat down for a Mavericks session with TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey, it was an organic outgrowth of the list Polley’s documentary Stories We Tell was one of the honoured features.

This year, TIFF is holding three In Conversation With… sit-downs: two in Toronto, one in Vancouver and none connected to any of this year’s Top Ten titles.

Bailey interviews Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis on January 10, offering a sneak peek at Lewis’s upcoming documentary, This Changes Everything, inspired by Klein’s new book. On January 11, Keanu Reeves will be the special guest, because hey, Keanu Reeves. (The Vancouver session, later this month, will set up Bailey at the Vancouver Cinematheque with Sandra Oh.)

These sessions will draw cameras and a little media buzz, and I don’t doubt that they’ll be good Bailey is an excellent interviewer, and he’s talking to interesting people. Reeves, in particular, is enjoying a hell of a second act with his forays into documentary filmmaking and a kickass performance in John Wick.

But what do these particular people have to do with this particular festival? As long as the Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival hangs onto that name and concept – a celebration of movies released within a certain window of time – these conversations poke out of the schedule at wrong angles. 

We’re used to seeing TIFF proper use any excuse to stage a celebrity interview – just last year, Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua landed a Mavericks session for having remade an 80s television series, and nobody giggled or anything – but at Canada’s Top Ten, it seems discordant. 

If it were up to me – and it clearly is not – I’d have thrown a little more love at Stéphane Lafleur, a Quebecois filmmaker who’s been building a very particular filmography over the last decade – and whose Tu Dors Nicole (January 5 and 6) is an utter delight that deserves a lot more love than it received during its theatrical run. 

Or maybe we could do more for the short films – and the newly inaugurated Top Ten Student Shorts – than hold just one screening of each with extended filmmaker Q&As on the same night (January 9). True, short films aren’t inherently glamourous (although they do sometimes feature movie stars), but surely a festival based on celebrating artistic achievement could find some way of actually highlighting the best work produced in the short-film format.

Or maybe just screen one or two shorts before each feature, matching them up as best as possible. It worked well enough in the old days. | @normwilner

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