Why are so many documentaries among the year's best films? Digital video. What's allowed artists to work faster, to leap disciplines, to close the gap between idea and execution? Cheap digital video. The same gear that's vexed festival programmers with massively inflated submission lists is turning up flashes of pure gold. That's happening nowhere more than in Toronto, which is rich enough, has long been a capital of communications technology and already had a strong video infrastructure thanks to Trinity Square Video, Charles Street Video and the arts councils.
This year's local Top 10 owes a lot to the pixel.
1 Peter Mettler is a pure filmmaker, but Gambling, Gods And LSD shows the richness and density of someone who now travels with a video camera. And it connects as strongly as it does because we're living in an unprecedented era of picture harvesting.
2 John Greyson speaks and breathes pixels. This year he brought that fluency to a new feature film, Proteus , and a brilliant video opera made with musician David Wall and installed at the Oakville Galleries. Mixed or multi-, Fig Trees was the media event of the year.
3 Daniel Cockburn is Toronto's best new video artist. Last year's Metronome was shockingly inspired, mixing Wittgenstein, movies and pattern theory. This year Cockburn continued the heady ideas and subtle performance in a video tribute to Colin Campbell, as well as a comic-formalist gem, Stupid Coalescing Becomers .
4 Louise Bak may well be the city's best-dressed doctoral student, but that's low on her resumé. This year she opened up her Box Salon nights at the Rivoli to include filmmakers and video artists alongside the writers and performers. Bak's sublime dirty-girl aesthetic makes magic happen in this town.
5 Alan King 's video camera watched, quietly, as five palliative care patients at the Salvation Army Toronto Grace Health Centre died. That's all. Dying At Grace premiered at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, and it's an unforgettable film from a documentary giant.
6 Gunilla Josephson makes extremely serious nonsense videos, plucking chaos from the binary logic of the medium. At this year's Images fest, Josephson's Desire divided Liv Ullman against herself.
7 Kathleen Pirrie Adams is Toronto's queen of new media. From her base at InterAccess , she pulls us all a few seconds closer to the future. Operating with Amanda Ramos as The Field Office , she curated 14 installation pieces for Images. It's been ages since she played in legendary girl band Fifth Column, but Pirrie Adams still comes at digital art like a rock star.
8 Skander Halim wrote and directed one of the smartest shorts in this year's Toronto film fest, Guest Room . A savage little drama about a grad student boarding with a sexually demanding family, it's expertly made. A former film critic, Halim is getting his hands dirty in the best way.
9 Ron Mann 's big news this year was Go Further , the film chronicling Woody Harrelson's eco tour. The yogapalooza Mann planned in conjunction with the movie got mixed reviews, but since when is yoga a bad idea? Mann and Gary Topp also launched a new distribution company, Filmswelike, with the superb Weather Underground doc. Smart moves all around.
10 Christina Zeidler screened the single weirdest film in this summer's Splice This! super-8 festival, which is never easy. Machine Guts is an eerie, arresting story conceived by a deer. Zeidler also completed the domestic breakdown short Kill Road this year, and teamed up with Allyson Mitchell in a collective called Freeshow Seymour . It's named after a schoolyard dirty joke that I somehow missed. True to her bad self, Zeidler works in film, not video. ****