Whether it’s just coincidence or by design, there’s a definite sense of the guard changing in TIFF’s announcement of this year’s Canada’s Top Ten.
In addition to the lack of a January showcase for the honourees – as announced last month, this year’s winning films will be given theatrical runs at the TIFF Bell Lightbox over the course of 2019 instead – the 2018 features list is more eclectic than most, embracing genre and experimental works while leaving off certain favourite sons of Canadian cinema.
Seven of this year’s anointed features – six dramas and a documentary – focus on young people figuring themselves out.
Both of the Canadian features that won prizes at TIFF made the cut – Katherine Jerkovic’s generational drama Roads In February, which won the $15,000 City of Toronto award for best Canadian first feature, and Sébastian Pilote’s restless-teen study The Fireflies Are Gone, which took the $30,000 Canada Goose award for best Canadian feature film. But that’s just the start.
Jasmin Mozaffari’s Firecrackers, a drama expanded by the filmmaker from her 2013 short, Philippe Lesage’s ambitious, exploratory Genesis and Keith Behrman’s sexually charged teen study Giant Little Ones are all occupied with themes of young people finding themselves – as is Patricia Rozema’s tricky adaptation of Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava’s theatrical drama Mouthpiece, though that film is a very different animal. And Christy Garland’s documentary What Walaa Wants follows a young woman forging her own path as a cadet in the Palestinian Police Academy after her mother’s release from an Israeli jail.
A case could even be made to include Freaks in this thematic umbrella, as Vancouver filmmakers Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein’s first theatrical feature is built around a little girl (Lexy Kolker) with an overprotective father (Emile Hirsch) who won’t let her leave the house. There’s obviously a lot more to it than that – the film starts as a weird cousin to Terry Gilliam’s Tideland and quickly mutates into a riff on Noah Hawley’s FX series Legion. I would never have expected to see this movie make the Top Ten – seriously, the last honouree this weird was Vincenzo Natali’s Splice in 2009 – and its presence is a surprise, to say the least.
It might also indicate the influence of external film critics’ associations. TIFF’s internal programming team consulted both the Vancouver Film Critics Circle and Association Québécoise Des Critiques de Cinéma in compiling this year’s list. (The Toronto Film Critics Association – of which I am a member – was also contacted, but declined to participate.)
Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown’s Indigenous thriller Edge Of The Knife, the first feature produced in the endangered Haida language, and Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky’s latest chapter in the decade-long documentary project following Manufactured Landscapes and Watermark, round out the list.
And if this was a year for new faces and a youthful focus, that meant Canada’s old guard was mostly on the outside. Other than Rozema and Baichwal, filmmakers who might have once been able to make TIFF’s Top Ten just by showing up were conspicuously absent.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Xavier Dolan’s long-awaited English-language drama The Death And Life Of John F. Donovan, didn’t make the list it cratered spectacularly at TIFF, no matter how fervently Dolan’s boosters insist otherwise. Denys Arcand’s The Fall Of The American Empire, the wheezy final entry in the film cycle Arcand started three decades ago with The Decline Of The American Empire, similarly failed to garner any critical or public support, slipping into the same vaguely recalled limbo that swallowed up Days Of Darkness.
Also absent: Maxime Giroux’s ambitious historical allegory The Great Darkened Days, a follow-up to his critically beloved Félix & Meira Don McKellar’s film based on Joseph Boyden’s controversial novel Through Black Spruce Thom Fitzgerald’s adaptation of Lee-Anne Poole’s stage play Splinters and Sharkwater: Extinction, a documentary completed after credited director Rob Stewart died during its production.
I was a little more surprised to see Darlene Naponse’s Falls Around Her and Igor Drljaca’s The Stone Speakers fail to make the list the former showcases Tantoo Cardinal in a knockout performance as an Anishinaabe musician returning home to Northern Ontario, and the latter is an intriguing documentary that finds the filmmaker examining his Bosnian-Canadian heritage through the prism of cultural tourism.
Neither film is perfect, but they’re excellent examples of idiosyncratic Canadian cinema from gifted storytellers I was sure they’d be catnip to TIFF’s selection committee. But I’m pretty happy with the titles they chose – especially Roads In February, which is exactly the sort of tiny, lovely little discovery so often overlooked when this list is compiled.
Still no comedies, though. Maybe they’ll get to that next year.
The full list of this year’s features and shorts is below:
TIFF Top Ten Canadian Films Of 2018
Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky)
Edge Of The Knife (Gwaai Edenshaw, Helen Haig-Brown)
Firecrackers (Jasmin Mozaffari)
The Fireflies Are Gone (Sébastien Pilote)
Freaks (Zach Lipovsky, Adam Stein)
Genesis (Philippe Lesage)
Giant Little Ones (Keith Behrman)
Mouthpiece (Patricia Rozema)
Roads In February (Katherine Jerkovic)
What Walaa Wants (Christy Garland)
TIFF Top Ten Canadian Shorts Of 2018
Paseo (Matthew Hannam)
Veslemøy’s Song (Sofia Bohdanowicz)
My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes (Charlie Tyrell)
The Subject (Patrick Bouchard)
Brotherhood (Meryam Joobeur)
Fauve (Jérémy Comte)
Altiplano (Malena Szlam)
Accidence (Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson)
Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes) (Amanda Strong)
Little Waves (Ariane Louis-Seize)