Programmed by Francesca Lambert
In 2017, The Toronto International Film Festival and its partners celebrated the country's sesquicentennial by screening a roster of 150 "essential moving-image productions" from Canadian film history. This series draws from that list but focuses more narrowly on works dating back to the 1990s, the decade in which Canadian film first made major inroads at international festivals and achieved financial and critical success at home and abroad. This was, and continues to be, no small feat—as the American industry, juggernaut of commercial culture, dominates Canadian theaters (even considered part of the domestic market!) and draws away aspiring and established actors, directors, and film professionals. In response, this series serves as an introduction to a vibrant, heterogeneous, and all-too-often overshadowed contemporary national cinema, specifically bringing together films that foreground and illustrate distinct and diverse Canadian cultural identities, languages, geographies, and lives. These include works little-known and rarely-screened, as well as more recent and larger-budget productions by directors who have since gone on themselves to answer Hollywood's seductive call. The series takes us from the cosmopolitan urban hubs of Toronto and Montreal to small rural communities and the wild expanses of the Canadian Arctic; from (fictional and documentary, narrative and experimental) explorations of personal memories and experiences, to those of communal histories, events, and legends; from childhood to adulthood and back again, each film's universal aspects sited in uniquely Canadian contexts. Series sponsored by the Chicago Consulate General of Canada
(Denis Villeneuve, 2009) · Now-Hollywood star Villeneuve's controversial and compelling third Quebecois feature fictionalizes the 1989 "Montreal Massacre" of 14 women perpetrated by self-proclaimed "anti-feminist" school shooter Marc Lepine. Told with tense, genre-defying, almost clinical economy, in stark, painterly black and white, this troublingly timely film loosely follows three university students (including Lepine) as they experience the devastating event and its aftermath.
runtime: 77m format: DCP
(Peter Mettler, 1994) · In the early 90s, director Mettler, Swiss meteorologist Andreas Zuest, and a tiny crew traveled to Churchill, Manitoba on an elusive and notoriously challenging quest to capture the famed Aurora Borealis on film. A mesmerizing, visually stunning portrait of a phenomenon so widely known yet experienced by so few, Picture of Light is a poetic work about technology and nature, the ephemeral, its representability, and the creation of images.
runtime: 83m format: DCP
(Atom Egoyan, 1997) · In a small community in rural British Columbia, 14 children are killed when a school bus hits a patch of ice and crashes into a lake. How does life move on - for the survivors, the victims' families, the bereft town - in the aftermath of such a tragedy? Egoyan's hauntingly beautiful imagery and score, combined with a fragmented and evocative narrative structure, mount a powerful inquiry into the nature of both personal and collective grief.
runtime: 112m format: 35mm
(Guy Maddin, 2007) · In this kaleidoscopic, witty, and wholly unique autobiographical "docu-fantasia," Maddin sweeps us into his dazzling universe: part surrealist fever dream, part spoken word poem, part genealogical excavation, part investigation into bizarre aspects of Winnipeg's history and lore, it is a playful and moving meditation on place, memory, and identity, shot in bewitching black and white, combining archival images with new footage starring the legendary Ann Savage as Mother.
runtime: 80m format: 35mm
(Xavier Dolan, 2012) · Spanning the 1980s and 1990s, prolific wunderkind Xavier Dolan's epic drama charts the male-to-female transition of Laurence, a literature teacher and poet in her mid-30s. Operatic, highly stylized, and gorgeously shot, the film plumbs the bittersweet core of Laurence's romance with vivacious Frédérique as they fall in and out (and in and out) of love. Dolan grounds the story throughout in the idiosyncratic Québécois culture, identity, and language.
runtime: 168m format: DCP
(Sarah Polley, 2012) · In this heartfelt, intimate documentary, actor and director Sarah Polley leads a meditative investigation into her mysterious provenance and family history. Combining interviews, archival materials, and Super 8 home movie reenactments, Polley pieces together a portrait of her enigmatic mother Diane (who died when Polley was 11) and her legacy, producing a tender and vulnerable story about love, loss, and the perplexing unknowability of other lives.
runtime: 109m format: 35mm
(Guy Maddin, 1990) · Lt. John Boles, a one-legged Canadian soldier, searches for lost (and late) love in the midst of the Russian revolution. Arriving at the arctic town of Archangel, he comes across Veronkha, who uncannily resembles his late lover, and becomes convinced that she truly is his dead fiancée. Taking influence from the the part-talkies of the 20s, Maddin's film melds melodrama and black comedy to create a surreal, melancholic, and windswept dream set during the Great War.
runtime: 83m format: 35mm
(Clement Virgo, 1995) · Rude is the name of the silken-voiced streetwise pirate radio DJ whose musings on life, death, grace, and transformation link together three disparate dramas unfolding over Easter weekend in inner-city Toronto. They involve an ex-con seeking redemption, a heart-broken window dresser post-breakup, and a boxer questioning his sexuality. Jamaican-born Virgo's full-length debut was also the first in Canada created by a predominantly POC cast and crew.
runtime: 89m format: DCP
(Zacharias Kunuk, 2001) · A film experience unlike any other, Atanarjuat brings to the screen a centuries-old Inuit legend, passed down orally and adapted here in collaboration with several tribal elders. Written, directed, and acted entirely in the Inuktitut language (the first ever such feature) and shot on-location in the arctic wilderness of Nunavut, Atanarjuat is an epic story of love, jealousy, revenge, and the preservation and representation of indigenous cultures.
runtime: 172m format: 35mm