Toronto: Canadian Filmmakers in the Fest Grab Global Attention

The 2016 Toronto Intl. Film Festival’s slate of 20-plus homegrown features reveals Canadians as engaged citizens of the world, ready for action.

While Canadian films often land with domestic distribution and international sales rep set, an increasing number of films have been working the fest with U.S. reps, and finding stateside success. (Geared towards Canadian talent, Sept. 12’s panel “The American Dream” addresses U.S. market realities and digital-age strategies.)

U.S. reps aim to further momentum of Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World,” Stella Meghie’s “Jean of the Joneses,” Nathan Morlando’s “Mean Dreams,” and Kim Nguyen’s “Two Lovers and a Bear” — all well received at international fests this past spring. (Fun fact: The voice of Nguyen’s bear, beloved Canadian thesp Gordon Pinsent, is also the subject of Brigitte Berman’s Toronto-preening doc “The River of My Dreams.”)

Reflecting the market shift that has the industry fidgeting, “ARQ,” the dystopian-future feature from Toronto’s Tony Elliot (“Orphan Black”), world preems Friday, with Netflix releasing a week later.

Johnny Ma’s debut “Old Stone,” which turned heads in Berlin, finds its first North American audience here, while Zacharias Kink’s Inuk kidnapping revenge tale “Searchers” and Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie’s “Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves” go toe-to-toe with 10 other auteur films in the juried program Platform.

Flipping the stereotype of the polite Canadian, Chloe Robichaud’s world-preeming “Boundaries,” a satire set on a fictional island nation rich in natural resources, stars Canadian Emily VanCamp as an American mediator. (A slice of casting magic, VanCamp is fluent in French, thanks to ballet studies in Montreal.) Producer Fanny-Laure Malo told Variety the ambitious scope of the film, her second with Robichaud, led her to partner with Montreal production shingle Item 7 and Newfoundland’s Morag Loves Company, an increasingly common kind of interprovincial co-production.

Toronto’s Canadian lineup is abundant in globetrotting cinema, as TIFF senior programmer Steven Gravestock describes it, “[with] films questioning our place in the world.”

“Giants of Africa” by Hubert Davis (the Oscar-nominated short “Hardwood”) follows the philanthropic work of Toronto Raptors’ Nigeria-born GM Masai Ujiri at youth-empowering basketball camps in various African nations. Veteran documentarian Nicholas de Pencier’s “Black Code” hops the globe to examine the complex social and political influence of the web on free speech and privacy.

In “X Quinientos,” Montreal-based Colombian filmmaker Juan Andres Arango (2012 Cannes competish pic “La Playa DC”) unfolds three thematically linked migrant stories in Mexico, Colombia, and Canada. Ann Marie Fleming’s “Window Horses,” which world-preemed at Annecy, animates the journey of young Canadian poet (voiced by Sandra Oh) who travels to an international poetry festival in Iran.

Gravestock points to a handful of films exploring “toxic masculinity,” including Vincent Biron’s Prank,” Deepa Mehta’s “Anatomy of Violence,” and Kevan Funk’s “Hello Destroyer,” which has roots in the festival’s Short Cuts program and Talent Lab, and stars Jared Abrahamson (next up in Netflix series “Travelers”), one of four thesps in the fest’s 2016 Rising Stars program.

No Canuck slate is complete without northerly spins on sex, and drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.

April Mullen’s “Below Her Mouth,” one of the buzziest Canadian acquisition titles, charts the sudden, steamy, world-rocking romance between two very different women. Anne Emond’s “Nelly” is an artful biopic about a French literary sensation, who was also a sex worker.

The evolving stories of a trio of recovering addicts, all social workers at a Toronto community health center, are explored in Hugh Gibson’s documentary “The Stairs,” while Ashley McKenzie’s feature bow “Werewolf” zooms in on the daily grind of pair of 20something methadone addicts.

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