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Eight Questions About Canada's Top Ten Films

Back in December the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) announced their picks for Canada’s top ten feature films and top ten short films of 2009. The list included a broad range of features, among them Polytechnique (one of CityNews.ca’s Best Films of 2009 and winner of the Toronto Film Critics Association Rogers Best Canadian Film award), Cairo Time, Defendor, Passenger Side (pictured above), and Canada’s official submission to the Oscars this year; J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother). Animated films dominated the short film list with popular titles like Cordell Barker’s Runaway and Chris Landreth’s The Spine making the cut (full list of films below).

The films will screen at the TIFF Cinematheque in Toronto from January 14 to 21 and will have an introduction and Q&A by the filmmakers when available. There is also a panel discussion planned with directors Jacob Tierney (The Trotsky) and Peter Stebbings (Defendor) along with actor Mark Krupa (The Wild Hunt) about the challenges of balancing humour and drama in film. The films will also screen at other venues across Canada early this year.

CityNews.ca spoke with Steve Gravestock, Associate Director of Canadian programming at TIFF about the selection process for the films and why it’s important for Canadians to support our own film industry.

How was the Top Ten selected?

We have two panels — one for short films and one for feature films. It’s a ten member panel for features and a five member panel for shorts. They’re anonymous until the results are announced so there is no discussion. They look at the films and then submit two ballets. One is a preliminary ballet to assess the field and then the second ballet is the final ballet which we tabulate the results from.

How many titles were looked at?

For the shorts I think it was about 150 and it’s about 75 to 100 features.

Any films that didn’t make the cut that you thought should have?

I don’t like to second guess the panel. They do everything on a volunteer basis and I think that both lists are very good and quite representative of the year, and the kind of filmmaking that’s being done [in Canada].

What do you think makes a Canadian film a Canadian film?

It’s hard to say overall because things do change year-to-year and emphasis change. What’s been interesting recently is this relationship to the conventions of mainstream filmmaking but it’s a relationship that’s complicated and not a straightforward acceptance of those codes. If you look at films by established filmmakers like Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg or Guy Maddin they evoke certain genres but they don’t play by the rules entirely. They turn those codes into a personal statement. One of the great things about Canadian films is that they are seldom formulaic. They generally tend to skew towards an individual vision than an industrial framework.

Any examples of this in the Top Ten?

Jacob Tierney’s The Trotsky has the plotting of a teen comedy but is radically different. A film like Defendor, which has Woody Harrelson playing a mentally challenged man who believes he’s a superhero. Denis Côté’s film Carcasses begins as a documentary about an aging man who has a junkyard where he restores cars and junk and sells it…then it turns into a fable at the end. You could say the same thing about Matthew Bissonnette’s Passenger Side which is technically a road movie about two brothers who criss-cross L.A. Most road movies don’t take place in just one city so it toys with that genre. The Wild Hunt, Alexander Franchi’s film, sets itself up as a comic-fantasy and then turns out to be something completely different. Near the end the rug gets pulled out from underneath you again. It’s a pretty intense movie actually.

Have you seen a change in how the world regards Canadian films?

One of the strange things about Canadian cinema, for a variety of reasons, is the domestic audience isn’t as aware of our cinematic output as the international audience is. Particularly in terms of festivals where our films are extremely well known. There are years where we have several films in competition at a festival like Cannes. Few countries outside of the U.S. and France have films in competition at Cannes. There are a number of truisms about the dominance of American product [in Canada] and the dominance of studio work. Few Canadian films have a budget to compete in the marketplace the same way.

Why is it important for Canadians to support our own film industry?

Any culture that is not aware of itself and fails to support its artists is probably not spectacularly healthy. It gets defined by absence or by a contrast and that’s problematic. It means that other people are telling stories for you. The result is a kind of absence of autonomy. People questioned when there was no Canadian music on radio or no Canadian television…when the book industry was smaller than it is now; before Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro. It’s always tougher with film because it’s a more expensive and collaborative medium.

What films are you looking forward to in 2010?

I’m looking forward to seeing what Defendor and The Trotsky do when they get released. Also interested in what Chloe does, Atom Egoyan’s new film which is an exceptional piece. It’s interesting to see it in the view of a Torontonian because it’s a view of high-end Toronto which has very seldom been seen in film. It has some great performances by Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, and Amanda Seyfried, and it’s quite a sharp film.


Cairo Time – Ruba Nadda
Carcasses – Denis Côté
Crackie – Sherry White
Defendor – Peter Stebbings
La Donation – Bernard Émond
J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) – Xavier Dolan
Passenger Side – Matthew Bissonnette
Polytechnique – Denis Villeneuve
The Trotsky – Jacob Tierney
The Wild Hunt – Alexandre Franchi


The Armoire – Jamie Travis
The Cave – Helen Haig-Brown
Danse Macabre – Pedro Pires
Five Hole: Tales of Hockey Erotica – Cam Christiansen
Naissances – Anne Émond
Out in that Deep Blue Sea – Kazik Radwanski
Runaway – Cordell Barker
The Spine – Chris Landreth
La Vie commence – Émile Proulx-Cloutier
Vive la Rose – Bruce Alcock

For more information on the films and to purchase tickets to the screenings visit www.topten.ca.


Top image: Adam Scott and Joel Bissonnette in Passenger Side. Courtesy KinoSmith Inc.