TIFF CEO Piers Handling (centre) positions himself between director Bruce McDonald (in trademark cowboy hat) and producer Robert Lantos at the Canada’s Top Ten announcement.
One of the great things about Canadian cinema is how folksy and unaffected it seems. Take Tuesday night’s announcement of TIFF’s annual Canada’s Top Ten.
Wandering around a dimly lit Maison Mercer, atmosphere punctuated by the throb of trance music that sounded like it was lifted from the party scene in Lost Highway, it was a regular Hinterland Who’s Who of Canadian cinema, with Guy Maddin hanging out by the coat check and Ron Mann mulling around in a dark corner, while Bruce McDonald and Don McKellar schmoozed a little more effortlessly with the crowd. It would be a stargazer’s dream, if anyone considered Canadian filmmakers and actors “stars” in that celeb cult way.
Though some of us may pine for a future where adolescent girls thumbtack topless Tiger Beat–style spreads of Reginald Harkema to their bedroom walls, or when Atom Egoyan and wife are referred to by the paparazzi portmanteau Arsinatom, those days are doubtless a long way off. But at the same time, it’s precisely the approachability, humility, and often downright meekness of Canadian filmmakers that makes our national cinema, and TIFF’s yearly round up of the best of it, so interesting. As TIFF chief Piers Handling noted at Tuesday night’s announcement-slash-party, Canadian cinema is exceptional in its “variety of voice and vision,” a veritable mosaic of cultural diversity that Canada’s Top Ten tries to spotlight.
So did it?
TIFF’s 2010 Top Ten winners pose with Handling (centre) and TIFF Canadian Programmer Steve Gravestock (bottom row, second from right).
There are a lot of familiar names on this year’s lists of best Canadian shorts and features, as determined by TIFF’s juries. Maddin’s mixed-media ode to queer filmmaker Jack Smith, “The Little White Cloud That Cried,” is on the list; as are features from institutions like Bruce McDonald (for Trigger) and Denis Villeneuve (for Incendies); as are several of the year’s banner Canadian releases, like Richard J. Lewis’s star-studded Barney’s Version and Vincenzo Natali’s Splice, a bit of a fete for Canadian cinema buffs yearning for more quality genre fare.
There was also Xavier Dolan’s Les Amours imaginaires, a film which, by all accounts, wasn’t all that good. Notably absent was TIFF crowd-pleaser Fubar II, which was runner-up for the Midnight Madness People’s Choice award this year. And while one must defer to TIFF’s jury panels of filmmakers, programmers, and critics—though it would be nice if the vetting and voting procedures could be demystified—it’s easy to get all conspiratorial and think that TIFF simply doesn’t want a bawdy, boozy comedy romp like Fubar II sullying the screens of the Lightbox.
Beyond fan favourites being overlooked, Canada’s Top Ten again seems guilty of consciously compartmentalizing and canonizing a certain kind of Canadian cinema.
At Tuesday night’s announcement, Handling—who recently drew some fire on Twitter after declaring, not without reason, that there are too many Canadian films to sustain a functioning industry—noted that promoting and championing Canadian cinema is one of TIFF’s “pillars.” It’s a shame then that a showcase of the year’s best Canadian cinema would be relegated to a not-even-two-week-long program. (While the Lightbox does host engagements of Canadian films, those runs are usually try-outs for Canada’s Top Ten anyway.)
That all the films on this list of the year’s Best, trumped up as definitive, already fall under the banner of TIFF—giving TIFF the first and last word on shaping Canadian cinema’s canon—further cements this top-down approach to cultural administration. The films selected are branded as “Canada’s Top Ten” films, which is just longhand for “TIFF films.” It’s all well and good that the Lightbox will be screening the selected films early next year (January 20 to February 1; save the dates) before touring them to cinematheques across the country. But these Top Ten block bookings play like “Beaver Hour,” screening this newly canonized Can-Con in unwieldy chunks at the expense of more seamlessly incorporating Canadian films into the larger North American, or even Canadian, film culture.
As with anything TIFF does—from annual festival programming to the despotic “snack-free” policy at many Lightbox screenings—this year’s Canada’s Top Ten breeds the kind of conflicted emotions that will inevitably settle into resigned apathy. Yes, this year’s picks are okay. Just okay. As they’re just okay almost every year. So we’ll see you at the screenings of Curling and Modra and maybe even Trigger—the lattermost described, curiously, by co-host Peter Keleghan as “a distaff version of My Dinner With Andre.” But if you don’t see us at Les Amours or The High Cost of Living, it’s because we’re tucked away indoors, riding out the Canadian winter watching Fubar II, Leslie, My Name Is Evil, and You Are Here on DVD.
Head-banging, Manson Family pop art, and metaphysical nesting dolls: now that’s a variety of voice and vision.
Photos by D.A. Cooper/Torontoist.
Canada’s Top Ten runs January 20 to February 1 at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West). Tickets went on sale on December 15. For the complete list of features and shorts, click here.