‘Ville-Marie’, ‘Into The Forest’ & ‘Born to Be Blue’ highlight Canadian films at 40th TIFF

by Christopher Heard
Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker in Born to Be Blue

Throughout the forty years of the Toronto International Film Festival, the developing and fostering and incubating of Canadian films and Canadian cinematic talent has always been an important priority, and because of that this year’s terrific line-up of Canadian films can be seen as a direct pay off of all those past efforts and the need to keep TIFF a Canadian film festival–one that celebrates international films and film culture probably better than just about any other festival in the world, while remaining still a Canadian film festival.

The press conference announcing the line-up of Canadian films and programs surrounding development of new Canadian film talent was held recently at the elegant Canadian Ballroom in the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, an event that came complete with a lunch of Canadian fare (I had a terrific Montreal smoked meat sandwich with poutine) and fine wines, and of the announcements made, three films leapt out at me; films that clearly and definitively show that the efforts made by TIFF over the years are bearing rich fruit.

Ville-Marie, from director Guy Édoin, concerns an internationally famous actress who is trying to reconnect with her estranged son and the intersecting stories of all the characters are part of her quest. Starring in the lead role is Italian/French star Monica Bellucci who will soon be seen as the next “Bond girl” at age 50 in the upcoming Spectre.

Into The Forest is the latest offering from the terrific Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema whose career began at TIFF all those years ago with her sublime film I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing and has since established herself as one of the most distinct of Canadian cinema voices. Her new film is set in the near future and involves two young women who live in a remote, ancient forest and learn that the world outside the forest is on the brink of an apocalypse and how they deal with the discovery–Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood star as the two young women.

Born to Be Blue is not just my most anticipated Canadian film at the festival, it is one of the films I am most looking forward to in the entire film festival. Robert Budreau directs this reimagining of the life of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. Ethan Hawke plays Chet Baker and it is inspiring casting; Hawke is a terrific actor and bears a striking resemblance to the real Chet Baker.

What is also very interesting about this film is that it was shot mostly in Sudbury, Ontario. This is a very interesting choice in that it provides an unfamiliar landscape and backdrop for the film that adds a textural and atmospheric feel to the film that could not be found by shooting in the usual Toronto/Montreal/Vancouver locations–and it is a fact that Sudbury is a very film-literate and film-loving community. I attended the Sudbury Film Festival twice for several days each time as part of the TIFF-backed Film Circuit program and had a great time on each occasion mixing with the knowledgeable and enthusiastic film fans there. I am certain that the reception and cooperation given to Born To Be Blue will make it a certainly that there will be more big film projects choosing Sudbury as their location.

The common denominator in all these films is that internationally known actors are choosing Canadian films to work in and Canadian filmmakers to work with, not for the money, not to altruistically help the little Canadian film industry, but because these are good films, good stories and good filmmakers they want to be associated with. In the case of Born To Be Blue, even the likes of Brad Pitt have tried to bring the complex and challenging life of Chet Baker to the screen and the fact that his story has made it to the screen via a Canadian film project is not only cool, it is significant and shows how successful TIFF has been at raising the level of quality and the levels of international acknowledgement that Canadian films are not second tier anymore.

This fortieth anniversary edition of TIFF boasts the strongest line-up of Canadian films ever and if TIFF continues to forward the cause of Canadian films and filmmakers the way they have been this yearly line-up will only get even stronger and stronger.

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