Canada’s Top Ten: Who Is It For?

Posted in Blog, Festival Coverage, Movies, TIFF 2017 by - December 07, 2017
Canada’s Top Ten: Who Is It For?

TIFF unveiled the titles selected for this year’s Canada Top Ten Film Festival and the list is interesting to say the least.

In many ways this year’s Top Ten list is a reflection of TIFF itself. As the organization tries to regroup and redefine its purpose as a festival and a year-round business, its annual celebration of the best in Canadian cinema also feels like an entity in transition. One that still wants the clout of highlighting the cream of the crop while focusing on raising attention to works that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Scanning the list of films, two things immediately jump out: 1) The majorities of the titles screened at during their flagship festival in September; and 2) The omissions almost overshadow those that were selected.

It is not surprising that TIFF would pull titles from their own festival for the Top Ten selection; though it is nice to see quality non-TIFF titles like Charles Officer’s wonderful Unarmed Verses included. However, even among their own pool of festival screened titles, several high-profile works were left out in the cold.

This is especially noticeable when observing some of the films that did make the list; take Wayne Wapeemukwa’s divisive Luk’Luk’I for example, which inexplicably took home the best Canadian First Feature.

I could not help but wonder who is Canada’s Top Ten really for?

Sure there are several deserving feature films, many of which were directed by women, that I am happy to see on the list. Sadaf Foroughi’s Ava is a riveting coming-of-age tale about an Iranian teenage girl suffocating under the weight of parental and societal pressure put on her. Kathleen Hepburn’s somber, but captivating, Never Steady, Never Still features a stunning performance from the always reliable Shirley Henderson. Also, let us not forget Alanis Obomsawin’s inspiring and optimistic documentary Our People Will Be Healed, which explores how the Norway House Cree Nation is empowering their youth for the future, while simultaneously and teaching them the values and practices of their Cree heritage.

The importance of indigenous culture can also be found in Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana’s Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World. An award winner at both Sundance and Hot Docs, it was a given that this crowd-pleasing documentary about the contributions that indigenous musicians made to the American music landscape would get select. Another crowd-pleaser I suspected would make the list is Kyle Rideout’s Adventures in Public School (formerly known as Public Schooled); a charming comedy about an overprotective mother and her home-schooled son learning to stand on their own thanks to public school system.

However, for a country that has had a long history, at least of in English centric regions, of struggling to get audience out to support homegrown talent, it is puzzling that critically acclaimed high-profile films such as The Breadwinner and The Tragically Hip documentary Long Time Running are nowhere to be found.

I can only assume the fact that Long Time Running has already screened on national television, after a brief theatrical run, hurt its chances here. This is only speculation though.

If the Top Ten is about promoting diversity, discovering new artist and highlighting innovated storytelling, then why are films like Cory Bowles’ wonderfully edgy dark comedy Black Cop, Denis Côté‘s body builder observation A Skin So Soft, Marie Clements’ documentary-musical hybrid The Road Forward, and Molly McGlynn’s nuanced character study Mary Goes Round missing from the list?

Where this year’s Canada’s Top Ten feels at its strongest is in the short film selections.

It was great to see Yassmina Karajah’s Rupture, a touching film about the immigrant struggle in Canada, get recognition. The same can be said for Naledi Jackson’s action-packed film The Drop In, and Torill Kove’s latest animated delight Threads. I was also happy that Marc-Antonie Lemire’s tale of friendship, Pre- Drink, and Vincent Toi meditative slave rebellion tale The Crying Conch were shown some love. Another meditative work worth a look is Heather Young’s Milk. The film left me a little cold at first, but I have grown to appreciate it with subsequent viewings. Speaking of multiple viewings, Daniel Cockburn’s The Argument (with annotations) is a dizzying and witty exploration into language and cinema, that practically demands repeating to unlock it all.

Keep in mind that this is a stacked year for shorts as films such as Michelle Latimer’s powerful Nuuca, Molly Parker’s nuanced Bird and Chandler Levack’s layered We Forgot to Break Up to name of few all missed the cut.

Canada’s Top Ten is at an interesting crossroads, one where their selection committee will really need to take a long hard look at who are they curating this festival for? Is it to simply promote new and diverse talent? Highlight films destined to be Canadian classic? Showcase films that push the boundaries of storytelling? Celebrate titles that are getting critical praise? Inspire future generations of filmmakers? Or somewhere in between?

Frankly, it is tough to tell from this year’s crop of films.

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Courtney has been sharing his thoughts on film online since 2006. The founder of Cinema Axis, he frequently celebrates diversity in cinema as one of the co-hosts of the Changing Reels podcast on Modern Superior. A regular on the Regent Radio program Frameline, Courtney has contributed to several publications including Black Girl Nerds, Comix Asylum Magazine and The Grid Does TIFF. He is also a member of both the Canadian Association of Online Film Critics and the Online Film Critics Society.