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What it's like to be a rookie in Canadian film
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First-time directors on TIFF's list of top homegrown movies share what they've gleaned so far - good and bad - from working in the Great White North
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By KATE TAYLOR
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Saturday, December 9, 2017 – Print Edition, Page R6


very year, programmers at E the Toronto International Film Festival screen all the feature films made in Canada, a category that now numbers in the hundreds. From that long list, they eventually select 10 films for Canada's Top 10. The mini-festival opens in Toronto in January before touring the country, aiming to introduce audiences to domestic films they may have missed. In 2017, a year in which Canada's big-name auteurs didn't happen to have produced films, first-timers dominated the Top 10 list that TIFF announced on Wednesday.

The Globe and Mail asked the newbies to comment on filmmaking in Canada: They named some joys (those arts councils) and some perils (snow).

KATHLEEN HEPBURN Vancouver native Kathleen Hepburn developed a full-length version of Never Steady, Never Still from a short of the same title. It's a drama about a woman battling Parkinson's disease while her son suffers violence and cruelty working in the Alberta oil fields.

How long have you had the idea for your film?

I started writing the film in 2011, but I wouldn't say it was an idea I had, it was more a few images that stuck in my head and thoughts I wanted to explore on family.

Your best audience member would describe your film as ... An intimate and tender drama about carrying on against life's heartbreaks.

What is the best thing about filmmaking in Canada?

Having the support of government funding allows for a certain amount of artistic freedom.

Though our budgets are more modest than our southern neighbours, the control we have over our own work and creative decisions is immensely valuable.

And the worst?

We have a hard time reaching our audiences.

What Canadian director do you most look up to?

Xavier Dolan, because he is prolific, makes beautiful films and takes risks in order to learn. He's extremely self-critical, which to me shows how hard he works to get better. I don't love every film he's made but I really love some of them and I admire his ability to get on with the next, because that's extremely difficult.

The one filmmaking mistake that I would never make again is ... It's hard to say because each project is so different. And mistakes are important.

If I weren't a film director, I would be ... Probably a woodworker of some kind. I like working with my hands, I find it calming. But I don't have the patience for it.

SADAF FOROUGHI An Iranian-Canadian living in Montreal, Sadaf Foroughi is the director of Ava. Set in Tehran, the film charts the emotions of a sheltered teenage girl who is shocked into rebellion after her mother takes her to a gynecologist to confirm she's still a virgin.

How long have you had the idea for your film?

I had the germ of the idea in my mind in 2014 and it took me three years to write the script ... with the support of the Canada Council and Le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec.

Your best audience member would describe your film as ... Fresh, provocative and enlightening.

What is the best thing about filmmaking in Canada?

Accepting the cultural diversity and helping it to grow and flourish. There are some institutions which support artists/filmmakers and evaluate the works only by the artistic merits. This plays an important role in developing creativity and helps different artists from different artistic backgrounds and cultures to express their voices freely.

And the worst?

Some of the most important film funds in Canada don't often help films in languages other than English, French and aboriginal languages.

What Canadian director do you most look up to?

I watch and rewatch Denis Villeneuve because he magnificently tells stories with images.

The one filmmaking mistake that I would never make again is ... I believe there are no mistakes in filmmaking, there are only valued experiences. Filmmaking is a long process during which we question ourselves, our values, our beliefs, we do and redo, write and rewrite, create and recreate. It is life itself.

If I weren't a film director, I would be ... A contemporary dancer. I was growing up during the [IranIraq] war and from an early stage in my life I was dancing ballet. This was a beautiful idea of my mother, to keep me away from the war environment. I continued to dance in France when I was far from home, studying cinema. Dance remains the pure art and medium to connect to myself and communicate with others.

WAYNE WAPEEMUKWA A Métis filmmaker from Vancouver, Wayne Wapeemukwa is the director of Luk'Luk'I (pronounced Luck Lucky). The film follows five residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside during the 2010 Olympics.

How long have you had the idea for your film?

Luk'Luk'I culminated from five years of research, development, shooting and relationship-building. At no point over these five years did I ever have a precise idea of what this film was going to turn into; rather, I placed my emphasis on learning and discovering stories and people that upset my preconceived notions of what a film about the Downtown Eastside could be.

Your best audience member would describe your film as ... Unsettling.

What is the best thing about filmmaking in Canada?

Luk'Luk'I was entirely financed by our superb arrangement of domestic arts councils and grant-providing institutions.

This provided me with little funding but sweeping freedom: a burden as much as a gift. Also, Tim Hortons.

And the worst?

Class. Much like our neighbours to the south, distribution companies here remain controlled by naive people who look like they just came from the yacht club. How is our cinema supposed to transcend sexism, racism and the like, when at its core it is co-ordinated by capitalists with their ignorant assumptions about what is "supposed to make money"?

What Canadian director do you most look up to?

Chelsea McMullan (My Prairie Home) has been a formative influence on me since I was a kid: In my youth, she showed me directors who would later become some of my favourites, and her cinematic form and commitment to social justice have challenged me to be better.

As a kid in my high-school film program, I grew up watching her student films; today, I'm eagerly watching her contemporary work and am just as inspired today as I was then.

The one filmmaking mistake that I would never make again is ... Make safe decisions.

If I weren't a film director, I would be ... I'm actually not a film director, since the world we live in prohibits people from my generation from living to their fullest capacity. Currently, I'm working two jobs, both are paying me under minimum wage: as a public-school teacher and research assistant. Hopefully one day soon I can be a director again, but until then I need to pay the rent.

JASON AND CARLOS SANCHEZ Montreal photographers Jason and Carlos Sanchez made their featurefilm debut with Allure, a dark drama starring Evan Rachel Wood as a 30-year-old house cleaner who seduces a teenage girl.

How long have you had the idea for your film?

Way too long. ... It started as a whole different idea back in early 2011 and morphed into a different beast about a year before we finally went into production.

Your best audience member would describe your film as ... ... A success.

What is the best thing about filmmaking in Canada?

The amazing support that we as artists have in this country.

We've been blessed to have gotten support first as visual artists and now as filmmakers.

And the worst?

Snow can come at any moment and really screw up your film's continuity.

What Canadian director do you most look up to?

CARLOS: Jason Sanchez. Because I really like the film Allure that he was involved in ... JASON: Carlos Sanchez. Because I really like the film Allure that he was involved in... The one filmmaking mistake that we would never make again is ... Trying to rush an edit to get into a film festival.

If I weren't a film director, I would be ... CARLOS: A Filter Queen repairman.

JASON: A life coach.

Associated Graphic

Top: Director Sadaf Foroughi is an Iranian-Canadian living in Montreal who directed Ava, about a teenage girl shocked into rebellion after her mother takes her to a gynecologist to confirm she's still a virgin.

Above: Wayne Wapeemukwa is a Métis filmmaker from Vancouver who helmed Luk'Luk'I, about residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside during the 2010 Olympics. PHOTOS BY CHRIS DONOVAN/ THE CANADIAN PRESS


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