Canadian films vying for the spotlight

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Editor’s Note: For more information about The Canadian Film Festival, including ticket prices, visit their website.

A positive buzz is in the air this week as Canadian independent filmmakers get ready to showcase their talents.  Hollywood studio films may attract general audiences, but Canadian indie filmmakers are hoping to make a change. The spotlight will be placed on films made by hometown talents, with the revival of the Canadian Film Fest from March 28 to 31st.  The festival, which was created by Toronto film enthusiast Bern Euler, originally began in 2004 but ended temporarily in 2008 because of the economic crisis, resulting in lack of sponsorship money. Its return this year provides a great platform for Canadian filmmakers who continuously struggle to share their stories with an audience.

“There are very few film festivals in Canada that show only Canadian films,” said Euler, commenting on what makes this festival stand out.

“There are very few film festivals in Canada that show only Canadian films,” said Euler, commenting on what makes this festival stand out. “That just speaks to the point that it’s hard to see Canadian movies up on the big screen.” He states that getting Canadian filmmakers to share their films on the big screen is important for developing and celebrating our own culture. The festival not only brings the filmmakers an audience of people interested in watching Canadian films. It also attracts potential distributors. “One has already told me that they’re interested in two different movies that are showing at the festival,” said Euler, who hints of a surprise announcement during the festival.

Writer and director Manuel H. DaSilva is among the filmmakers who will be showcasing his work. It will be his first time having a film part of the festival. He will be screening his feature, The Unleashed, a horror film about a woman with a dark past who returns home, eight years after her mother’s death and is haunted by mysterious paranormal events. Playing the role of narrator in the film is veteran actor Malcolm MacDowell best known for the 1971 Stanley Kubrick classic, A Clockwork Orange.  DaSilva is honored that his film has been selected to be part of the festival. “I’m a big fan of Canadian content and the fact that the Canadian Film Fest focuses strictly on Canadian content,” said DaSilva. He says that independent filmmakers struggle to get their films made, so it is an accomplishment itself to have it completed. “One of the things I’ve learned with doing these projects is if you fund it yourself, make sure you’re going to finish it,” said DaSilva. “If you can’t even finish your own project, there’s no way anybody else will even look at you and say, ‘I’m going to give you this amount of money to do this film.”

Another filmmaker who will be presenting a film this year’s festival is writer and director Elli Raynai. Raynai will premiere his five minute short, My Loss, Your Gain. The film is a sci-fi thriller about a scientist who is obsessed with experimentation.  Raynai, who recently worked as part of the visual effects team for 2010’s Tron: Legacy, also shares DaSilva’s enthusiasm for the festival as a venue to showcase their projects.  “It’s my opinion that a film is not a film until an audience sees it,” said Raynai. “If you make a movie and nobody sees the film, I don’t really call it a film. I call that as a movie you made for your friends.”  He says that all filmmakers want to get audiences seeing their work on the big screen. “Laughing or crying, or being scared,” said Raynai. “There’s no greater thrill in the world for a filmmaker.”

While the positivity among Canadian independent filmmakers is alive, there is still the struggle to get regular people or non-film buffs interested in seeing films about Canada.

While the positivity among Canadian independent filmmakers is alive, there is still the struggle to get regular people or non-film buffs interested in seeing films about Canada. Euler says there are various reasons for this issue. For one, there are marketing budgets. “Canadian movies do not have the marketing budgets that American movies have,” said Euler. “If people don’t know that they’re playing, they’re not going to go.” Secondly, Euler acknowledges that there is a stigma attached to Canadian films, where they are stereotyped as always “art house” or “boring.” Euler hopes this festival will show that this stereotype about Canadian films is untrue.  “People who are not in the industry, who are Canadians, do not acknowledge a lot of the indie films,” said DaSilva. He says that if a famous name is attached to the project then, it will be given more attention. “When we get people like Malcolm (MacDowell) attached to our film, automatically the awareness starts to kick in.”

Despite the challenges, everyone is in agreement that there has been progress for the Canadian independent film scene over the years.  DaSilva began his filmmaking career 10 years ago, and believes that it has changed dramatically. He credits the increase in good quality Canadian films as the reason for this progress. “We’re getting there,” said DaSilva. “It’s just going to take time.” Raynai mentions the films from Quebec that are earning recognition internationally with awards. Most recently, Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars.  “They’re very protectionist about what their culture is and in their history,” said Raynai about Quebec. “Maybe we’re not so much.” Like any festival, there is always a sense of competition for which film is selected as the favourite or best of the festival by audiences. However, DaSilva does not see it as a competition and is just honored to be acknowledged by his peers in his hometown.  “It shows support. It shows that it’s growing. It shows that the Toronto indie scene is getting bigger and bigger each year.”

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Ryerson University Journalism student, Muggle, Gleek, Career Tribute and film enthusiast.