Canada’s Top Ten Includes Three Docs

Our People Will Be Healed
Courtesy of the NFB

By Pat Mullen

Three documentary features and one hybrid fiction make for a strong representation for non-fiction filmmaking in this year’s Canada’s Top Ten. The eccentric list released today by the Toronto International Film Festival includes Alanis Obomsawin’s 50th film Our People Will Be Healed. Remarkably, this selection is the first time that Obomsawin has made Canada’s Top Ten. Our People Will Be Healed is Obomsawin’s most optimistic film as it takes her up to the territory of Norway House where she finds a decolonial effort to ensure the survival of culture and heritage. Obomsawn will participate in a master class at the Canada’s Top Ten fest in January and Our People Will Be Healed offers one of four NFB titles in the festival.

Also repping documentary are two Hot Docs selections, Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana’s Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, the electrifying music doc about the contributions of Indigenous artists throughout the history of rock and roll, and Charles Officer’s Unarmed Verses, which sees the “redevelopment” of Toronto’s Villaways community through the eyes of a young girl. Rumble won the overall Audience Award and Audience Award for Canadian film at Hot Docs after scooping a special prize for masterful storytelling at Sundance, while Unarmed Verses won Best Canadian Feature at both Hot Docs and VIFF. The non-fiction front of Canada’s Top Ten also features Wayne Wapeemukwa’s controversial and polarizing Luk’Luk’I, a hybrid fiction shot in Vancouver’s east side that casts residents in dramatic interpretations of their own stories. Luk’Luk’I won the award for Best Canadian First Feature at TIFF earlier this year.

Notably absent from the line-up is Jennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier’s hugely popular doc Long Time Running. This deeply moving and beautifully assembled film about the final tour of The Tragically Hip going out on a high note following Gord Downie’s cancer diagnosis is arguably the most high profile Canadian documentary of the year. Following Downie’s recent passing, Long Time Running would have been a sentimental favourite. It deserves to be there. Other absentees from the line-up include, but are not limited to, Denis Côté‘s playful interrogation of masculinity, A Skin so Soft, the timely A Better Man in which director Attiya Khan confronts her abusive ex-boyfriend to have a thoughtful discussion on gender-based violence, and Marie Clements’ popular doc-musical The Road Forward.

The dramatic side of Canada’s Top Ten is largely comprised of offbeat feature debuts. While the sense of discovery is notable, the list doesn’t account for some of the year’s best and most acclaimed Canadian films, such as Mina Shum’s Meditation Park, Pat Mills’ hilarious Don’t Talk to Irene, and François Girard’s excellent sweeping historical epic Hochelaga, Land of Souls. The latter film is Canada’s Oscar submission and 2017 marks the first time that our selection has failed to make Canada’s Top Ten. It’s a disappointing non-confidence vote for one of the stronger contenders in the foreign film race ahead of next week’s anticipated Oscar shortlist. The only repeat name on the list is Simon Lavoie, one half of the directing team for last year’s Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves with his chilling gothic horror film The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches. Overall, the selection is mostly notable for the carefully calibrated multiculturalism and regionalism on the list.

This year’s festival line-up deviates from previous editions of Canada’s Top Ten in that selections were made in-house, rather than via a panel of industry peers and filmmakers. As per a statement from the festival when POV asked for details on the panelists by email, a representative from the communications department stated: “There was no external panel/committee this year…TIFF programmers consider the artistic merits of the film as well as the discovery of filmmakers and of films, innovation in form and storytelling and diversity in content, in creators, in regions.” The move to exclude panelists is an odd choice for TIFF in a year in which it has faced ongoing frustration from audiences, declining year-round attendance, and fairly bad PR, most notably an in-depth piece by The Globe and Mail released at the end of this year’s festival.

The selection comes from over 200 eligible films. In order to be eligible, films must be directed by a Canadian citizen or resident and have screened either theatrically or at a major festival during the year.

The selections are:

Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival features, in alphabetical order:

Adventures in Public School – Kyle Rideout (Opening Night Film)
Allure – Carlos Sanchez, Jason Sanchez
Ava Sadaf Foroughi
Les Affamés – Robin Aubert
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches – Simon Lavoie
Luk’Luk’I – Wayne Wapeemukwa
Never Steady, Never Still – Kathleen Hepburn
Our People Will Be Healed – Alanis Obomsawin
RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World – Catherine Bainbridge, Alfonso Maiorana
Unarmed Verses – Charles Officer

Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival shorts, in alphabetical order.
The Argument (with annotations) – Daniel Cockburn
The Botanist – Maude Plante-Husaruk, Maxime Lacoste-Lebuis
The Crying Conch – Vincent Toi
The Drop In – Naledi Jackson
Flood – Amanda Strong
Milk – Heather Young
Pre-Drink – Marc-Antoine Lemir
Rupture – Yassmina Karajah
The Tesla World Light – Matthew Rankin
Threads – Torill Kove

Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival student shorts, in alphabetical order.
Away Home – Jana Stackhouse (Ryerson)
Blindsided – Flytrap Productions (Sheridan College)
Hold My Hand – Alexandre Lefebvre (Cinéma à l’Université du Québec à Montréal)
If You Fall – Tisha Deb Pillai (Emily Carr University of Art + Design: Animation)
Leila – Aziz Zoromba (Concordia University)
Meddy – Ted Sakowsky (York University)
Mustard Seed – Lina Roessler (York University)
Nana – Ali Kellner (Sheridan College)
QuartersFIG House (Sheridan College)
Waiting for Lou – Katerine Martineau (Concordia University)

Canada’s Top Ten runs in Toronto beginning January 12, 2018 and hits additional cities later in the season.