TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten Embodies the Hope and Uncertainty of 2020
By Pat Mullen
Canadian film has a strong 2020 despite the year proving a challenge for the industry. The Toronto International Film Festival unveiled its annual list for Canada’s Top Ten today and the selected features and shorts are evidence of a healthy national cinema. This year’s list includes three documentary features and several non-fiction short docs. Moreover, TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten for 2020 offers films that enjoyed a strong presence on the festival circuit and in commercial release, as well as a mix of seasoned veterans and emerging voices challenging the status quo. Overall, this Canada’s Top Ten is a worthy survey of the field.
On the feature front, the TIFF People’s Choice Award winner for documentary and Best Canadian Feature winner Inconvenient Indian, directed by Michelle Latimer, lands a spot on the list after enjoying one of the stronger showings for a Canadian film this fall. Inconvenient Indian also scored prizes at VIFF, RIDM, and the DGC Awards. Its fellow festival circuit favourite No Ordinary Man, directed by Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt, also lands a spot on the list after playing the three major Canadian fall fests as well. Latimer’s film adapts the book by Thomas King and offers a fiercely and unapologetically confrontational essay on Indigenous rights that looks at the legacy of colonialism filtered through films and images, which resonated strongly in 2020 thanks to the protests and blockades in support of Wet’suwet’en that shook Canadians’ consciousness pre-COVID. No Ordinary Man, similarly, corrects the history of transgender representation by straightening out the story of musician Billy Tipton, told through a chorus of trans artists. Inconvenient Indian and No Ordinary Man highlight the notably diverse representation with the selections, as the feature list includes four female BIPOC directors. Tracey Deer’s Oka Crisis drama Beans and Deepa Mehta’s Oscar submission Funny Boy are among the dramatic selections.
Perhaps the most pleasantly unexpected selection on the list is Mike Hoolboom’s non-fiction bio Judy Versus Capitalism. The Toronto-based director’s portrait of author and activist Judy Rebick lands a spot for experimental cinema among the features. Judy Versus Capitalism was a word of mouth hit on the virtual cinema circuit this year. It screened at festivals including Hot Docs, Montreal’s Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, and as the opening night selection of Toronto’s Rendezvous with Madness Festival. Experimental film also has a spot on the list with Nicolás Pereda’s Fauna, a literary spin on slow cinema. The inclusion of Judy Versus Capitalism also spotlights conversations about mental health, which have resonated strongly amid the anxiety-inducing madness of 2020.
The dramatic front for Canada’s Top Ten also finds a non-fiction component in Pascal Plante’s Nadia, Butterfly, which casts former swimmer Katerine Savard as an Olympic athlete confronting her future post retirement. The drama was the only Canadian feature selected for Cannes this year. Canada’s Top Ten also features a double-dose of genre fare with Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor and Sean Durkin’s The Nest- coon-jude-laws-big-heart-smoke-filled-rooms-and-haunted-houses/. Both films opened theatrically in the brief window this fall in which cinemas tried to revive the moviegoing business before the second wave of COVID-19 made theatrical moviegoing impossible. Possessor and The Nest are now playing at TIFF’s Digital Cinema. (And, admittedly, the only films on this list that I have yet to see.) The only selection that might raise an eyebrow for this writer is the black comedy The Kid Detective, which I might have swapped for any of Michèle Stephenson’s doc Stateless, Jennifer Abbott’s eco doc The Magnitude of All Things, or Bruce LaBruce’s zany Saint Narcisse, but know I’m in the minority on the gunshoe farce.
The shorts have a notable doc with Tiffany Hsiung’s Sing Me a Lullaby, a personal journey 15 years in the making. The film won prizes at TIFF, the DGC Awards, and DOC NYC, the latter making it eligible in the Academy Awards race for Best Documentary (Short Subject). Alex Anna’s Scars provides representation for experimental non-fiction work, while Theola Ross’s êmîcêtôcêt: Many Bloodlines delivers a timely essay on representation and identity. The latter film won the prize for Best Canadian Short Documentary at Hot Docs. The list might have found room for Sophy Romvari’s deeply personal Still Processing or Sofia Bohdanowicz’s latest collaboration with Deragh Campbell, Point and Line to Plane, but their absence is, if anything, indicative of the overall strength of the shorts from which curators had to choose this year.
Both lists overall embody the competing forces of uncertainty and optimism that define 2020. There’s even a COVID short with Andrea Dorfman’s pandemic production How to Be at Home, which perfectly captures the need to creative during these challenging times, and keep Canadians connected through stories.
Canada’s Top Ten for 2020 is as follows:
Beans – Tracey Deer | Quebec/Ontario
Fauna – Nicolás Pereda | Ontario
Funny Boy – Deepa Mehta | Ontario
Inconvenient Indian – Michelle Latimer | Ontario
Judy Versus Capitalism – Mike Hoolboom | Ontario
The Kid Detective Evan Morgan | Ontario
Nadia, Butterfly – Pascal Plante | Quebec
The Nest – Sean Durkin | Ontario
No Ordinary Man – Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt | Quebec
Possessor – Brandon Cronenberg | Ontario
Aniksha – Vincent Toi | Quebec
The Archivists – Igor Drljača | Ontario/British Columbia
Benjamin, Benny, Ben – Paul Shkordoff | Ontario
Black Bodies – Kelly Fyffe-Marshall | Ontario
êmîcêtôcêt: Many Bloodlines – Theola Ross | Manitoba
Foam (Écume) – Omar Elhamy | Quebec
How To Be At Home – Andrea Dorfman | Nova Scotia
Scars – Alex Anna | Quebec
Sing Me a Lullaby – Tiffany Hsiung | Ontario
Stump The Guesser – Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson | Manitoba
More information about Canada’s Top Ten screenings will be provided when available.