Someone Lives Here is the lone feature documentary on the list for Canada’s Top Ten this year. The Toronto International Film Festival released its annual lists for the best feature films and shorts today. Someone Lives Here, directed by Zack Russell, is one of six first features to make Canada’s Top Ten in a list that leans heavily on debuts. Russell’s film is a cinema vérité portrait of Toronto’s housing crisis seen through the eyes of carpenter Khaleel Seivwright as he endeavours to make shelters for unhoused people.
The film is among the festival circuit favourites this year. Someone Lives Here won the Rogers Audience Award for top Canadian feature at Hot Docs, along with the Bill Nemtin Award for Best Social Impact Documentary for producers Matt King and Andrew Ferguson. The film also won Best Canadian Feature at the Vancouver International Film Festival and screened at numerous fests across the country.
Canada’s Top Ten includes two other documentary-adjacent features. Tautuktavuk (What We See), directed by Carol Kunnuk and Lucy Tulugarjuk, is a unique hybrid portrait that sees the filmmakers play sisters connected via Zoom during the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic. The film uses the lockdowns to observe daily life in Nunavut and explore past traumas. Meanwhile Cody Lightning’s meta-mockumentary Hey, Viktor! makes the list for the actor-filmmaker’s amusingly self-deprecating attempt to rekindled whatever star power he gleaned from the 1998 drama Smoke Signals. Hey, Viktor! is Lightning’s first feature.
Notably absent from Canada’s Top Ten, however, is Chelsea McMullan’s immersive backstage documentary Swan Song. The film about Karen Kain’s farewell to the National Ballet of Canada may be the shocker omission of the line-up after scoring a Gala at TIFF and playing most of the major Canadian festivals. The film also won Best Canadian Documentary at the Calgary International Film Festival and was one of relatively few feature docs to score a theatrical run this year. Absent too is Terra Long’s acclaimed poetic doc Feet in Water, Head on Fire, which might have complemented last year’s inspired Canada’s Top Ten selection This House in representing docs that expand film form. Ditto Khao Lê’s Mother Saigon, a prize-winner at DOXA and RIDM for its collaborative portrait of queer life in Vietnam.
Another surprise omission is Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make Believe, directed by Rob McCallum. The film about the children’s TV icon won the People’s Choice Award for Documentary at TIFF this fall and marks a rare case in which the festival overlooked one of its own audience award winners. Other docs, like Oscar submission Rojek and Hot Docs winner I Lost My Mom, weren’t eligible this year because they screened at 2022 festivals.
Dramas and Shorts
On the dramatic front, Canada’s Top Ten includes Sophie Dupuis’ drag scene portrait Solo, which won Best Canadian Feature at TIFF, as well as Matt Johnson’s acclaimed BlackBerry about the rise and fall of the Waterloo-based mobile device that revolutionized telecommunications. Veteran Atom Egoyan makes the list again for his backstage drama Seven Veils, while Dear Jackie director Henri Pardo appears with his dramatic feature Kanaval. (TIFF counts Kanaval as a “first feature,” which speaks volumes about the festival’s esteem for documentaries.) Other features on the list are Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, directed by Ariane Louis-Seize; The Queen of My Dreams, directed by Fawzia Mirza; and Seagrass, directed by Meredith Hama-Brown.
Documentaries on the shorts side of Canada’s Top Ten, meanwhile, include Madeline, directed by Raquel Sancinetti. The film is an animated road trip that imaginatively shares the filmmaker’s friendship with an elderly woman who longs to escape her retirement home and see the sea. Madeline won the FIPRESCI prize at Saguenay’s Regard. (Full disclosure: I was on that jury.) Other docs on the list include I Used to Live There, directed by Ryan McKenna. The film is a hybrid portrait of a photographer and actress who meet in a studio for a photo shoot. Also on the list is Alisi Telengut’s Baigal Nuur – Lake Baikal, an animated portrait of the formation of the titular lake in Siberia.
This year’s Canada’s Top Ten lists draw from consultations with programmers from various festivals with TIFF’s Canadian programmers and senior programming team making the final calls. The selections will screen at TIFF Lightbox from January 25 to 28.
The full list of Canada’s Top Ten for 2023 is as follows:
BlackBerry | dir. Matt Johnson | Ontario
Hey, Viktor! | dir. Cody Lightning | Alberta
Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person | dir. Ariane Louis-Seize | Quebec
Kanaval | dir. Henri Pardo | Quebec
The Queen of My Dreams | dir. Fawzia Mirza | Nova Scotia/Ontario
Seagrass | dir. Meredith Hama-Brown | British Columbia
Seven Veils | dir. Atom Egoyan | Ontario
Solo | dir. Sophie Dupuis | Quebec
Someone Lives Here | dir. Zack Russell | Ontario
Tautuktavuk (What We See) | dir. Carol Kunnuk, Lucy Tulugarjuk | Nunavut
Baigal Nuur – Lake Baikal l dir. Alisi Telengut | Quebec
Gaby’s Hills | dir. Zoé Pelchat | Quebec
I Used to Live There | dir. Ryan McKenna | Quebec
Katshinau | dir. Julien G. Marcotte, Jani Bellefleur-Kaltush | Quebec
Madeleine | dir. Raquel Sancinetti | Quebec
Making Babies | dir. Eric K. Boulianne | Quebec
Motherland I dir. Jasmin Mozaffari | Ontario
Mothers and Monsters | dir. Edith Jorisch | Quebec
Sawo Matang | dir. Andrea Nirmala Widjajanto | Ontario
Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie | dir. Nicole Bazuin | Ontario