Jennifer Holness’s Subjects of Desire represents feature documentaries in this year’s Canada’s Top Ten Festival. The line-up, released today by the Toronto International Film Festival, includes one feature doc and two short documentaries. Subjects of Desire confronts the challenges that Black women face in the cosmetics industry and the racial bias of beauty standards. The film premiered art SXSW and Hot Docs earlier this year.
The field for Canadian docs was admittedly smaller this year. Only two Canadian feature docs, Wochiigii Io: End of the Peace and Oscar Peterson: Black + White, screened at TIFF this year and received muted and mixed responses, respectively. However, Emanuel Licha’s zo reken won Best Canadian Feature at both Hot Docs and RIDM, while Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’ Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy and Yasmine Mathurin’s One of Ours also drew considerable praise on the festival circuit. (Tailfeathers gives the lead performance in Danis Goulet’s acclaimed dystopian drama Night Raiders, which among the feature selections.)
On the short documentary front, Canada’s Top Ten includes Alanis Obomsawin’s Honour to Senator Murray Sinclair and Sarra El Abed’s Ain’t No Time for Women. Obomawin’s portrait of Senator Murray Sinclair and his work chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Committee hearings debuted during the Festival’s special retrospective of her work, Celebrating Alanis. El Abed’s Ain’t No Time for Women is among the most acclaimed Canadian films this year. The short doc observes a conversation between women in a Tunisian beauty salon on the eve of an election as they debate the fate of the nation. The film won prizes at Hot Docs, RIDM, Slamdance, and the FIPRESCI prize at Saguenay (full disclosure: I was a juror at the latter).
Although Canada’s Top Ten features mostly narrative works, several are dramatic feature debuts from filmmakers with backgrounds in documentary. Among them are Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson with their dramatic feature Scarborough, which depicts a community reading program in the titular part of the GTA. The film was the runner-up for the People’s Choice Award at TIFF this year. Other films also have tangible hybrid elements, like Rhayne Vermette’s experimental Ste. Anne and Eric Warin and Tahir Rana’s animated fable Charlotte, which takes a poetic approach to biography with its portrait of Charlotte Solomon.
“Canada continues to produce terrific new film talent and we’re glad to showcase some of the very best in this year’s Canada’s Top Ten,” said Cameron Bailey, CEO of TIFF, in a statement from the festival. “Not since its inaugural year in 2001 have there been so many first appearances among the feature-film selections. Some of these films made their world premieres during the Festival and are now debuting their works on the international festival circuit, which is remarkable for first-time directors — I couldn’t be prouder.”
Other selections in Canada’s Top Ten include Ivan Grbovic’s surreal drama Drunken Birds. The film is Canada’s official submission in the Oscar race for Best International Feature. Igor Drljača’s provocative crime drama The White Fortress joins Drunken Birds in situating Canadian stories within a global gaze. The co-production is Bosnia’s Oscar submission this year. Sébastien Pilote’s epic adaptation Maria Chapdelaine offers one of the most handsomely mounted Canadian works of the year, while Thyrone Tommy’s Learn to Swim is a fever dream of jazz and bad romance.
The shorts selections are similarly diverse with Zacharias Kunuk’s award winner Angakusajaujuq – The Shaman‘s Apprentice and Terril Calder’s Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics representing both Canada’s animation scene and an impressive range of Indigenous artists in Canada’s Top Ten this year. Select films are now available at TIFF either digitally or theatrically with additional releases to be announced.
Canada’s Top Ten Selections:
All My Puny Sorrows – Michael McGowan | Ontario
Charlotte – Eric Warin, Tahir Rana | Ontario
Drunken Birds – Ivan Grbovic | Quebec
Learn to Swim – Thyrone Tommy | Ontario
Night Raiders – Danis Goulet | Ontario
Maria Chapdelaine – Sébastien Pilote | Quebec
Scarborough – Shasha Nakhai, Rich Williamson | Ontario
Ste. Anne – Rhayne Vermette | Manitoba
Subjects of Desire – Jennifer Holness | Ontario
The White Fortress – Igor Drljača | Ontario
Ain‘t No Time for Women – Sarra El Abed | Québec
Angakusajaujuq – The Shaman‘s Apprentice – Zacharias Kunuk | Nunavut/Ontario
Boobs – Marie Valade | Québec
DEFUND – Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah, Araya Mengesha | Ontario
Fanmi – Sandrine Brodeur-Desrosiers, Carmine Pierre-Dufour | Québec
Honour to Senator Murray Sinclair – Alanis Obomsawin | Québec
Les grandes claques Annie St-Pierre | Québec
Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics – Terril Calder | Québec
The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night – Fawzia Mirza | Ontario
Together – Albert Shin | Ontario