A new trend is emerging in Canadian film: major Hollywood stars — from Hugh Jackman to Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon to Daniel Radcliffe — rushing to work with homegrown directors.
While A-list actors have occasionally popped up in Canadian productions over the years, it's typically only been for a handful of directors, such as David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan. But now, a younger generation of Canadian filmmakers — including Denis Villeneuve and Michael Dowse — are snagging big-name talent.
"Before, it was that Canadians would get noticed when they went to Los Angeles. Now, they're being noticed up here and brought down to do things," says producer Don Carmody, whose vast resumé ranges from critically acclaimed dramas such as Villeneuve's Polytechnique to blockbuster movie franchises like Resident Evil.
A past Oscar contender for his searing French-language drama Incendies, Villeneuve is unveiling two intense new dramas at the Toronto International Film Festival this year: Prisoners, starring Jackman and Gyllenhaal, and Enemy, a second film with Gyllenhaal.
Meanwhile, Dowse — best known for comedies like Goon and Fubar — landed Radcliffe for his new romantic comedy The F-Word.
"We're not just a back lot for runaway productions or whatever. [The studios are] looking and they're seeing a lot of these Canadian films at TIFF, seeing how the audience is responding to them, seeing that they tell international stories — not just, you know, beaver and Mounties stories. They're paying attention," Carmody told CBC News.
Amid the current fixation on massive "tentpole" films targeted to young audiences, Canada's predominantly independent film industry is coming of age, observers say. Its production experience and wealth of strong storytellers are attractive to stars eager to move beyond making just superhero movies.
"Film is an international medium. I've never strived to make 'Canadian' stories. I'm an internationalist and a commercial filmmaker — let's get that straight. I try to entertain the largest selection of the audience possible," Carmody said.
"I have made my art films: Polytechnique was obviously not something for everyone, but I felt it was an important story and not just for Canadians — these school shootings happen everywhere. That's always been my thing: if it's an international story that I think will attract a wide audience around the world, I'm interested in making that movie."
In the attached video from The National, Deana Sumanac explores the trend further.
The Toronto International Film Festival continues through Sept. 15.