10 TIFF '17 movies that are 'secretly Canadian'

From Eminem's latest to a cartoon by Angelina Jolie, you'd never think these movies had a Canadian connection.

From Eminem's latest to a cartoon by Angelina Jolie, you'd never think these movies had a Canadian connection

Filmed in Toronto and Hamilton, Guillermo del Toro's creature-feature fairytale, The Shape of Water, will screen at TIFF '17. (Fox Searchlight)

You'd have better luck winning Roll Up the Rim than you would weeding out the Canadian features from this year's TIFF schedule. How's that for a Canadian metaphor even cheesier than an extra large poutine? Still, I'm sticking to it. With 339 films coming to this year's Toronto International Film Festival, you'll find just 28 Canadian features hiding in the mix.

So if you have a particular interest in searching out some CanCon, here are a few of the homegrown titles that might escape your notice — plus a few international flicks with Canadian connections, just as an added bonus.


The story: From producer Eminem comes this story set in the battle rap arena. Nothing wrong with sticking to what you know, but this isn't 8 Mile: The Sequel. Instead, we get a racial satire, one that follows a ginger grad student (Calum Worthy) who throws himself into competition. For a little added star wattage, the movie's directed by Joseph Kahn, a guy who's made some of Eminem's most memorable videos ("Without Me," "Love the Way You Lie") — in addition to pretty much everything you saw on MuchMusic ever. He even helmed Taylor Swift's latest, "Look What You Made Me Do," but maybe hold your questions about that one if he turns up at a post-show Q&A.

The secret: The screenwriter's not just a Torontonian — he's the first ever King of the Dot champ. Alex Larsen, a.k.a. rapper Kid Twist, will even be performing at TIFF. The festival's shutting down King Street for a massive outdoor rap battle (among other things), and you can catch Twist's showdown against Madness on Sept. 7.

Don't Talk to Irene

There's no crying in baseball... or in Hamilton. Still from Don't Talk to Irene. (Courtesy of TIFF)

The story: As any guidance counsellor will tell you, you've got to follow your dreams. You'll get the same message from most coming-of-age movies, for that matter, which brings us to this one. For Irene (Michelle McLeod), reaching for her particular rainbow should be no massive stretch. She's a 15-year-old girl who wants nothing more than a spot on the cheerleading squad. But since she's known as the "fattest girl in high school," she's got nearly everything, and everyone, against her. Everyone, that is, except her wise, older mentor — a cardboard cut-out of Geena Davis from A League of Their Own (as voiced by the Rockford Peach herself).

The secret: The movie's set in "a town deemed the most insignificant geographical location in North America," but it was actually shot in Hamilton, Ont. This will be an unsurprising detail, perhaps, to most detractors of the Hammer. But despite the setting's "everywheres-ville" vibe, Don't Talk to Irene is, indeed, a Canadian production. It's written and directed by Ottawa-born Pat Mills, whose previous dark comedy, Guidance, appeared at TIFF '14.

A Worthy Companion

The story: Westworld star Evan Rachel Wood plays Laura, a 30-something house cleaner struggling to get herself together. Abused in the past and emotionally unstable, Laura finds herself in one bad relationship after another. Then, she meets Eva (Julia Sarah Stone). Like Laura, Eva wants a whole new life. Unlike Laura, she's just 16 years old. But the two strike up an unlikely friendship — one that transforms into something much more sinister when Eva runs away from home to live with Laura.

The secret: The thriller is the first feature from a pair of Montreal photographers, brothers Carlos and Jason Sanchez. They shot the film in their hometown last winter. 

Eye on Juliet

The story: Plenty of people find love in the workplace. I guess you could say the same for Gord (Joe Cole), since it was just another day at the office when he first fell for Ayusha. But Gord works for a surveillance company in Detroit, and Ayusha is somewhere in North Africa. When he sees her through a drone's camera lens, an unusual long-distance romance is sparked.

The secret: Kim Nguyen, the Oscar-nominated director of Rebelle (War Witch), is behind the camera on this one. The Montreal filmmaker will premiere this feature at Venice before bringing it to TIFF.


Jason Sudeikis, Elizabeth Olsen and Ed Harris star in Kodachrome. (Courtesy of TIFF)

The story: Based on a 2010 New York Times article, this one's a road movie starring Ed Harris and Jason Sudeikis as father and son. Their destination? The world's last remaining Kodachrome lab in Parsons, Kansas. Harris's character is a professional photographer, it seems, and he brings his young assistant (Avengers: Age of Ultron's Elizabeth Olsen) along for what sounds like a majorly awkward ride. He and sonny boy spend most of the trip hashing out their complicated relationship.

The secret: This one's a Canada/U.S. co-production, and the director, Mark Raso, hails from Toronto. His first feature, Copenhagen (2014), won the audience award at that year's edition of Slamdance.

Mary Goes Round

The story: You're the Worst's Aya Cash stars in this family drama. She's the Mary from the title — a 30-something hot mess who finds herself back in her hometown after getting busted for a DUI. Irony of ironies, Mary's a substance abuse counsellor, but a drunk driving charge might be the least of her problems. At the same time, she finds herself confronting the difficult relationships of her past while trying to reconnect with her estranged father and sister.

The secret: Not only is the setting Niagara Falls, Ont., but this one's a made-in-Canada production written and directed by Montreal-born filmmaker Molly McGlynn, a former member of the Canadian Film Centre's Writer's Lab.

The Breadwinner

The story: It's the other Angelina Jolie movie at the festival. This one, executive produced by the movie star, is an animated feature from the studio behind the enchanting The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea — but unlike those Irish fairy tales, this is a real-life adventure set in Afghanistan. There, a young girl named Parvana is struggling to help her family survive. Her father has been unjustly imprisoned by the Taliban, and because girls are forbidden to leave their homes alone, she assumes a disguise and lives as a boy so she can support her mother and siblings while finding a way to bring her dad home.

The secret: The movie's based on a 2001 book by Ontario author Deborah Ellis. Her real-life interviews with children and families in Afghan refugee camps inspired the story. Plus, this Ireland/Luxembourg/Canada co-production features some notable Canadian talent throughout the credits. Young CSA nominee Saara Chaudry voices Parvana, for example, and another CSA nominee, Anita Doron, adapted the screenplay from Ellis's award-winning novel.

Public Schooled

Judy Greer and Daniel Doheny in Public Schooled. (Courtesy of TIFF)

The story: Liam (Daniel Doheny) has one more final exam, and then he's off to university — Cambridge, specifically. But this science whiz has been homeschooled his entire life, taught by his fiercely protective mom (Arrested Development's Judy Greer), and to take that test, he has to get his butt to an ordinary classroom. That's where he realizes there's been something missing from his high school experience. Instantly infatuated with one of the other students, a beautiful girl named Anastasia (Siobhan Williams), Liam throws the exam so he can sign up for a semester of public school.

The secret: This teenage rom-com was co-written by Vancouver's Kyle Rideout and Josh Epstein (Rideout also directs), and you'll find a few legit Canadian stars in the cast, including Grace Park (Hawaii Five-0) and Russell Peters.

Jim & Andy: the Great Beyond — the story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman with a very special, contractually obligated mention of Tony Clifton

Jim Carrey won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon. (Courtesy of TIFF )

The story: That title basically killed our word count, but at least it explains what the doc's all about. Cult favourite Chris Smith directs (American Movie, The Yes Men).

The secret: Carrey's Canadian roots are public knowledge. The surprising detail here is the fact the doc is a Canada/U.S. co-production.

The Shape of Water

The story: Guillermo del Toro's latest fantasy is a creature-feature fairytale set in a US government lab. There, the feds are holding a mysterious aquatic being, a gilled humanoid possibly lifted from the Black Lagoon. They see it as a threat to national security. But the lab's mute janitor, Elisa (Oscar-winner Sally Hawkins) sees something else in this so-called monster, and she'll risk everything to protect him.

The secret: While not technically a Canadian production, on some unofficial level, del Toro's one of the country's most famous Hollywood filmmakers — he lives in Toronto and makes many of his movies in the city and surrounding area, The Shape of Water included. (The romance/thriller shot in Toronto and Hamilton.) Of course, it's not the only major TIFF title that filmed within these borders. Downsizing, a sci-fi satire starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig — and directed by Alexander Payne (The Descendants) — shot in Toronto. The same goes for Molly's Game, directed by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and starring Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba. The former stars in another Canadian-made TIFF title, The Mountain Between Us — a survival story also starring Kate Winslet. And Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem were in Montreal to film Mother!, the buzzed about Polanski-esque thriller from Darren Aronofsky.

Toronto International Film Festival '17. September 7-17. Toronto.