Cannes Film Festival: Canada has strong presence with 5 films, 2 jury members

This year's Cannes Film Festival lineup signals a bright future for Canadian cinema, say industry experts. Montreal directors Xavier Dolan, Kim Nguyen and Franç​ois Jaros, as well as Toronto's Nathan Morlando and Leah Johnston of Truro, N.S., have titles screening at the prestigious festival, which kicks off Wednesday.

Canada represented with 5 films and 2 jury members

Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan is seen with actress Sienna Miller at Cannes in 2015. A member of last year's jury, Dolan returns to La Croisette this year with his latest film, It's Only the End of the World, and as a member of a strong Canadian contingent. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

This year's Cannes Film Festival lineup signals a bright future for Canadian cinema, say industry experts.

Three directors from Montreal — Xavier Dolan, Kim Nguyen, and François Jaros — as well as Toronto's Nathan Morlando and Leah Johnston of Truro, N.S., have titles screening during the prestigious festival in France, which runs Wednesday through May 22.

Meanwhile, actor Donald Sutherland of Saint John, N.B., is on the jury for the Palme d'Or top prize and Montreal-born Marie-Josée Croze is a judge for the short film award.

It's really the new generation of great Canadian filmmakers... the future is in good hands.- Helga Stephenson, Academy CEO

"I think it's really the new generation of great Canadian filmmakers," says Helga Stephenson, chief executive officer of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.

"It speaks to the bench strength of the industry, and because they're the younger filmmakers, the future is in good hands."

Dolan is making his fifth trip to the Promenade de la Croisette, this time with It's Only the End of the World. The story of a dying author, starring Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel, is competing for the Palme d'Or.

The 27-year-old directing sensation has already had much acclaim at the fest, winning three awards in 2009 for I Killed My Mother and sharing the jury prize in 2014 for Mommy. Last year, Dolan was also a Cannes jury member.

"I think he's got probably a pretty good shot certainly at being taken seriously as a contender, even thought he's up against the who's who of international filmmakers like Ken Loach, Pedro Almodovar, Paul Verhoeven, Sean Penn," says Toronto-based film reviewer Richard Crouse.

"There are a lot of people here that are working at a very high level, but I'd suggest that Xavier Dolan is working at just as high a level."

'Like a young Jennifer Lawrence'

Morlando will debut his coming-of-age thriller Mean Dreams, written by Kevin Coughlin and Ryan Grassby, in the festival's Directors' Fortnight program.

Young actress Sophie Nélisse, who earned accolades for her earlier roles in The Book Thief and Monsieur Lazhar, is getting buzz for Nathan Morlando's coming-of-age thriller Mean Dreams. (Jules Heath/20th Century Fox/Associated Press)

Filmed in the fall near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., it stars Sophie Nélisse (a native of Windsor, Ont.) and Josh Wiggins as teen lovers who are on the lam after he steals a bag of drug money. Bill Paxton and Colm Feore co-star.

Morlando believes the film will showcase a strikingly more mature side of Nélisse and Wiggins, who've been acting since they were young.

"When I was filming it, I kept on thinking — and this is what I'm hearing actually — that she is like a young Jennifer Lawrence and Josh is being seen as a young Leonardo DiCaprio or a young Matt Damon," he says.

"I've got shivers now just saying this, because I'm so excited to show the world Josh and Sophie at this age."

Also making its world premiere in the Directors' Fortnight is Two Lovers and a Bear by Nguyen, who was nominated for an Oscar for 2012's Rebelle. Tatiana Maslany, Dane DeHaan and Gordon Pinsent star in the love story that's set near the North Pole.

'A huge honour'

Jaros is in the Critics' Week lineup with the short film Oh What a Wonderful Feeling, a humorous mystery about a girl who traverses the world of truckers for a night.

"It's a huge honour to be there, to be invited amongst the cinematic world that's inspired me," says Jaros, 30.

Johnston is in Telefilm's Not Short on Talent program with Ingrid and the Black Hole, which won last year's BravoFACT pitch competition hosted by Crouse in Halifax.

"To see it go from the written word and her pitching it in a contest in Halifax to playing at Cannes is kind of mind-blowing," says Crouse.

Cannes is a celebration of life, of cinema- Theirry Frémaux

For Canadian filmmakers, Cannes is an opportunity to show work on a prestigious world stage that caters to industry professionals.

"Cannes has a real professional reputation of selecting what a lot of people think to be very strong films that exist around the world," says Morlando.

"And because they select such few films, it's a great honour as a filmmaker to be among the group of other selected filmmakers." 

A police officer patrols in front of the entrance of the Festival Palace in Cannes, on Tuesday, ahead of the festival's opening day. Security has been dramatically elevated following last fall's Paris attacks, but organizers have vowed to preserve the spirit of the annual cinema celebration. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)

Increased security

Coming six months after the Paris attacks in November, the 69th Cannes Film Festival has elevated security measures, swarming the French Riviera resort town with an increased police presence.

But particular care has been made, festival organizers say, to preserving the spirit of the annual cinema celebration.

"The atmosphere is good," festival director Thierry Frémaux said in an interview Tuesday. "Cannes is a celebration of life, of cinema."

Kicking off the festival Wednesday will be Woody Allen's 1930s Hollywood comedy Café Society. On tap are films from Steven Spielberg (The BFG), Jodie Foster (Money Monster), Pedro Almodovar (Julieta) and Jim Jarmusch (Paterson). Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Kristen Stewart and Russell Crowe are among the stars expected to attend.

With files from The Associated Press