Canadian films 'telling universal stories' head to Sundance, Slamdance fests
Sundance taps 11 Canadian films, two VR works; Slamdance picks 8 Canadian movies
Two islands — one that risks being swallowed by the ocean because of climate change, the other the fictitious home of director Wes Anderson's stop-motion animation dogs — are among the subjects Canadians are exploring at the 34th Sundance Film Festival.
Canada has 11 films and two VR works premiering at Sundance, which kicks off Thursday and runs through Jan. 28 in the mountain resort town of Park City, Utah, not far from Salt Lake City.
Another eight Canadian movies are on the bill of the edgy crosstown rival film fest, Slamdance. It unspools its 24th edition Jan. 19-25.
Started by actor-director Robert Redford to showcase independent film, Sundance has developed a reputation for programming breakout movies that go on to bigger things, like Oscar-touted Call Me by Your Name and Mudbound, which both had world premieres at last year's festival.
Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper called the Canadian slate "phenomenal," with themes "united in their boundary-crossing nature."
Take the two Canadian documentaries in competition at Sundance. Montreal filmmaker Matthieu Rytz's visually stunning Anote's Ark examines the doom awaiting Kiribati, a tiny Pacific island nation nearing extinction from rising seas and the desperate actions by President Anote Tong to save its people.
Israel-Canadian documentary The Oslo Diaries, directed by Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan (who were at Sundance in 2015 with doc Censored Voices), sheds light on the secret 1992 talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in an attempt to reach peace.
On the feature film side, Un Traductor, directed by Toronto-based Cuban brothers Sebastian Barriuso and Rodrigo Barriuso and written by Lindsay Gossling, also of Toronto, competes in the World Cinema Dramatic program.
The movie from the Canadian Film Centre alumni is based on the real-life story of the brothers' father, a Russian literature professor at the University of Havana (played by Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro). He was given the heartbreaking task of working as a translator for child victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster when they arrived in Havana for treatment.
Montreal-based filmmakers François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell, who team up as the collective RKSS (Roadkill Superstar), are bringing another film to Sundance's genre-loving Midnight program with suburbia-set horror Summer of '84.
They say their fans will be surprised with the tone of their new thriller after the manic-paced, gory '80s homage Turbo Kid, which bowed at Sundance in 2015.
"It meant the world. It totally changed our career," said Whissell of the team's first Sundance experience. "It opened so many doors for us."
The Vancouver-shot Summer of '84 has echoes of Stand By Me and The 'Burbs as it follows four sleuthing teenage boys who are convinced the cop next door (Mad Men's Rich Sommer) is a serial killer.
2 VR projects showcased
Canadians also make their mark in the virtual world with two projects from Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaal of Montreal's Félix & Paul Studios, which are being showcased in the New Frontier program.
Lajeunesse says a VR feature for Isle of Dogs lets audiences "step right in" to the elaborate world director Anderson created for his new film, which debuts next month in Berlin. The canine cast shares thoughts on their roles during the on-set virtual visit.
Our vision, our openness, and our diversity bring these stories to life in a way that truly sets us apart.- Carolle Brabant, Telefilm
Also from Félix & Paul Studios, Space Explorers: A New Dawn is a docu-series about NASA astronauts training for space, including Americans Jeanette Epps and Jessica Meir.
Carolle Brabant, executive director of national film funding and talent promotion agency Telefilm, says the Canuck presence at Sundance and Slamdance reflects the national and international reach of Canadian films.
"Our creators really shine when it comes to telling universal stories that have a Canadian sensibility. It's their Canadian point of view that gives them an advantage," she said. "Our vision, our openness, and our diversity bring these stories to life in a way that truly sets us apart."
Female directors in short film spotlight
At Slamdance, where features Fake Tattoos (Les faux tatouages) directed by Pascal Plante and Drew Lint's M/M are on the bill, all six Canadian short films in competition are directed or co-directed by women.
Among them is Rupture. Toronto-based Jordanian writer-director Yassmina Karajah, 27, got a social media shout-out from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for her short, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
The three teen stars of Rupture, all first-time actors, are Syrian refugees. Shot in Surrey, B.C., the film centres on their trip to a local public pool.
Rupture is the second film in a trilogy about family, trauma and conflict. Karajah won't be able to be in Park City because she's in Jordan shooting the third act. Producer David Findlay will be there with the film.
But Karajah does have Sundance and Slamdance memories, after attending the festivals at age 15 in 2007 when she was living in Ogden, Utah as an exchange student. She was considering becoming a filmmaker and was anxious to meet producer Nadim Toukan, whose film Captain Abu Raed was the first feature produced in Jordan in more than 50 years.
"It's actually quite personal to me, screening at Slamdance," Karajah said.