Diverse by Design


This year, the CineCoPro Conference is focusing on Canada as the host country, highlighting its diverse film landscape.

A text by Scott Roxborough

Diverse by Design

Allen Sunshine

If the United States of America likes to call itself the cultural melting pot, Canada prefers the metaphor of the cultural mosaic. Canadian cinema at its best reflects the distinct fragments of the nation’s diverse society. There is not one but many Canadian cinema traditions, not one but multiple Canadian communities of directors and filmmakers.

There is a French Canadian and an English Canadian cinema. An urban, an indigenous, a feminist and a queer Canadian cinema. Behind the established cadres of Canadian auteurs and blockbuster directors — Denis Villeneuve and James Cameron, David Cronenberg and Sarah Polley, Shawn Levy and Guy Maddin — there is a new generation of Far North directors who are just beginning to carve out their own legacies.

Viewed from afar, there is little other than geography — and Canadian geography is vast — that connects this multifaceted collection of filmmakers, cultures and genres. But the Canadian films screening at the 41st Munich International Film Festival go some way toward capturing, in snapshot fashion, the diverse and heterogenous landscape of Canadian film today. THE QUEEN OF MY DREAMS, a lightly autobiographical tale from director Fawzia Mirza, is a story of family, gender identity and ethnic origins, set in Nova Scotia and Pakistan to a banging soundtrack. Xavier Legrand’s twisty thriller THE SUCCESSOR follows a fast-rising Paris-based fashion designer who rushes home to Quebec after the death of his father, only to be confronted by family secrets that could destroy him. Chloé Robichaud’s DAYS OF HAPPINESS is a look at an ambitious female conductor trying to find balance between her personal and professional lives.

The Queen Of My Dreams Online1

The queen of my dreams

Les Jours Heureux Online2

Days of happiness
PHoto: Laurence Grandbois Bernard

Genres on display range from dark revenge thrillers — Karl R. Hearne’s THE G, starring WINTER BONE actress Dale Dickey as an older woman looking for payback on the corrupt legal guardian who destroyed her life — to romantic sci-fi in the form of Kim Albright’s WITH LOVE AND A MAJOR ORGAN, set in an alternate reality in which all human individuality and emotion has been suppressed by technology.

Ben Petrie’s THE HEIRLOOM, about a couple who decide to adopt a rescue dog during the
COVID lockdown, taps a specifically-Canadian vein of cringe comedy which is given a metafiction flare by the fact that the couple is played by Petrie and his real-life partner Grace Glowicki. Harley Chamandy’s  ALLEN SUNSHINE takes a more contemplative tone with the story of a former music mogul who, after his famous wife commits suicide, retreats to his isolated lakeside home to grieve. The documentary in the group, Oliver Schwehm’s BORN TO BE WILD – THE STORY OF STEPPENWOLF, looks at the career of the legendary rock band, who penned the soundtrack for 1960s counterculture.

This diversity is by design. Telefilm, Canada’s national film board, has for years been pushing to make the Canadian movie industry better reflect the mosaic of Canadian society. Alongside efforts to bridge the still-gaping gender gap — a recent report found that 77 percent of all key creative positions, and 82 percent of the network elite in the Canadian industry were men — Telefilm selectively targets funding toward stories from Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

“The issue never came up during the funding process, but the fact that I’m a BIPOC woman and my main collaborators are women probably didn‘t hurt when it came to getting Telefilm backing,” notes WITH LOVE AND A MAJOR ORGAN director Albright. “They really want these stories to be told.”

By encouraging Canadian producers to be more creative when it comes to bankrolling their films, tapping different sources of funding, public and private, Telefilm is also pushing national filmmakers to be more ambitious. Recreating 1960s Pakistan and 1980s and 90s Nova Scotia in THE QUEEN OF MY DREAMS was “not easy...or cheap,” says director Mirza, noting that the production pre-sold Canadian TV rights to national pay-TV channel Crave and public broadcaster CBC, and tapped private equity money from the US to boost its budget.

Born To Be Wild Online2

Born to be wild - the story of Steppenwolf

WLAAMO Online1

With love and a major organ

The G Online1

The g

DAYS OF HAPPINESS director Robichaud twinned Telefilm funding with subsidy support from Quebec’s SODEC, allowing the movie to pay for “an entire professional orchestra”, Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain, and recreate the world behind the classic music curtain. “It wasn’t a low-budget film, but Telefilm and SODEC have always believed in me and they were happy to back me up,” Robichaud notes. THE SUCCESSOR was put together as a Belgian-Canadian-French co-production, taking advantage of a co-pro friendly environment (the country has co-production treaties with more than 50 nations worldwide).

The challenges facing Canadian filmmakers are myriad. The local industry still hasn’t fully recovered from the COVID pandemic and securing distribution for Canadian movies, even within Canada, remains a challenge. “Theatrical release to Canada is hard, especially for French films in English-speaking Canada or non-francophone films in Quebec,” says Robichaud. “It’s like we’re two planets, and we’re not talking to each other.”

But in contrast to the homogenized Hollywood fare coming from its southern neighbor, Canadian cinema today offers a rich multicultural tapestry of stories that are both culturally specific and universally relevant. “This is a story of a queer daughter of East Asian
immigrants to Nova Scotia,” says Mirza of THE QUEEN OF MY DREAMS, “and watching people respond to it at festivals around the world, we know there is an audience, and a global audience, for stories like these.”

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