Canadians get set to invade Cannes film fest

David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan and Xavier Dolan. (Photos by QMI, WENN.COM)

David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan and Xavier Dolan. (Photos by QMI, WENN.COM)

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:38 PM ET

Canada is going to the 2014 Cannes International Film Festival with pride, with swagger and with its flag held high at the world’s most prestigious film festival.

Cannes launched in 1946 but never before has the Great White North been so prominent on the French Riviera.

In addition to a clutch of shorts and features in various showcases, three major Canadian films are screening in the official competition.

This is a first.

Getting just one film into the race for the Palme d’Or as best film is a major breakthrough for most countries, aside from host France or the powerhouse United States and its Hollywood dream machine. Canada has only occasionally been in the running. This has most often been with French-language productions from Quebec, including classics by Denys Arcand, and with select English-language productions, especially landmark films by Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter).

The breakdown this year is having two English-language films — one each from David Cronenberg and Egoyan — and one French-language one — from wunderkind Xavier Dolan (Laurence Anyways).

The Two Solitudes have a great chance to work together, as they often do in the film industry. Amazingly, if coincidentally, all three films are being distributed by the eOne Film arm of Entertainment One, Darren Throop’s Toronto-based media empire. Cannes is set for May 14-25 this year.

“I think what is great is that you are seeing three generations,” Egoyan says in an exclusive interview with Sun Media.

“You’re seeing, certainly, our most senior filmmaker with a film. You’re seeing a very young filmmaker with a film and you’re seeing me at this point in my career. And we all have films in competition.

“That to me is an extraordinary bill of health for the state of Canadian cinema! I think it is an incredible vindication for Telefilm Canada! For people who follow Cannes, this is extraordinary and unprecedented, just an incredible alignment of things.”

By calling Cronenberg the senior filmmaker, Egoyan is referring both to his 71 years and his unrivalled status as the most accomplished Canadian director still working. The Toronto-based Cronenberg has Maps to the Stars going to Cannes. It’s the fifth film he has brought to the competition and reunites him with Cosmopolis star Robert Pattinson.

By referring to Dolan as very young, Egoyan is stating the obvious with a touch of awe. The Quebecer is only 25 but he has now directed five features.

Even the legendary Orson Welles had made just a single one by 25 (although it happened to be Citizen Kane). The Montreal-based Dolan has Mommy going to Cannes.

By citing himself as being “at this point in my career,” The 53-year-old Egoyan is referring to significant anniversaries. He made his debut with Next of Kin 30 years ago. He first took a film (Speaking Parts) to Cannes 25 years ago. He first made it into the Cannes competition with Exotica 20 years ago. The Toronto-based Egoyan has The Captive with Scott Speedman and Ryan Reynolds going to Cannes this year.

Cannes still is a lure to filmmakers and has the allure of old-time glamour, Egoyan says.

“It is one of the few places that still does. The industry has changed a lot, but Cannes still has that allure. It is a place where cinema is still celebrated and it is still treated as something extraordinary. It’s the only place in the world like it.

“I’ve been very privileged to be part of this club for so many years and I never take it for granted. This is my eighth film in the official selection and I just think I couldn’t have had this career if it wasn’t for this festival.”

The logistics of debuting a film at Cannes are demanding, even nightmarish. But the rewards are worth it, says Egoyan’s co-producer Simone Urdl from Film Farm, where she collaborates with Jennifer Weiss and Stephen Traynor.

“People may debate how much it means in the marketplace,” Urdl says, “but, regardless of that, it is still what you are aiming for when you’re making the kind of films that Jennifer and I and Stephen make. At any film festival, the logistical side is demanding.”

Weiss says that the upside is getting to celebrate at Cannes with her partners, with eOne executives, with Egoyan in a landmark year and with other Canadian filmmakers. “It’s fantastic. We’re so proud to be part of a major year for Canada in Cannes!”

Even beyond the Cinema Lumiere and the official selection, Canada has a strong position at Cannes 2014.

“We have the world’s attention,” according to Carolle Brabant, Executive Director of Telefilm Canada.

“Cannes is not just about the Big Three this year,” says Toronto producer David (Sparky) Sparkes.

His production, the surreal musical feature Patch Town, is part of Telefilm’s Perspective Canada-Cannes showcase of 15 films.

Patch Town, which was co-written, co-produced and directed by Craig Goodwill, is a dramatic expansion of a short the same filmmakers created in 2011.

Both the short and feature are inspired by European folklore and focus on an abandoned toy and babies harvested from the cabbage patch.

Other key Canadian content includes Stephane Lafleur’s Tu Dors Nicole, a feature selected for the Directors Fortnight, which is an independent series inside the festival. The Fortnight is known for being more daring than the official selection.

Marie-Josee St. Pierre’s short film, Jutra, is also in the Fortnight. This title is a homage to a Quebec legend, filmmaker Claude Jutra (Mon Oncle Antoine).

Another short, Remi St-Michel’s Petit Frere, made it into another parallel series, the International Critics’ Week.

Another interesting twist is having renegade Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce named as president of the fifth edition of the Queer Palm awards, a gay-lesbian answer to the mainstream Palme awards at Cannes.

Meanwhile, do not forget Ryan Gosling. The Oscar-nominated actor from Ontario took a break from his on-screen career to make his directorial debut with Lost River, based on his own original screenplay. Gosling’s surreal fantasy was selected for the Un Certain Regard section, a companion series to the official competition.

Lost River is an American production, but Gosling is still Canadian and eligible for the Camera d’Or award as the best first-time director at Cannes.

Only one Canadian has ever won it before: Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk for Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001).

Whether Canadians win awards or not, the cinema gods have spoken: This is Canada’s year at Cannes.

CanCon at Cannes

Canadian content at the Cannes International Film Festival 2014:

• The Captive (in competition): Directed by Atom Egoyan. Co-stars Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson, Mireille Enos, Alexia Fast and gonzo character actor Kevin Durand. The film is a serious drama about the traumatic effect of a child kidnapping in the years following the event. Shot in the Sudbury region, and at a studio in Toronto, the film is not just a normal kidnapping thriller involving a girl. “If you talk about it being this kidnapping movie, it does sound generic,” Egoyan says, “but it is really about something else. It plays out over nine years. And every year, on the girl’s birthday, the mother goes to visit the detectives to see if they’ve come up with any more news.” The grieving father is played by Reynolds and Egoyan is excited about it. “He gives a performance like he’s never given before. He’s going to totally re-define his career. He is an amazing actor and this is a heart-breaking performance!”

• Leolo (Cannes Classics): Directed by Jean-Claude Lauzon: The late Lauzon (who tragically died with his lover when his plane caught fire in 1997) would have loved this. His brilliantly deranged drama from 1992 has been digitally restored and is ready for a Cannes reprise.

• Maps to the Stars (in competition): Directed by David Cronenberg. Stars Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon. The film is a drama about two former child stars in Hollywood, but it also serves as a satirical critique of Hollywood and its role in popular culture. “It’s strange,” Cronenberg told me during production, which was split between Los Angeles and Toronto, “because this is the first time I have photographed most of a film in the United States.” Cosmopolis had some New York footage in it but, before that, Cronenberg never shot a frame of film south of the 49th parallel.

• Mommy (in competition): Directed by Xavier Dolan. Co-stars Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement and Antoine-Olivier Pilon. The film is a drama about a single mom raising a troubled and sometimes violent son.

• Tu Dors Nicole (Directors Fortnight): Directed by Stephane Lafleur. Co-stars Marc-Andre Gondin, Francis La Haye and Julianne Cote. Lafleur is known for editing the Oscar-nominated Monsieur Lazhar and directing Continental, un Film Sans Fusil.

• Petit Frere (International Critics’ Week): Directed by Remi St-Michel. Co-stars Eric K. Boulianne and Etienne Galloy. This is a comedy short about a troubled teen and his Big Brother tutor.

• Patch Town (Perspective Canada-Cannes): Directed by Craig Goodwill. Co-stars Zoie Palmer, Julian Richings and Rob Ramsay. Goodwill is promoting Ramsay as “the new John Candy” for combining imposing size with sweet innocence. As for the overall film, producer David (Sparky) Sparkes says, “It has that old Disney classic and Grimm fairytale world that will cross over into a general audience. It is a dark story for kids and yet it has a lot for adults, too.” Patch Town is one of 15 titles in the program.

• Ville-Marie and Tabija (The Cinefondation’s Atelier): The Canadian teams behind these two proposed projects are being showcased for European co-producers, who may choose to get involved.

A brief history of Canadians at Cannes

Canada’s history at Cannes has been episodic, but there are significant landmarks. Here are some of them:

1967

Jean Pierre Lefebvre is one of the first Canadian filmmakers to be invited to screen at Cannes when his pioneering drama, Il ne faut pas mourir pour ça, is showcased in the festival. Lefebvre maintained his relationship with Cannes, eventually winning the International Critics’ Prize for Les fleurs sauvages in 1982.

1975

Michel Brault named best director for his searing drama Les Ordres, a drama about the folly of Pierre Trudeau’s War Measures Act during the FLQ Crisis of 1970. Brault, who died in 2013, remains the only Canadian ever to win best director at Cannes.

1989

Denys Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal wins the Cannes Jury Prize, as well as the independent Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, before going on to an Oscar nom.

1996

David Cronenberg’s controversial competition film Crash wins the Prix Special du Jury and cited for its audacity from Francis Ford Coppola’s split jury. This special audacity award is a one-off and has never been given again. “There may be 50 Palme d’Ors but there is only one Prix Audace,” Cronenberg joked backstage after winning the award. No Canadian film has yet won the Palme d’Or and Cannes is now marking its 67th edition.

1997

Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter chosen for the official competition — the first step in its march towards two Oscar noms — and it wins the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. That is just shy of the Palme d’Or as best film and the best any Canadian film has done. Egoyan also earns two other independent awards at Cannes. Meanwhile, B.C. filmmaker Lynne Stopkewich’s controversial Kissed and the Quebec anthology film Cosmos both make it into the Directors Fortnight. One of the six co-directors of Cosmos is Denis Villeneuve, who will eventually get Oscar consideration for Incendies (2010).

2001

Canadian Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk wins the Camera d’Or as best first-time filmmaker at Cannes for Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. Kunuk remains the only Canadian to win this prestigious award.

2003

Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions competes for the Palme d’Or, coming up short but still winning two prizes: best actress for Marie-Jose Croze and best screenplay for Arcand.

2005

Atom Egoyan (Where the Truth Lies) and David Cronenberg (A History of Violence) both have films in competition at the same time, just as in 2014. Both are shut out of the prizes but Cronenberg’s brilliant opus goes on to earn two Oscar noms.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce_kirkland@sunmedia.ca

 


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