Canadian film is at an ‘exciting time,’ say TIFF’s rising stars

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TORONTO — The Rising Stars of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival say they’re coming up at an exciting time in Canadian cinema.

Where homegrown actors once had to move to the U.S. in order to gain fame, they feel they can now carve out a successful career on this side of the border while still exploring opportunities elsewhere.

“I think it’s a great place to grow a resume, as a young actor, just because there are tons of productions all over the world that come film here,” says Jess Salgueiro, who grew up in Winnipeg and can be seen at this year’s festival in the Canadian film “Mouthpiece.”

“Traditionally we’ve thought that English-speaking Canada doesn’t take a lot of risks in their filmmaking, but it’s starting to shift, which is a really exciting time for us. I feel like we couldn’t be in a better place, really. To be a female actress in Canada at this time is so exciting to me.”

Salgueiro is among four of the Rising Stars at this year’s festival, which runs Sept. 6 to 16. The program has helped launch the careers of several big names, including “Orphan Black” star Tatiana Maslany and Sarah Gadon of “Alias Grace.”

This year’s other Rising Stars are Devery Jacobs, Lamar Johnson, and Michaela Kurimsky.

“Just being here is a fantastic incubator,” says Kurimsky, who was born in Mississauga, Ont., and can be seen at this year’s festival in the homegrown drama “Firecrackers.”

“There are a lot of opportunities out here for young actors and there are a lot of films that film out here in Toronto that give everybody opportunities to grow,” adds Johnson, who was born in Toronto and is in “The Hate U Give” at this year’s fest.

While there’s still a bigger star system in the U.S., being in Canada feels more communal, says Jacobs, who was born in Kahnawake Mohawk territory in Quebec.

“You recognize familiar faces and there’s just something about staying sane when you’re in Toronto versus L.A., where you just feel like you’re floating around a million other people who look exactly the same way as you trying to do the same exact thing,” says Jacobs, who was at TIFF in 2013 in “Rhymes for Young Ghouls.”

“But there is something special that’s happening here, with Toronto being such a diverse city. And it’s my traditional territory … so there is something to be said about staying put and trying to build a career here.”

Sci-fi series “Orphan Black,” the Emmy-nominated dystopian drama “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and the Oscar-winning merman romance “The Shape of Water” are among recent projects that were shot in Toronto and went on to huge success.

Producer Ari Lantos points to a “next wave of Canadian filmmakers,” including Akash Sherman, director of the Toronto-shot sci-fi drama “Clara” that’s at this year’s festival.

Lantos produced “Clara,” which stars Toronto actor Patrick J. Adams of “Suits” fame as an astronomer and Troian Bellisario as an artist who helps him with research.

“We’re seeing a lot of commercial sensibilities and branching out of the typical Canadian comfort zone that we’ve been in for a long time, and our film is a shining example of that — trying to explore something scientific in a commercial way but with some romance,” Lantos says.

“It’s meant to make people entertained and I think we’re seeing a lot of that with the next wave of filmmakers that are coming, that just want to entertain. And a lot of them are very talented and doing a good job at it.”

Writer-director Keith Behrman, who is at the festival this year with “Giant Little Ones,” says he thinks Canadian film is getting more expansive as the world becomes more expansive.

“As we’re internationally exploring more ideas and there are more things that are being questioned and explored, I think Canadian filmmakers are embracing that and exploring who we are as human beings and as a country.”

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press