Films from Ellen Page, Jeff Barnaby among Canadian projects in Toronto film fest


TORONTO — A documentary from Ellen Page on environmental racism in Nova Scotia and a Jeff Barnaby-directed zombie thriller centring around an Indigenous community are among the Canadian features headed for the Toronto International Film Festival.

Organizers have announced the full slate of homegrown films in the lineup, a list that also includes a dark comedy directed by actress Amy Jo Johnson starring Felicity Huffman, and an Albert Shin psychological thriller starring director David Cronenberg.

Other highlights include a dramatic comedy starring Heather Graham and directed by #AfterMeToo co-founder Aisling Chin-Yee, a Joey Klein-directed opioid crisis drama starring Neve Campbell, and new projects from veteran Indigenous filmmakers Alanis Obomsawin and Zacharias Kunuk.

Page’s “There’s Something in the Water,” which she co-directed with her fellow Emmy-nominated “Gaycation” co-host and executive producer Ian Daniel, will make its world premiere.

The Oscar-nominated, Halifax-born “Juno” star focuses the film on women at the forefront of some of the Nova Scotia’s most urgent environmental crises as well as affected Indigenous and African Nova Scotian communities.

“There’s Something in the Water” is also the name of a book by Nova Scotian author and activist Ingrid Waldron, which Page tweeted out a recommendation for last December.

Meanwhile, Barnaby’s “Blood Quantum” will make its world premiere in the festival’s horror-filled Midnight Madness section.

Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, Kawennahere Devery Jacobs, Michael Greyeyes, Brandon Oakes, Gary Farmer and Forrest Goodluck are among the stars in the horror story/cultural critique about an isolated Mi’gmaq community that’s immune to a zombie plague.

It’s the second feature from Barnaby, who grew up on the Mi’gmaq reserve in Listuguj, Que., and made a splash at the festival in 2013 with “Rhymes for Young Ghouls.”

A total of 26 features and 25 shorts are on the festival’s Canadian docket this year, and almost 50 per cent of the films are directed by women, up from 40 per cent last year.

Previously announced homegrown projects headed to this year’s festival include Francois Girard’s “The Song of Names,” Semi Chellas’s “American Woman,” Barry Avrich’s “David Foster: Off the Record,” Daniel Roher’s “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band,” and Atom Egoyan’s “Guest of Honour.”

Steve Gravestock, senior TIFF programmer, said there’s an “extremely strong contingent of female filmmakers working everywhere from Newfoundland to British Columbia and addressing a genuinely diverse spectrum of subjects, from mother–daughter relationships to the refugee experience, female friendships to youth in crisis.”

Johnson, whose acting credits include “Felicity” and “Flashpoint,” will present the world premiere of “Tammy’s Always Dying.” Lauren Holly, Kristian Bruun and Aaron Ashmore are the other cast members in the story of a woman and her ailing, alcoholic mother.

In Shin’s world premiere “Clifton Hill,” Tuppence Middleton stars as a pathological liar who becomes entangled in a childhood memory of a kidnapping in Niagara Falls.

Chin-Yee, whose #AfterMeToo group has pushed for change in the country’s screen industry amid the #MeToo movement, is in the festival with the world premiere of the family dramedy “The Rest of Us.” Graham stars as a divorced mother who embraces her ex-husband’s second wife and daughter when he dies.

Klein is in the lineup with the world premiere of “Castle in the Ground,” a look at a pair of new friends confronting their addictions.

With the world premiere of the doc “Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger” from Obomsawin, the Abenaki director tells the story of a First Nations boy from Manitoba who died in hospital in 2005 while the federal and provincial governments bickered over who would pay for his home care.

And Kunuk will present the North American premiere of “One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk,” about an Inuit hunter and his band who are pressured by the Canadian government to move, which would mean giving up their traditional way of life. It’s set in 1961 in Baffin Island, where Kunuk is from.

Another Cronenberg is also in the lineup, but in the shorts section. Brandon Cronenberg, the son of the aforementioned acclaimed director, is presenting “Please Speak Continuously And Describe Your Experiences As They Come To You.”

Other shorts include “The Physics of Sorrow” by Oscar-nominated Theodore Ushev, “Oracle” by actor Aaron Poole, and “I Am in the World as Free and Slender as a Deer on a Plain” by actress Sofia Banzhaf.

The 44th Toronto International Film Festival runs Sept. 5–15.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press