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StarBuzz Online - Toronto

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

From Lisa Ray’s Cooking with Stella to Oscar nominated Incendies: Samita Nandy on the 11th year of the Canadian Film Festival

Samita Nandy
Celebrity Cultural Critic

for StarBuzz
StarBuzz Weekly, Toronto-Canadian films have soared high at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).   The screenings are beyond the Bell Lightbox on Kings Street.  Its diversity extends to Princess Street in Canada’s first capital.

Sponsored by TIFF and Telefilm Canada among many others, the Kingston Canadian Film Festival is in full swing of success and the hub for Canadian filmmakers and audiences.   My candid conversation with film actress and director Nadia Litz, who attended Cannes Film Festival for her acting in the award winning film The Five Senses, reveals the secret of the success:  “You become a part the community – you are hanging out with the industry you are in.”  Litz discloses that while Cannes is about film sales, KCFF is about peer support in the industry.  Here, there is a “chance to make a friend.” 
Festival Manager Stephanie Earp confirms that KCFF is now the largest Canadian film festival.  It is a “direct pipeline to a genuine cross-section of audience.”  This is critical achievement in light of American cultural dominance and, as Festival Director Alison Migneault highlights, lack of distribution of Canadian films in theatres.  In this context, Stephanie Earp sheds light on the Canadian significance of the festival. “We give opportunities to Canadian viewers to watch Canadian films with Canadians in theatre. This is where Canadian films are meant to be watched - on the screen and not on DVDs or Internet anymore,” says Earp.  Festival programmer and Toronto film critic Jason Anderson enthusiastically adds that now Canadians get to watch “the best Canadian films of the last twelve months.”   
As the title of the film festival suggests, the locality of Kingston plays a role in determining Canadian national identity.  Although national boundaries are often distinguished in relation to ‘the global’ in international film festivals, it is also constructed in relation to ‘the local’ in Canada.  Jason Anderson indicates how Kingston is an appropriate location and “uniquely positioned” for this Canadian Film Festival.  Geographically, Kingston is located in between two major cities:  English-Canadian Toronto and French-Canadian Montreal.  Historically, it is Canada’s first capital and close to the capital Ottawa.   The “film legacy” at Queens University also acts as a critical base for the industry.  From these perspectives, the local–national dynamic of Kingston acts as a context in interpreting Canadianness of films at the festival.  
At the same time, the Canadian Film Festival is not just about national identity.  It is about every identity that Canadian films can embrace.   Every year, this identity is multiple in the sense that it changes with the themes of Canadian productions.   Jason Anderson adds that there is no one national, pan-mainstream, and stereotypical Canadian identity.   Canadian national identity is rather multiple, fluid, and layered. 
So what are some of the Canadian identities at this year’s film festival?  Ed Gass-Donnelly, film director of Small Town Murder Song, expresses that he is interested in “people’s internal struggles,” impact of any violence, and the communal role of rural places or small towns in negotiating tensions in life.   Geographically, his film production may take place in Canada.  However, it is not just for Canada.  For him, “specificities” of Canada gives a general sense of “universality.”  Leigh Ann Bellamy says that her film Peculiar Mrs. Perkins emerged out of a random conversation with her partner and reflects personal and aesthetic taste.  Similarly Nicholas Arnold, film director, writer and actor of My Brother, expresses that his film is inspired by interpersonal relations with his brother.  This year’s Oscar-nominated Incendies, Oliver Sherman, Route 132, and You are Here also explore selfhood that is meaningful to Canadian identity.  Nevertheless, Jonthan Sobol, film director of TIFF premiered A Beginner Guide to the End, expresses that there is also “pop-flash heat” and artistic signs of a maturing film industry.
The Canadian Film Festival in Kingston shares talent that is discovered at international film festivals of Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto.  Its red carpet, however, is distinct.  In some film festivals, red carpets are symbolic artefacts that may distance filmmakers and audiences.  This distance paradoxically generates desire for fans to be closer to stars.  The Grand Theatre, holding the reception of the Kingston Canadian Film Festival, has carpets that are red.   However, this is where audiences have one-to-one interaction with filmmakers.   For Kingston Canadian Film Festival, this personal interaction with Canadian talent is a matter of closeness.   It “is very much home to me,” says filmmaker Eric Ferguson at the Grand Theatre reception.  With Sheraton’s fabulous Four Points hotel and film package, Canadian film buffs and tourists can share the same now.

-Pics by Louis Massey

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