A documentary from Ellen Page on environmental racism is among the Canadian films headed to the Toronto International Film Festival. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

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

TORONTO — A documentary from Ellen Page on environmental racism and a Jeff Barnaby-directed zombie thriller that centres on an Indigenous community are among the Canadian features headed to the Toronto International Film Festival.

Organizers announced the homegrown titles Wednesday, touting films that include a dark comedy directed by “Flashpoint” actress Amy Jo Johnson starring Felicity Huffman, and an Albert Shin psychological thriller starring director David Cronenberg.

TIFF programmer Ravi Srinivasan said several stories deal with lying and reclamation of truth.

He points to films including Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis’s character-driven psychological drama ”White Lie;” Sophie Deraspe’s look at an Algerian family disappointed by life in Canada in “Antigone;” and Johnson’s addiction story “Tammy’s Always Dying.”

“I think we could make an easy comparison in terms of fake news and what’s dominating the headlines — the person who’s dominating the current international headline at this point,” muses Srinivasan on why deception is a big-screen fascination.

“Perhaps that is a subconscious representation of what’s happening.”

Srinivasan also noted the emergence of several new voices from Eastern Canada, including Nicole Dorsey and her stylistic, psychological drama “Black Conflux;” Heather Young and her debut feature about a middle-aged woman struggling with alcoholism called “Murmur;” and Page’s debut documentary, “There’s Something in the Water,” co-directed by her “Gaycation” co-host, Ian Daniel.

“She returns to her hometown just outside of Halifax and she’s exploring this kind of unknown kind of concept that’s happening in Canada called environmental racism,” says Srinivasan.

“It’s this idea that industrial facilities like chemical facilities or mines and waste dumps are being built next to minority communities, marginalized communities like Indigenous communities, African-American 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.

Srinivasan said there are also several films about female friendship, such as Aisling Chin-Yee’s family dramedy “The Rest of Us” starring Heather Graham as a divorced mother who embraces her ex-husband’s second wife and daughter when he dies, and Myriam Verreault’s “Kuessipan,” based on the novel by Naomi Fontaine about life among Innu in northeastern Quebec.

Other highlights include “Castle in the Ground,” a Joey Klein-directed opioid crisis drama starring Neve Campbell, and new projects from veteran Indigenous filmmakers Alanis Obomsawin and Zacharias Kunuk.

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.

They include the previously announced “American Woman” by Semi Chellas, who examines the lives of female radicals in the 1970s. The former “Mad Men” writer says she relished the chance to helm an “outlaw movie” and feels the industry “scrambling to change.”

“Three or four years ago, it would have been perfectly acceptable for a television series to not have even a woman director on the whole series, to have an all-white room, and those things have just become unacceptable overnight,” said Chellas.

“There’s still a long way to go but it’s really thrilling to see that women are making movies that women are directing now and there is all the different ways to be a woman director — it’s not a certain kind of story.”

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.

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.

Previously announced homegrown projects include Francois Girard’s “The Song of Names,” 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.”

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

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