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Northern exposure: global visions of Canuck Helmers showcase in sun.

CANADIAN FILMS AND filmmakers are drawing more and more global recognition, and the 25th Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival has programmed a hefty sidebar of films from the Great White North that make a compelling case for a Canadian renaissance.

Palm Springs artistic director Helen du Toit notes that some 7% of the festival audience is Canadian, with about 70% of festival attendees traveling from outside Palm Springs.

Quebec is the engine that is driving the country's international film aspirations, as such Quebecois helmets as Denis Villeneuve ("Prisoners"), Jean-Marc Vallee ("Dallas Buyers Club") and Xavier Dolan ("Tom at the Farm") have gained international followings, and some, notably Villeneuve and Vallee, have crossed over into Hollywood.

"There's a strong sense of identity in Quebec," du Toit says. "An artist is in a place of honor in French Canada--in Quebec, artists are celebrated."

French-Canadians also support their local filmmakers at the box office, where auteurs and French-lingo dramas and comedies regularly hit the top 10; therefore, Quebec government funding body Sodec has more incentive to invest in French-Canadian films.

English-speaking Canada behaves more like the U.S. mainstream, with Hollywood movies swallowing indies.

Du Toit also notes that there are some English-speaking Canadian filmmakers who try to compete with the U.S. fare. "Resources are limited, it's a limited market and it's hard to compete in that commercial space," she adds.

There have been some successes, such as "Goon," which took in $6 million worldwide in 2012, and "Starbuck," which made $3.8 million worldwide and was recently remade by DreamWorks as "Delivery Man," starring Vince Vaughn.

"English-language pies have to get out of the shadow of the U.S.," du Toit says.

Francophone filmmakers can tap into Sodec, which offers development money as well as other grants for filmmakers. Some 80% of its funding goes to French-language projects

Telefilm Canada is another giant in the country's filmmaking development, with funding for almost every stage of film production, marketing and promotion.

Telefilm Canada and Sodec will be in the desert as the key supporters of the Palm Springs sidebar.

"We follow their triumphs around the globe--including at the Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival--Canadian talent makes us proud," says Carolle Brabant, Telefilm Canada's executive director.

Telefilm Canada is tapping private investors for its Talent Fund, and to that end hosting a private party during the festival for philanthropic Canadians looking to support the arts

"The Talent Fund is an innovative initiative to offer our creators new financial tools to attract larger audiences," Brabant says. "The expertise, experience and prestige of our seven advisory committee members--who hail from across the country and who represent a diversity of sectors--play an important role in inspiring business and community leaders to be a part of developing talent."

She notes that last year's fundraising reception in Palm Springs, hosted by Canadian philanthropists Carol and Paul Hill, featured welcoming remarks by festival director Darryl Macdonald and was attended by more than 100. "We look forward to holding this successful event again," she adds.

As a Canadian, du Toit is very excited about the Palm Springs program. Every year the festival focuses on one country, but this year Canada really stood out for the programmers.

"For distributors, Palm Springs is a great way to get word-of-mouth started across the U.S.," says du Toit, adding that all key Oscar publicists use the festival to build buzz and a profile for their pics.

International Oscar-chasing fare is de rigueur at PSIFF. In fact, the international sections have become "wildly popular," according to du Toit, with the programmers becoming more curatorial.

So who among the Canadians gets the PSIFF staff excited?

"Denis Villeneuve has crossed over to make commercial films," says du Toit, noting that "Prisoners" may be mainstream entertainment but is still an auteur film. "I think Denis has hit the master level, which is why we put his film ("The Enemy") in the Modern Masters section--he's hit that level."

She also names Dolan; Vancouver-based thesp-writer-director Benjamin Ratner ("he's an actor who gets beautiful performances in his film 'Down River'"); Elan Mastai, who wrote Toronto fest hit "The F Word" (and is on Variety's 10 to Screenwriters Watch list this year), and Michael Dowse, who directed it; and Rafael Ouellet ("prolific and talented and we'll continue to see strong films from him every year"). She also cites such veterans as Bruce McDonald ("The Husband"), Patricia Rozema, Sarah Polley, Ingrid Veninger and Bruce Sweeney among the Canadian talents that aren't at the fest but are worth watching.

"When you look at this lineup of directors, there's so much talent in this group--I feel very excited about the kinds of films that will be made in Canada," du Toit says. "You have the new Denis, Atom (Egoyan) and (Deepa) Mehta in the making."

The Great White North in the Desert

Festival artistic director Helen du Toit runs down the Canadian pics that made Palm Springs' list.

Empire of Dirt (1)

Director: Peter Stebbings

Three generations of Cree women caught in a cycle of teenage pregnancy and mistrust begin to put their past behind them and figure out a way forward together.

Stebbings worked as an actor for most of his career, and had a hit with 2009's "Defendor." This is his second feature. "He's got a TV series and features in the hopper," says du Toit. "When he meets investors, he really inspires confidence, and coming from an acting background, he brings strength to the performances." Lead Cara Gee was one of Toronto's Rising Stars in 2013.

Gerontophilia

Director: Bruce LaBruce

An 18-year-old boy with a penchant for pensioners takes a job in a home for seniors and falls for an 81-year-old man.

Du Toit notes that LaBruce's films cater to a specific audience but this film is gentle and "light for him--Bruce travels in very dark places."

The Grand Seduction

Director: Don McKellar

Broad humor and quiet moments anchor this comedy about Newfoundland villagers, led by Brendan Gleeson's wily fisherman, who use any means necessary to persuade a big-city doctor, Taylor Kitsch, to save their community by settling in it.

"McKellar's a superstar in Canada," says du Toit. "(This film is) a total crowdpleaser. Its reception at TIFF was great."

Patch Town

Director: Craig Goodwill

Goodwill's feature debut is a satirical musical fantasy about a grown-up toy that must battle a villainous corporation to reunite with its long-lost mother, protect its newfound family and finally find freedom.

Goodwill has a strong connection to the desert festivals: He showed his short "Patch Town" at the Palm Springs shorts lest in 2011, and that got him financing for the feature.

Sarah Prefers to Run (2)

Director: Chloe Robichaud

Robichaud unspooled her debut feature at Cannes' Un Certain Regard in May, a film about a young middle-distance runner making the leap to a big-city university team, but stumbling in the adult world of relationships and responsibilities.

"Within Canada, she's one of the newest, up-and-coming directors and not just in the sub-category of being female," says du Toit. "There's a clarity and directness about her."

Enemy (3)

Director: Denis Villeneuve

In a dual role, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a professor who frantically seeks out his doppelganger, a struggling actor he spots in a film in a Kafaesque mystery,

"From his first film you could see that (Villeneuve) was going to be a superstar," says du Toit.

Stay

Director: Wiebke von Carolsfeld

Irish-Canadian co-production stars Taylor Schilling and Aidan Quinn in this romantic drama about a young woman living in Ireland with an ex-professor with an unplanned pregnancy that causes her to question her future.

It's been almost a decade since von Carolsfeld's last film. She was an editor before moving into helming. "She also has a very clear-thinking brain. Creatively, she can articulate her vision," du Toit says, adding that this film shows the older man and younger woman relationship dynamic with a fresh perspective--from that of the woman.

Gabrielle (4)

Director: Louise Archambault

Gabrielle Marion-Rivard is a developmentally challenged young woman who falls in love with a boy she sings with in the choir, to the dismay of the young man's overly protective mother.

"Gabrielle" is Canada's submission for the foreign-language Oscar.

"It's just so heartfelt," says du Toit. The producer is Micro_Scope, which has produced Oscar-nommed "Monsieur Lazhar" and "Enemy." "They're amazing, creative producers who have such an eye for talent," says du Toit. "In the wrong hands, this film could have gone so wrong but in the hand of these three (MicroScope's Luc Dery, Kim McCaw and helmer Archambault) it turned out to be a very strong film."

The Manor (5)

Director: Shawney Cohen

co-director: Mike Gallay

A documentary about a typical Jewish suburban family and the family business--a strip club in a place called Guelph.

Palm Springs programmer Ken Jacobson is very excited about this pic, according to du Toit. Pic wowed at Hot Docs.

The Auction

Director: Sebastien Pilote

French-language drama follows a farmer who sells his beloved farm in order to loan money to his daughter, who lives in the city.

"Pilote has a very strong personal vision. His films are very quiet, intense. His characters are like an onion, they unravel revealing deep and very profound depictions," says du Toit.

Siddharth

Director: Richie Mehta

A poor worker from Delhi sends his 12-year-old son Siddharth away to work, but when he doesn't return home, his father travels across India in search of his missing son, hoping that child traffickers did not take him.

Mehta is a Canadian with Indian roots. He shot the film in Delhi as a Canadian-Indian co-production. "He's a got a really nice, light touch. The film is commercial--an arthouse crossover," says du Toit. Mehta's handling of the heartbreaking subject matter is "devastatingly restrained." --Carole Horst
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Title Annotation:PALM SPRINGS ON CANADA
Author:Horst, Carole
Publication:Variety
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 17, 2013
Words:1630
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