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Ontario's New Wave.

Ontario's New Wave is a catchy phrase for a spirited generation of English-Canadian filmmakers who came to cinematic maturity during the early 1980s. Peter Mettler, Bruce McDonald, Atom Egoyan, Patricia Rozema and Ron Mann, along with Camelia Frieberg, Alexandra Raffe, Holly Dale, Janis Cole, Colin Brunton, Janis Lundman and others, came bursting onto the Canadian movie scene with fresh, original films which rejected, equally, Hollywood's conventional dramas and the earlier English-Canadian cineastes, like the Dons (Shebib and Owen), who had made downbeat films about heartbreak and loss.

Although this group of talented artists do not make films with a unified aesthetic, they do have integrity, pizzazz and an overwhelming belief in the power of cinema. Graduates of U. of T.'s, Sheridan College's or Ryerson's film departments, they gravitated to LIFT (the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto), a funky film co-op located in a downtown warehouse, which was the spiritual successor to the defunct Toronto Filmmakers Co-op.

Leading the way into features were Mettler, with Scissere in 1982, and Mann with two exceptional films on marginal art forms--Imagine the Sound, on jazz, and Poetry in Motion. Egoyan followed in 1984 with a fictional comic feature about identity, Next of Kin. Many of the young cineastes (all under 30) worked on each other's films. Mettler shot Next of Kin, Rozema's Passion and McDonald's Knock! Knock! while McDonald edited Scissere, Egoyan's Family Viewing and Mann's Comic Book Confidential. McDonald also guest-edited the 1988 "Outlaw Edition" of Cinema Canada, which publicized the existence of this new breed of filmmakers. Despite the lack of a defining manifesto, the largely Toronto-based filmmakers existed through a close-knit sense of cooperation, the kind rarely seen in Canada since the growth of Quebec cinema in the early 1960s.

Two major events came into play in the 1980s which gave credence and cash to these young Ontario filmmakers. In 1984, Toronto's film festival held the largest retrospective of Canadian films ever held in this country. Its success led to Perspective Canada, an on-going festival series, which has grown into the most prestigious venue for launching English-Canadian features. In 1986, the doors to the Ontario Film Development Corporation opened, providing a much needed alternative to the narrow, experimental restrictions of the Ontario Arts Council and the bureaucratic red tape of Telefilm Canada, headquartered in Montreal. From the start, the OFDC was unofficially mandated to create an Ontario film culture, and under the guidance of its first CEO, Wayne Clarkson (who, as the former head of the Toronto festival, had been responsible for launching Perspective Canada), it proceeded to do so.

The breakthrough came in 1987 when Rozema's first low-budget feature, I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, won the Prix de la jeunesse at Cannes. The film, and Rozema herself, received a tremendous amount of international press attention, and Mermaids did an almost unheard of thing for an English-Canadian feature, it made money at the box office. Key New Wave films by Egoyan (Speaking Parts, Family Viewing, The Adjuster, Exotica, which won the International Critics' Prize at Cannes in 1994), by Bruce McDonald (Roadkill, Highway 61) and by Peter Mettler (Top of His Head, Tectonic Plates) followed in the wake of Rozema's stunning success.

What is remarkable about this group of filmmakers is that they, unlike previous generations, have avoided the easy lure of big money and bigger films in Hollywood. Rather, like their cinematic mentor, David Cronenberg, they have chosen to stay in Canada and do what no other generation of English-Canadian feature filmmakers has done, actually make a living in Canada while practising their chosen profession.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Canadian Independent Film & Television Publishing Association
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Wyndham Wise
Publication:Take One
Date:Jun 22, 1996
Words:597
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