By Adam Cook
Over the past few years the landscape of independent cinema in Canada has rapidly evolved, along with the industry around it. The modes of production have changed and with them have come new creative visions. A new generation of bold, original filmmakers from across the country have, in recent years, made some of the most exciting films we’ve seen out of Canada since the “Toronto New Wave” of the late ‘80s and ‘90s. While again there has been a creative boom in Toronto,this new new wave of talent has emerged from coast to coast. Here’s a look at ten of the key Canadian directors of the moment who have already made significant work with the promise of much more to come.
Mi’gmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby had already garnered attention for his award-winning short films such as The Colony (2007) and File Under Miscellaneous (2010), but his debut feature Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013) arrived like a punch in the gut. Quebec-based Barnaby has a distinct skill for making bluntly powerful films that embrace the gritty and the grotesque, expressively exploring postcolonial trauma from an Indigenous perspective through genre. Led by Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs in a star-making performance, Rhymes is one of the most assured Canadian feature debuts in recent memory. Set in 1976 and squarely confronting our history of residential schools, the film is centered around a villainous Indian Agent and a rebellious teenager (Jacobs) out for revenge. Barnaby’s highly anticipated next feature, a zombie movie called Blood Quantum, is expected to premiere in 2019.
Since her first feature, Never Eat Alone, premiered in 2016, Toronto-based filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowicz has had a prolific rise to the forefront of Canadian cinema. In the following three years, she has made a handful of short films, including the acclaimed Veslemoy’s Song (2018), and two subsequent features, Maison du bonheur (2017) and MS Slavic 7 (2019), which just premiered at the 2019 Berlinale. Blending fiction and documentary, the defiantly independent Bohdanowicz applies her singular and sensitive artistic vision to interrogations of memory, generational heritage, and aging, often involving (and even casting) her own family and integrating their history. The 2018 recipient of Toronto Film Critics Association’s Jay Scott Prize, her profile continues to grow exponentially both at home and abroad.
Born in Paris, filmmaker Antoine Bourges has lived in Montréal, Vancouver and Toronto. Concerned with issues around social assistance and support, Bourges made a trilogy of short films depicting life in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside. Peeling away at stigmas around poverty and addiction, Bourges makes humanist portraits that critically detail the obstacles created by the systems we have in place. His first feature, Fail to Appear (2017), follows a social worker struggling to aid a troubled man facing shoplifting charges. Poignant and formally rigorous, the film expertly balances a delicate approach with subtle social critique.
Andrew Cividino was launched into the international spotlight when his debut feature, Sleeping Giant, was selected as the opening film of Semaine de la Critique at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. An adaption of a successful short film of the same name, the Thunder Bay-set coming-of-age film won the award for Best Canadian First Feature at TIFF where he also went on to become an Artist in Residence. Named one of IndieWire’s “Directors to Watch” that same year, we eagerly await Cividino’s follow-up as he reportedly readies an ambitious feature adaptation of Yann Martel’s We Ate the Children Last which he also made into a short film in 2011.
Igor Drljaca is already a highly accomplished filmmaker with three acclaimed feature films, Krivina (2012), The Waiting Room (2015), and The Stone Speakers (2018). Drljaca’s first two features take different approaches to stories of immigrants from the former Yugoslavia living in Toronto and reconciling their relationship with “home”. His latest film is a slyly critical portrait of tourist sites in present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina that skewers the contradictory narratives of a divided nation. Drljaca’s films are distinct from one another but they each build space for the viewer to contemplate and draw their own conclusions.
A meditative film that seamlessly moves through three characters and three settings around the world, Still Night, Still Light (2016) earned Québécois writer-director Sophie Goyette the Bright Future award at the International Festival of Rotterdam. Distinguished by an emphasis on mood, aesthetic beauty, and a sensual approach to sound, Goyette’s films are first and foremost works of poetry. They are also spiritual journeys into her characters’ souls with images that linger in your mind long after they have left the screen. Her most recent work is a contribution to the ambitious omnibus project The Seven Last Words inspired by the music of Joseph Haydn.
Part of a blossoming film scene in Nova Scotia, Ashley McKenzie has quickly become one of the most talked about Canadian directors. Her devastating feature debut, Werewolf (2016), is a beautifully acted naturalistic drama that follows a methadone-dependent couple as they struggle to get by in McKenzie’s native Cape Breton Island. It was deservedly awarded the $100,000 Toronto Film Critics Association prize for best Canadian film of the year in 2017 and has gone on to grab the attention of esteemed outlets such as The New Yorker, Film Comment and The New York Times.
Fresh off the heels of winning the 2019 Canadian Screen Award for Best Director, Jasmin Mozaffari’s Firecrackers has enjoyed a whirlwind of critical success and a theatrical release. Featuring breakout performances by Michaela Kurimsky and Karena Evans, the film is set in rural Ontario where two rebellious twentysomethings are determined to escape their hometown—which is easier said than done. With an uncompromising point-of-view and portrayal of the female experience, Firecrackers is not your typical coming-of-age film and marks an auspicious beginning for Mozaffari.
A longtime fixture of Toronto’s indie scene, Kazik Radwanski has directed several short films and two features, Tower (2012) and How Heavy This Hammer (2015), with his third on the way. long with producer Dan Montgomery, Radwanski hosts a monthly screening series at TIFF under the banner of their production company, MDFF. With his quietly compelling character studies, shot mostly in a language of close-ups, the resourceful filmmaker has developed his own signature style. Meanwhile, his more experimental approach to his short films, such as Scaffold (2017), suggests his work will continue to evolve from an already impressive benchmark.
With back to back invitations to Cannes’ Official Selection in 2012 and 2013 for her short film Chef de meute and feature Sarah préfère la course, Chloé Robichaud firmly established herself as one of the standout talents of her generation. Her second feature, Pays (2016), is an ambitious film about Canadian governmental reps (all women) negotiating the terms of a mining agreement with a economically depressed fictional island. The film takes a sharp and incisive look at Canadian politics from a feminist perspective. Currently, Robichaud is writing her third feature.