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December 6, 2017

What it’s like to be a rookie in Canadian film


Kate Taylor/ The Globe and Mail

First-time directors on TIFF’s list of top homegrown movies share what they’ve gleaned so far – good and bad – from working in the Great White North.

Every year, programmers at the Toronto International Film Festival screen all the feature films made in Canada, a category that now numbers in the hundreds. From that long list, they eventually select 10 films for Canada’s Top 10. The mini-festival opens in Toronto in January before touring the country, aiming to introduce audiences to domestic films they may have missed. In 2017, a year in which Canada’s big-name auteurs didn’t happen to have produced films, first-timers dominated the Top 10 list that TIFF announced on Wednesday. The Globe and Mail asked the newbies to comment on filmmaking in Canada: They named some joys (those arts councils) and some perils (snow).

Kathleen Hepburn

Vancouver native Kathleen Hepburn developed a full-length version of Never Steady, Never Still from a short of the same title. It’s a drama about a woman battling Parkinson’s disease while her son suffers violence and cruelty working in the Alberta oil fields.

How long have you had the idea for your film?

I started writing the film in 2011, but I wouldn’t say it was an idea I had, it was more a few images that stuck in my head and thoughts I wanted to explore on family.

Your best audience member would describe your film as …

An intimate and tender drama about carrying on against life’s heartbreaks.

What is the best thing about filmmaking in Canada?

Having the support of government funding allows for a certain amount of artistic freedom. Though our budgets are more modest than our southern neighbours, the control we have over our own work and creative decisions is immensely valuable.

And the worst?

We have a hard time reaching our audiences.

What Canadian director do you most look up to?

Xavier Dolan, because he is prolific, makes beautiful films and takes risks in order to learn. He’s extremely self-critical, which to me shows how hard he works to get better. I don’t love every film he’s made, but I really love some of them and I admire his ability to get on with the next, because that’s extremely difficult.

The one filmmaking mistake that I would never make again is …

It’s hard to say because each project is so different. And mistakes are important.

If I weren’t a film director, I would be …

Probably a woodworker of some kind. I like working with my hands, I find it calming. But I don’t have the patience for it.