Since the 1980s, a generation of new filmmakers has emerged in Canada who together have taken Canadian films in different directions from the downbeat realism that characterized the first wave of Canadian feature films in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of these directors, including Jerry Cicoretti (b. 1956), David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan (b. 1960), Bruce MacDonald (b. 1959), Don McKellar (b. 1963), Kevin McMahon, Jeremy Podeswa (b. 1962), and Patricia Rozema (b. 1958), are located in Toronto. The city is home to the annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which, since its inception in 1975, has grown to become one of the largest and most important film festivals in the world. A major part of the festival each year from 1984 to 2004 was the Perspective Canada series, a program of new Canadian features. The series provided the highest international profile anywhere for new Canadian films, and all of these filmmakers had their work featured within it. As of 2004, TIFF altered its programming format so that only first-time directors are featured in the Canada First series, while work by other Canadian directors is integrated into the other programs. As of 2006, TIFF has screened an astonishing 1,500 Canadian feature films.
David Cronenberg's international success as a Toronto-based filmmaker, moving from low-budget horror movies to internationally acclaimed art films, was the inspiration for many of these other directors. After Cronenberg, Rozema gained international recognition with I've Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987), a comedy about a nerdy young woman, which became a surprise hit at both the Cannes and Toronto film festivals. Atom
Born in Egypt to Armenian parents and raised in Victoria, British Columbia, Atom Egoyan began making short films while a student at the University of Toronto. Along with his fellow Torontonian David Cronenberg, Egoyan has emerged as an internationally successful auteur. He has won numerous awards, including four at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and seven at the Toronto International Film Festival. The German director Wim Wenders was so impressed with Egoyan's Family Viewing (1987) that, when awarded the Prix Alcan for Wings of Desire at the 1987 Montreal New Cinema Festival, he publicly turned the prize over to Egoyan.
Egoyan's films deal with themes of alienation, ennui, and voyeurism and the connections among them. Communications technology such as television sets, telephones, and video cameras often figure in Egoyan's imagery, while his characters, often surrounded by this technology, are emotionally stunted and unable to communicate meaningfully with each other. In Speaking Parts (1989), Egoyan envisions a video mausoleum where television monitors showing footage of departed loved ones help people cope with their grief; Exotica (1991) creates a dance club that establishes an enveloping environment in which men stave off loneliness. The cultural estrangement that appears in Egoyan's films is in part attributable to his being relocated as a child to Canada. Commonly considered a quintessential postmodern filmmaker whose work shows how mass-mediated simulacra have dulled our response to the real world, Egoyan's mise-en-scène also is often very formally composed, suggestive of the closed, cold world that his protagonists inhabit.
Next of Kin (1984), Egoyan's first feature, premiered at the high-profile Toronto International Film Festival, where it was well received critically, as were his subsequent films in the 1990s. The Sweet Hereafter (1997), based on Russell Banks's novel, marked Egoyan's first screenplay based on someone else's work and his rise to widespread international attention. Since then, however, Egoyan's career has wavered. Ararat (2002), ostensibly about the 1915 Armenian genocide by Turks (which the Turks have long disputed), is a bold reflexive examination of the representation of history in cinema that introduces a new political dimension into Egoyan's work. But Felicia's Journey (1999) was neither a notable box-office nor critical success, and Where the Truth Lies (2005), a high-concept film about a mysterious murder involving a comedy duo resembling Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, elicited strong negative reaction when it premiered along with Cronenberg's A History of Violence , which critics embraced, at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.
Egoyan also has produced several films by other directors and directed several episodes for such television shows as The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents , as well as a highly regarded made-for-TV movie, Gross Misconduct (1993), about the troubled life of the hockey player Brian Spencer.
Next of Kin (1984), Family Viewing (1987), Speaking Parts (1989), The Adjuster (1991), Exotica (1994), The Sweet Hereafter (1997), Ararat (2002)
Desbarats, Carole, Jacinto Lageira, Daniele Riviere, and Paul Virilio, eds. Atom Egoyan . Translated from the French by Brian Holmes. Paris: Editions Dis Voir, 1993.
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Falsetto, Mario. Personal Visions: Conversations with Contemporary Film Directors . Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 2000.
Leach, Jim. Film in Canada . Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Tasker, Yvonne, ed. Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers . London and New York: Routledge, 2002.
Barry Keith Grant
Egoyan has successfully combined the formalist mannerisms of his early films ( Next of Kin , Family Viewing , and Speaking Parts ), with mainstream accessibility in The Sweet Hereafter (1997) and Felicia's Journey (1999). Born in Egypt and raised in an Armenian family in Victoria, British Columbia, Egoyan emphasized issues of ethnic identity in his early films. His success has prompted other young Canadian filmmakers to explore their own ethnicity in relation to the nation. Films such as Masala (Srinivas Krishna, 1991), in which the Hindu god Krishna appears wearing a Toronto Maple Leaf hockey jersey; Double Happiness (Mina Shum, 1994), an exploration of the filmmaker's own cultural identity as a Chinese Canadian in Vancouver starring Sandra Oh, who has since gained wider attention in the American independent breakthrough hit Sideways (2004); and Rude (Clement Virgo, 1995), a film about black life in urban Toronto, provide a more accurate reflection of Canada's actual ethnic diversity than earlier Canadian cinema did. Deepa Mehta (b. 1950) is an Indo-Canadian filmmaker whose films Fire (1996), Earth (1998), and Water (2005) were filmed and set in India. At the same time, directors who have established international reputations seem to be moving away from Canadian concerns and making more mainstream movies. Rozema's adaptation of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1999) was a bigger budget film made in the United Kingdom; Cronenberg's A History of Violence (2005) is a crime film set in Anytown, USA, and stars actors Ed Harris, William Hurt, and Viggo Mortenson; and Egoyan's Where the Truth Lies (2005) features his most conventional narrative structure, a murder mystery involving a Lewis-and-Martin-like comedy duo starring Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon.
Although English-Canadian feature filmmaking is centered in Toronto, films are also produced in other regions of Canada. In the East, the Newfoundland director William D. MacGillivray has produced a series of intelligent dramas ( Stations  and Life Classes ), while in the West, the Calgary-based filmmaker Gary Burns ( The Suburbanators  and Kitchen Party ) has gained attention with his hip comedy waydowntown (2000). The Winnipeg Film Group has developed a distinct style known as "prairie postmodernism," its most significant practitioner being Guy Maddin (b. 1956), whose films, such as Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988), Careful (1992), and the brilliant short The Heart of the World (2000), hark back to the classic styles of silent cinema.
SEE ALSO National Cinema
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Barry Keith Grant