Toronto Film Festival Invades LA for Free Weekend Screenings at LACMA

TIFF’s first venture outside Canada will screen three top homegrown films for free to Los Angeles audiences

A few days after announcing a festival lineup that included films from 22 different countries, the Toronto International Film Festival has come to Los Angeles with films from one country: Canada.

CAN/LA, a three-day film series screening at Film Independent at LACMA, is the first program TIFF has presented outside of Canada, and the kickoff of a plan to give the festival an international presence to go along with its international audience and its international bookings.

An outgrowth of the festival’s annual Canada’s Top 10 list, it will bring three films to LACMA for free screenings on Friday and Saturday: Albert Shin’s “In Her Place” and Maxine Giroux’s “Felix and Meira” on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon and Zacharius Kunuk’s Inuit-language feature “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner” on Saturday evening. The first two landed on TIFF’s list of 2014’s best Canadian films; the last topped a January poll as the greatest Canadian film of all time.

“We’re proud of Canadian films, and in the heat of our festival in September, not all of them get the notice they should,” TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey told TheWrap this week. “So we thought, let’s get them out there a little more.”

The L.A. screenings are the first time TIFF has put on a program outside of Canada — but, said Bailey, this program is envisioned as the beginning of an outreach that will find the festival taking films to New York, London and Beijing in 2016.

“This is a film town, so it made sense to start here,” he said. “I think people in this town are curious about discovering new talent here.”

For starters, the program is modest: a kickoff on Thursday that included a LACMA conversation between Bailey and Canadian actor Taylor Kitsch, followed by the three screenings.

“When we do Top 10 in the winter in Canada, we do 10 features and 10 shorts, and we were looking for kind of a compact version of that for LA,” Bailey said. “We wanted to bring films that hadn’t had exposure — films like ‘Mommy’ were in our Top 10, but Xavier Dolan is well known in the film world here, and his film’s been seen.”

“In Her Place,” a Korean-set film about a secret adoption, and “Felix and Meara,” a drama set in the Hasidic community in Montreal, both made TIFF’s Canada’s Top 10 list this year, along with higher-profile films like “Mommy” and David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars.”

As for “Atanarjuat,” the three-hour film was the surprise top choice in the all-time list voted on by critics and filmmakers once every 10 years; it topped the usual winner, Claude Jutra’s “Mon oncle Antoine.”

“It was at Cannes, but it was made in 2001, and there are probably a lot of people who haven’t seen it,” Bailey said. “This is what Canada has decided is the best Canadian film ever made, so we thought people should see this.”

The Canadian film industry, Bailey added, is thriving: “The past two years, there’s been over 250 feature films made in Canada. It’s a tiny population, a tenth the size of the U.S., but we’re making a lot of movies. And it’s hard to cut though all of that unless you’ve got a way of doing it, and a Top 10 seems to work.

“And also, beyond our pride in our own artists, I think it’s a great place to spot talent. People like Xavier Dolan and Denis Villeneuve and Jean-Marc Vallee have been in Top 10 in years past. I think if you were paying attention all along, I think you would have known about these filmmakers long before they started making Hollywood movies.”

The move to mainstream moviemaking for filmmakers like Dolan, Villeneuve (“Prisoners,” the upcoming “Sicario”) and Vallee (“Dallas Buyers Club,” “Wild” and this year’s TIFF opener, “Demolition”) is only possible, he said, because of their experience north of the border.

“We’re so close to the biggest, most prominent film industry in the world, and yet it can seem like an impenetrable wall for some filmmakers,” he said. “Others can’t wait to cross that border and get down here, but I think it has to happen at the right moment.

“Jean-Marc and Denis are good examples. They made very good early features, but if they had come own here and tried to set up films too early, they might have really faltered. Their approach to filmmaking, and also the toughness that you need to survive and get your vision across in a place like L.A., was probably not developed the way it is now.

“Now these filmmakers are really thriving, having spent 15 years working in Canada. When they come, they’re mature, very solid filmmakers.”