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From 'Night Raiders' to 'Scarborough': Five Canadian films making waves at TIFF

Last Updated Sep 6, 2021 at 10:30 am MDT

A man walks on a red carpet displaying a sign for the Toronto International Film Festival at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto on Wednesday, September 3, 2014. Hundreds of workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight are set to receive virtual tickets to one of the hottest titles at the Toronto International Film Festival. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

TORONTO — Feature debuts and buzzy book adaptations are among the Canadian projects grabbing the spotlight at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

From a searing Indigenous thriller set in the near future, to a profile of a Toronto suburb that’s produced several megastars, here are five Canadian films to look out for at the festival, which runs online and in-person from Thursday through Sept. 18:

“Night Raiders”

This dystopian thriller from Saskatchewan-born Cree-Metis filmmaker Danis Goulet is part of an exciting crop of Indigenous futurism films featuring post-apocalyptic and fantastical ideas, with other recent examples including Jeff Barnaby’s zombie horror “Blood Quantum.” Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers stars as a Cree mother trying to reunite with her daughter, played by Brooklyn Letexier-Hart, who was put into a forced-education camp by the military after a war. Acclaimed filmmaker Taika Waititi executive produced the Canadian co-production, which echoes the horrors of Canada’s residential school system. Goulet makes her feature debut on what TIFF co-head Cameron Bailey calls “a groundbreaking film for Canadian cinema.”

“All My Puny Sorrows”

Between the stellar cast and heralded source material, this homegrown family drama has huge promise. The story is based on Manitoba-raised author Miriam Toews’ heartbreaking 2014 novel, which mirrors her relationship with her older sister and father, both of whom died by suicide. Alison Pill stars as a struggling writer going through a divorce alongside Sarah Gadon as her gifted-pianist sister who often thinks about ending her life, just as their father did. Canadian filmmaker Michael McGowan, whose credits include “One Week” and “Score: A Hockey Musical,” directed and wrote the screenplay. Toews’ novel, which won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, explores heavy topics. But it also has her signature wry humour and the film is described as having the same tone.

“Scarborough”

Speaking of adaptations of acclaimed books, “Scarborough” is based on Toronto author Catherine Hernandez’s award-winning 2017 novel about the city’s eastern suburb that was once home to singer-songwriter the Weeknd and actor-brothers Stephan James and Shamier Anderson. Hernandez also wrote the screenplay, about three children “growing up within a system that has set them up for failure” in a low-income, culturally diverse Scarborough neighbourhood. Hernandez, who used her own experiences as inspiration for the story, also makes a few cameos in the film directed by Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson.

“Learn To Swim”

Toronto filmmaker Thyrone Tommy’s short “Mariner” made TIFF Canada’s Top Ten list in 2016, and anticipation is high for his debut feature about a stormy relationship between two “very different” contemporary jazz musicians. Two of this year’s TIFF Rising Stars, Thomas Antony Olajide and Emma Ferreira, headline this surrealist romantic drama. Olajide plays a Toronto saxophonist who stops playing after a tragedy and Ferreira plays his former lover, who is a singer. Tommy co-wrote the script with Marni Van Dyk, based on his own experiences with music, love and loss.

“Quickening”

Pakistani-Canadian writer-director Haya Waseem makes her feature film debut with this story of “a young woman of colour navigating love, heartbreak and family turmoil.” Arooj Azeem stars as Sheila, a Pakistani-Canadian teen juggling a tumultuous relationship and societal expectations. TIFF says Azeem delivers an “impressive breakout performance” and calls Waseem “an exciting new voice in Canadian cinema.”  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 6, 2021.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press