Canada at Cannes: Strong lineup shows bright future for our filmmakers

TORONTO – This year’s Cannes Film Festival lineup signals a bright future for Canadian cinema, say industry experts.

Three directors from Montreal — Xavier Dolan, Kim Nguyen, and Francois Jaros — as well as Toronto’s Nathan Morlando and Leah Johnston of Truro, N.S., have titles screening during the prestigious festival in France, which runs Wednesday through May 22.

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Meanwhile, actor Donald Sutherland of Saint John, N.B., is on the jury for the Palme d’Or top prize and Montreal-born Marie-Josee Croze is a judge for the short film award.

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“I think it’s really the new generation of great Canadian filmmakers,” says Helga Stephenson, chief executive officer of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.

“It speaks to the bench strength of the industry, and because they’re the younger filmmakers, the future is in good hands.”

Dolan is making his fifth trip to the Promenade de la Croisette, this time with “It’s Only the End of the World.” The story of a dying author, starring Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel, is competing for the Palme d’Or.

The 27-year-old directing sensation has already had much acclaim at the fest, winning three awards in 2009 for “I Killed My Mother” and sharing the jury prize in 2014 for “Mommy.” Last year, Dolan was also a Cannes jury member.

“I think he’s got probably a pretty good shot certainly at being taken seriously as a contender, even thought he’s up against the who’s who of international filmmakers like Ken Loach, Pedro Almodovar, Paul Verhoeven, Sean Penn,” says Toronto-based film reviewer Richard Crouse.

“There are a lot of people here that are working at a very high level, but I’d suggest that Xavier Dolan is working at just as high a level.”

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Morlando will debut his coming-of-age thriller “Mean Dreams,” written by Kevin Coughlin and Ryan Grassby, in the festival’s Directors’ Fortnight program.

Filmed in the fall near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., it stars Sophie Nelisse (a native of Windsor, Ont.) and Josh Wiggins as teen lovers who are on the lam after he steals a bag of drug money. Bill Paxton and Colm Feore co-star.

Morlando believes the film will showcase a strikingly more mature side of Nelisse and Wiggins, who’ve been acting since they were young.

“When I was filming it, I kept on thinking — and this is what I’m hearing actually — that she is like a young Jennifer Lawrence and Josh is being seen as a young Leonardo DiCaprio or a young Matt Damon,” he says.

“I’ve got shivers now just saying this, because I’m so excited to show the world Josh and Sophie at this age.”

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Also making its world premiere in the Directors’ Fortnight is “Two Lovers and a Bear” by Nguyen, who was nominated for an Oscar for 2012’s “Rebelle.” Tatiana Maslany, Dane DeHaan and Gordon Pinsent star in the love story that’s set near the North Pole.

Jaros is in the Critics’ Week lineup with the short film “Oh What a Wonderful Feeling,” a humorous mystery about a girl who traverses the world of truckers for a night.

“It’s a huge honour to be there, to be invited amongst the cinematic world that’s inspired me,” says Jaros, 30.

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Johnston is in Telefilm’s Not Short on Talent program with “Ingrid and the Black Hole,” which won last year’s BravoFACT pitch competition hosted by Crouse in Halifax.

“To see it go from the written word and her pitching it in a contest in Halifax to playing at Cannes is kind of mind-blowing,” says Crouse.

For Canadian filmmakers, Cannes is an opportunity to show work on a prestigious world stage that caters to industry professionals.

“Cannes has a real professional reputation of selecting what a lot of people think to be very strong films that exist around the world,” says Morlando.

“And because they select such few films, it’s a great honour as a filmmaker to be among the group of other selected filmmakers.”