150 Years in Reel Time: TIFF’s “Canada on Screen”

Canada 150

Grab the popcorn, TIFF – home of the Toronto International Film Festival – is presenting Canada’s top moving image works across the country in 2017 with “Canada on Screen”, a Canada 150 Signature Project. In celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, “ Canada on Screen” lists 150 of our most important film and television works, from internationally-recognized documentaries, feature films and TV shows to music videos, commercials, installations, animation and shorts. A selection of the 150 moving image works will be screened for free nation-wide and preserved in a digital catalogue in partnership with Cinémathèque québécoise, the Cinematheque in Vancouverand Library and Archives Canada. TIFF Director & CEO Piers Handling tells us more.  

How did TIFF arrive at the idea for “ Canada on Screen”?
We knew to get the attention of the public it needed to be a ‘best of’ list. I thought 150 Canadian films, that’s a massive project, but my teammates said, let’s not just have feature films, let’s open it up to commercials, music videos, television and installations. We’ve done the 150 essential moving image works our country has produced: 40 feature films, 20 documentaries, 10 experimental shorts, 10 animations, 10 commercials, 10 music videos, and more—it’s a very exciting list.
What do you think has made Canada innovative in the film sector?
Historically, Canadian filmmakers felt that they didn’t own the feature fiction space, it was a question of resources, size, magnitude, and we’re so close to Hollywood. I think the short form was something we excelled at, and I think Canadians are used to working in the margins culturally. The documentary form at that point in time allowed Canadians to create a sense of identity, of who and what they were.
2167 from TIFF’s Canada on Screen

2167 will explore the next 150 years of Canada.

Part of Canada on Screen” is the experimental film project “2167”, exploring the future of Canada through an Indigenous perspective. What was the inspiration behind it?
We were very aware that with the celebration of 150 years and the birth of Canada comes a whole other series of histories. We wanted to acknowledge the Indigenous history, and for Indigenous people this is not an anniversary to celebrate. imagineNATIVE came to us with this idea: “what would it be like to imagine Canada 150 years from now.” We thought it was great, so many anniversaries are a look back, and we don’t want to be completely tethered to the past. We want to also look forward and have it be about contemporary cinema.
Why did TIFF want to be a part of Canada 150?
Canadians generally know so little about their moving image heritage, it was an opportunity to show that there’s some really wonderful films that have been made here, second to none in the world. Some of the works we’re talking about have won Oscars. We’re a world leader in documentary, animation, and experimental film. Artists like Michael Snow, David Rimmer, Bruce Elder who are internationally-recognized are not known at all to Canadians.
Piers Handling, Photo Credit: George Pimentel.

TIFF Director & CEO Piers Handling.

Which “ Canada on Screen” films are you most excited about?
I’ve been working in this area for almost 40 years, there’s so much work I’m passionate about. There's “Goin’ Down the Road”, which is the first Canadian film I saw that I knew was a Canadian film, to something like “Pour la suite du monde” by Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault, a documentary about the history of documentary filmmaking. Michael Snow’s “Wavelength” is a ground-breaking work that is constantly referred to as one of the most important in the history of experimental cinema—which is amazing as modest Canadians. These are people who were at the cutting edge of cinema. These are films that are a constant touchstone for how I feel as a Canadian and what it means living in this country.
Beyond 2017, what are you hoping Canadians take away from “ Canada on Screen”?
At this point in history I think a lot of people are looking at us as a leader, as a safe country, as a model in all kinds of ways. Assembling a list of 150 essential moving image works is something we’ve never done as a culture. This is a beginning, making this list and digitizing them to ensure they’re available to Canadians to make them aware of their heritage. Canadians should have access to the sheer diversity of who and what we are as a country.

The Government of Canada and RBC are Presenting Partners of “Canada on Screen”.

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