TIFF 2017: Catching up with three emerging Canadian filmmakers

We caught up with three emerging Canadian filmmakers – Matt Johnson, Anne Émond and Kevan Funk – whose films won cheers at TIFF in 2016. We spoke to them about their year since.

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Film maker Matt Johnson’s Captain Avalanche, a mockumentary about NASA faking the moon landing, was a big hit at TIFF last year. - Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

While the film world’s attention will focus on the 11 days of TIFF, the cinematic event is only a starting point for the films screened. We caught up with three emerging Canadian filmmakers – Matt Johnson, Anne Émond and Kevan Funk – whose films won cheers at TIFF in 2016. We spoke to them about their year since.

Matt Johnson

His 2016 feature was Operation Avalanche, a mockumentary about a NASA conspiracy to fake the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. The film, distributed by Lionsgate, was one small step in Canadian filmmaking, but one giant leap for Johnson and his production company Zapruder Films.

“The success of Operation Avalanche was a big boost for us,” says the Toronto-based Johnson, whose whose 2016 festival experience involved the premiere of Nirvanna the Band the Show, a small-screen series he created with Jay McCarrol. “Among other things, it helped us to establish a grant program to help female first-time filmmakers.”

With the Women First screenwriting competition, Johnson and Zapruder Films address the gender gap in the feature film industry. Shortly after last year’s TIFF, it was announced that Chandler Levack’s feature film Anglophone was the first winner of the competition. (Levack’s short film We Forgot to Break Up will be screened at TIFF this year.)

Toronto’s Johnson has been an outspoken critic of TIFF and Canadian film funding agency Telefilm. Johnson chose to premiere Operation Avalanche at Sundance in 2016 rather than at TIFF a year earlier. “I don’t think TIFF is the platform or stepping stone young Canadian filmmakers expect it to be,” says Johnson, who believes that Canadian features are slotted as sidebars, compared to American and international films. “At Sundance, Venice and Berlin, Canadian films are treated as equals to all the others. But TIFF doesn’t integrate them.”

Season two of Nirvanna the Band the Show airs on Viceland beginning in November. Johnson’s next feature film is a time-travel story involving a plot to go back in time to assassinate Hitler. Where Operation Avalanche was demanding to film, Johnson seeks to make more straightforward features in the future.

“Hopefully, our future films will be more broad,” Johnson says. “Now that I’m older, I’ll be making less-complicated films.”

We’ll believe that when we see it.

Anne Émond

Do not dismiss the popcorn-fuelled lady in her sleepwear at TIFF Bell Lightbox this fall. She’s the Montreal filmmaker Anne Émond – and she belongs.

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