Book adaptations, Indigenous thriller among TIFF's picks for year's top watches

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TORONTO — Adaptations of Canadian reads and an acclaimed Indigenous futuristic thriller are among the features on the Toronto International Film Festival's best-of-year list.

The annual TIFF Canada's Top Ten list includes Saskatchewan-born Cree-Métis filmmaker Danis Goulet's "Night Raiders," a dystopian tale that echoes the horrors of Canada's residential school system.

Also making the cut is "All My Puny Sorrows," from director Michael McGowan, a family drama based on Manitoba-raised author Miriam Toews' 2014 novel drawing from her experience losing her sister and father to suicide.

Another page-to-screen TIFF pick is "Scarborough" about a trio of children growing up in the east Toronto suburb, with author Catherine Hernandez turning her 2017 novel into a screenplay for the feature directed by Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson.

Montreal filmmaker Ivan Grbovic's "Drunken Birds," which will represent Canada in the Oscar race for best international feature film, made the list for its story of a lovestruck Mexican drug cartel member who becomes a seasonal migrant worker in rural Quebec.

Toronto's Thyrone Tommy is also recognized for his debut feature, "Learn to Swim," about a contentious relationship between two jazz musicians.

Other TIFF-endorsed features include:

- "Charlotte," from filmmakers Eric Warin and Tahir Rana, an animated drama based on the true story of a Jewish artist who created a prolific series of autobiographical paintings during the Holocaust.

- "Subjects of Desire," by Jennifer Holness, a documentary about Black women and beauty.

- "Ste. Anne," from debut feature director Rhayne Vermette, an experimental drama about a Métis woman returning to her Manitoba hometown.

- "The White Fortress," by Igor Drljača, a coming-of-age romance set in Sarajevo.

- "Maria Chapdelaine," bySébastien Pilote, an adaptation of Louis Hémon's 1913 novel about a woman in rural Quebec being courted by three suitors.

The titles were chosen by TIFF's internal programming team: CEO Cameron Bailey, senior director of film Diana Sanchez and associate director of Canadian programming Steve Gravestock.

“Not since its inaugural year in 2001 have there been so many first appearances among the feature-film selections," Bailey said in a news release Monday. "Some of these films made their world premieres during the festival and are now debuting their works on the international festival circuit, which is remarkable for first-time directors — I couldn't be prouder."

TIFF says audiences can see many of these features at its Toronto theatre or on its digital platform, and more will be available in the near future.

The organization also revealed its annual Top Ten shorts, eight of which were directed or co-directed by women.

The shorts are: "Ain't No Time for Women" by Sarra El Abed; "Angakusajaujuq - The Shaman's Apprentice" by Zacharias Kunuk; "Boobs" by Marie Valade; "DEFUND" by Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah and Araya Mengesha; "Fanmi" by Sandrine Brodeur-Desrosiers and Carmine Pierre-Dufour; "Honour to Senator Murray Sinclair" by Alanis Obomsawin; "Les grandes claques" by Annie St-Pierre; "Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics" by Terril Calder; "The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night" by Fawzia Mirza; and "Together" by Albert Shin.

TIFF's Short Cuts programmer Jason Anderson made the selections in collaboration with other shorts programmers across Canada.

The Top Ten shorts are set to be screened at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Jan. 22.

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

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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