by Michael Simms
The seventh Canadian Film Festival, which wrapped in Sydney recently before travelling to Wollongong and Canberra, was aimed at creating a “snapshot of the best films made in Canada in any given year”, according to festival director Mathieu Ravier.
“Part of what makes Canadian cinema so relevant is its ability to provide a different perspective on the world and our place within it,” he says, adding that Australian audiences “connect with Canadian films in a very immediate way” due to a sense of common culture and history.
More than 20 films featured in this year’s festival, which opened with the Australian premiere of Starbuck, a comedy about a Montreal slacker who discovers he has fathered 533 children thanks to a fertile bout of sperm donations 20 years earlier. A Hollywood remake is currently in the works with Vince Vaughn set to star.
The program also included the hockey-themed comedy Goon, Oscar-nominated drama Monsieur Lazhar, and Cloudburst, a road-trip ‘dramedy’ starring Oscar-winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker as an ageing lesbian couple who escape from a nursing home.
The festival closed with the Sydney premiere of War Witch. Written and directed by Quebec filmmaker Kim Nguyen, the film tells the story of a 12-year-old African girl, kidnapped from her village by armed rebels and forced into war.
War Witch took the inaugural Jury Award for Best Film, announced on the closing night. It has had a successful run on the festival circuit with young star Rachel Mwanza winning Best Actress at the Tribeca Film Festival in May for her performance. She also picked up the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival in February.
Jury member Alica Tynan says the decision to award the festival prize to War Witch was unanimous. “It’s a film that reaches into your soul. It still hasn’t left me.” A film critic and host of ‘Fridays on My Mind’ at the Australian Film Television and Radio School, Ms Tynan is hopeful War Witch will be picked up for distribution in Australia as she believes its powerful themes will resonate with local audiences.
Jury president Eddie Cockrell described the film as “equal parts haunting, bewitching and unforgettable, a courageous and important film about determination and survival set against the backdrop of the horrors of war”.
Festival-goers were invited to vote for the Audience Award for Best Film, which went to the roller-skating spoof Roller Town about a small town who are overrun by video game obsessed gangsters.