Tuesday 31 December 2013


The Film Corner presents the 3rd Annual Top 10 Heroes of Canadian Cinema - 2013 Edition

as selected by Greg Klymkiw - filmmaker, writer and film critic
in alphabetical order by first name or first letter of company name

A tireless supporter and promoter of genre film, his magnificent Toronto After Dark Cinema Film Festival just celebrated its 8th year and over the course of nine days over 10,000 fans filled the seats. Most importantly, Lopez has continued to showcase the work of Canada's best genre filmmakers by screening an insane number of Canadian shorts and features. And guess what, audiences go nuts over them - thanks to Lopez and an amazing team of collaborators. Lopez has, over the years, assembled a crew of brilliant, dedicated genre-freaks and festival professionals and while too numerous to name here, a few who make the whole event such a great one include such inimitable forces as Peter Kuplowsky, Christian Burgess and Stephen Landry. The list goes on, but an organization can only be as great as the captain of its ship and I can think of fewer people as obsessed with providing a classy event as Lopez. Greatness MUST flow from the top on down and that's certainly the case here.

He made two of the best feature length documentaries of the year - in Canada or anywhere. One took Hot Docs by storm, the other TIFF, where he won the Best Canadian Feature Award as well as being named to TIFF's Canada Top Ten. As a filmmaker, Zweig subverts all expectations and plunges you into the least expected territory in a style uniquely personal and finally very much his own – so much so I predict that we’ll eventually see new generations of filmmakers drawing from his approach and using it as a springboard for their own work. This, of course, is what all great art inspires. And Zweig is nothing if not inspirational. He's also a curmudgeon and a comedian. The best curmudgeons, of course, are lovable softies beneath the fleshy layers of malcontent grumbling and the best comedians NEVER try hard to make you laugh - they just DO. And hell, in one year he gave all of us 15 reasons to live and proved that when Jews were funny was that time in everyone's life when family and the cultural hearth that nurtured us is still alive IF we keep it alive and never forget who we are or where we came from.
Bonne is a veteran film publicist. I first met her in the 90s via the late, great and inimitable film distributor Jim Murphy where she oversaw the publicity and marketing of several important Canadian films at Malo. Her company StarPR, continues guiding our films and filmmakers into the maw of p.r. and she does so with cheer, aplomb and boundless energy. Recent offerings she's shepherded include Stories We Tell, Empire of Dirt and Ingrid Veninger's The Animal Project. She's a class act. One of only a few I can count in that profession on my two hands.

He is the "Oskar Schindler of Toronto Cinema" - at least according to his pal Matt Brown who coined the phrase to describe Colin's Herculean efforts to save and preserve all manner of film culture in the Centre of Canada's Universe. (I've seen but a fraction of the archives and experienced multiple orgasms over it.) As a programmer with TIFF, he's presented some of the finest Canadian films in his Midnight Madness and Vanguard series and he's now got his hands on The Royal Cinema and it looks like great news for Canadian independent filmmakers. Even more exciting are Colin's efforts as an executive producer - most notably, his incredible job bringing the brilliant Manborg to the world. More, I can assure you, will follow. Of course, there is a cliche that behind every great man is an even greater woman. Here, it is no mere cliche. With Colin, he is in cahoots on most matters professional and artistic with his brilliant wife Katarina Gligorijevic and they're a formidable duo. She has the edge, though. She is, you see, of the Serbian persuasion. (Like my old man once said to me after seeing Underground, "The Serbs are our ["our" = Ukrainians] brothers and sisters in the fight against the oppression of communism." This really has nothing to do with anything, but it sounded good at the time.)

Via his production company Viddywell Films, Glen Wood continues to display the sort of vision he's always applied to his trajectory in the Canadian film business (including a visionary stint as Mongrel Media's home entertainment division head honcho). He collaborated with an old partner in cinematic crime, the "I don't take no for an answer (but so politely and gently and with even Karma, if you please)" Jordana Aarons and together they brought "Stage To Screen" to life, a series of cool, short films celebrating the illustrious career and opulent architecture of Toronto's legendary, magical and still majestic Wintergarden Theatre. With a gala premiere, support from BravoFact and other notable cultural institutions, one of the six films, Wakening, from director Danis Goulet and writer Tony Elliot, historically took the honour of being the first Canadian short film to open the Toronto International Film Festival's Opening Night Gala. Glen and Jordana collaborated a few years ago on the TIFF Sprockets award winning Chris Trebilcock short Adam Avenger and while they have their own companies and slates (Aarons' company is Cedar Avenue Productions), one assumes this professional marriage made in Heaven will continue onwards and upwards.

He is a national treasure. He is one of the most important filmmakers Canada has ever unleashed. He is a great teacher and mentor and a fiercely committed human rights activist (as human being and filmmaker). On his way to Gaza with Canadian emergency room doctor Tarek Loubani (to explore the potential of making a new film), he and Loubani witnessed the savage, brutal slayings and assaults upon innocent civilians in the military-controlled dictatorship of Egypt. Loubani sprung into action with medical assistance as Greyson began to shoot the carnage, his camera and unflagging eye capturing the truth of events most mainstream media couldn't begin to imagine doing. He and Loubani were illegally arrested, tortured and incarcerated in a Cairo prison. They never gave up hope and conducted themselves as friends to and advocates of their innocent fellow prisoners. John and Tarek are free now. Loubani continues to offer healing in the emergency room in London, Ontario whilst Greyson, one of the sweetest, most intelligent and committed artists in our country continues to teach and make cinema. Greyson will even be making an appearance at the TIFF Bell Lightbox to discuss activist cinema. Don't miss that, folks. It'll be a rare opportunity to shout: Bravo Maestro!

She's ambitious, talented and the camera loves her. She's the host and engine driver (along with her mother, producer Joanne Uhlmann) of the Smithee TV web series "Katie Chats". I love her style, which is getting slicker with every interview. She genuinely, as the title of her show says, "CHATS". She asks the kind of questions that let film practitioners deal with all aspects of their work - everything from thematic issues to the basic nuts and bolts. She's logged and uploaded over 1200 interviews online and her importance to the Canadian film industry cannot, for even a second, be underestimated. Why? Her goal is to build the largest database of interviews with Canadian filmmakers - ever. And she's well on her way. What's great is that she not only interviews directors, but writers, producers, editors, sound recordists, the list goes on. Her interviews are painting a valuable portrait of Canada's film culture. Oh, she'll interview non-Canadians, too. :-) Jesus. Did I just use a smiley face? Well, that's what she inspires - smiles all round. She's friendly, good-humoured, spirited and genuinely interested in chatting with people about their important work so necessary to building our vibrant cultural heritage.

I met Mitch Davis online in the mid-90s (it was dialup access back then kiddies). Newsgroups were the rage amongst movie geeks and it made sense I'd be trading quips with someone like Mitch on alt.cult-movies. Mitch was in Montreal producing a feature film directed by his best pal and roommate Karim Hussain (one of the best cinematographers out there these days having spectacularly shot Richard Stanley's L'Autre Monde, Jason Eisener's Hobo With a Shotgun and Jovanka Vuckovic's The Captured Bird). The feature took several years to make and was fraught with all manner of difficulties (negative impounded, absconded with and general fucking over due to the film's delectably vile content). I was producing a film around the same time - not necessarily "vile", but extremely controversial - and I started having a whack of trouble getting my footage processed at the National Film Board of Canada lab in Montreal. It turned out the NFB were getting flack for processing footage for Mitch and Karim's film and when I strolled in there with a movie starring Nina Hartley, Annie Sprinkle and Daniel MacIvor (sporting the hugest life-like penile prosthetic known to man), the proverbial merde hit the fan in the dank hallways of NFB, the sounds of outraged bureaus' splattering resonating over the endless drone of flickering fluorescent light. Several email quips followed, along the lines of "Hey Mitch, thanks a fucking lot for getting the bureaucrats' hair standing up on end before I got the pleasure, bud. Thanks a fucking lot" and replies along the lines of, "No problem, anytime." Luckily, I was prepping the film for a screening at the World Film Festival (Festival des Films du Monde de Montréal) and a couple of telephone calls from fest toppers Daniele Cauchard and the formidable Serge Losique kept the bureaus at bay and I got what I needed. My path crossed with Mitch briefly in 1997 when he and Karim became co-directors of the magnificent FantAsia film festival, but as the years churned on, I found myself in Montreal less and less. Newsgroups are pretty much long-gone, but now there's Facebook and Twitter and I'm able to keep abreast of Mr. Davis' exploits. It's 2013 and Mitch is STILL the co-director of what's become a genre film festival as important to international buyers, critics and fans as Sitges, L'Etrange, TADFF and, of course Midnight Madness at TIFF. And here's the deal, Mitch, like his colleagues in Hogtown, Colin and Adam, has been a constant champion of Canadian Cinema - programming a myriad of shorts and features every year along with the tremendous foreign offerings. He's still rocking and Mitch has become one of the foremost finger-on-the-pulse guys in this business. And he proudly posed for a photograph with Mayor Rob Ford. It's enough to make anyone who trolled newsgroups in the 90s green with envy.

Okay, so this is the third year of this formidable list and for a third year in a row, I've simply decided - here and now - that this magnificent human being is probably going to keep doing endlessly heroic deeds to keep me doffing my hat in her estimable direction. Not that she wants it, needs it or asks for it. Sarah Polley is the real thing. She makes great movies and never stops working to make life better for other people. This year, she's being inducted into the Order of Canada and her extraordinary Stories We Tell has taken the world by storm. It's even a finalist leading up to the Oscar nominations for Best Feature Documentary. The thing, however, that filled my heart with a heavenly body worth of warmth, on an almost daily basis this year, was how she moved mountains to fight for the release of John Greyson and Tarek Loubani from their illegal incarceration in Egypt. She rallied the troops at TIFF, put the plights of the pair on the lips of movie stars and wags from all over the world, pinned "Free Tarek and John" buttons on everyone in her path, distributed buttons to an army of volunteers who, in turn, did likewise. She never stops. Ever. And on top of it all, she's still a Mom - a normal, loving, wonderful Mom who can be seen on the streets with her sweet little girl, getting sun, going for walks - being a Mom of Moms. She IS a national treasure and of anyone I know, she is probably the greatest ambassador to the world of what it means to be TRULY CANADIAN!!!

It's because of people like Silva Basmajian that the National Film Board of Canada continues to hold the high reputation that in recent years, it would NOT have if it wasn't for her warm, gracious, inviting filmmaker-friendly approach to her work. Silva Basmajian was with the NFB for 30 years. This year she retired. Sure, she probably wanted a change of view after three decades of service - NOT so much to the NFB (true bureaucrats serve their bureaucracy, not their clients) - but to the art of Canadian film culture and all the filmmakers who benefited from her wisdom, experience and kindness. Personally, my feeling is that no matter how insistent she might have been to retire is that it's to the NFB's utter shame that the whole organization didn't get down on its knees (something bureaucrats know how to do better than most) to do everything possible to keep her within the organization. It's typical of such bureaucracies - especially in Canadian government agencies - just how petty they are and how little they have by way of honour and commitment to those who MAKE THEM. For example, a recent visit to the NFB's institutional website yielded NOT ONE HIT when I plunked her name into a search engine. NOT ONE!!! I tried again and again and again. Put all other names of NFB types - past, present and, uh, soon to be leaving - and there were plenty of hits for THEM. I went there in search of a page that might have provided a nice summary of her career and service with the NFB - some small online tribute. Nothing. I will tell you, as someone who has benefitted from her wisdom and guidance and as someone who knows veritable bucket-loads of people who've garnered only the best of what someone like Madame Basmajian has offered, she has been one of the most important driving forces at the National Film Board in English Canada - ever. In recent years as the Executive Producer of the NFB's Ontario office, she led the way with numerous quality productions, cutting edge initiatives and, of course, Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell. I'm too lazy right now to find an equivalent to the word "mensch" to describe this truly great lady. Whatever it is, if it even exists, it wouldn't be good enough, anyway. Silva Basmajian IS a mensch of the highest order and I wish her the very best in the next phase of her brilliant career.