TIFF 2018: An eco-legacy fulfilled, an aboriginal lacrosse tale and new films from Dolan and Arcand

By Liam Lacey

In what amounts to a concerted effort to carry a legacy forward, Sharkwater Extinction, from the late filmmaker and conservationist Rob Stewart, will have its world premiere in a special event at this year’s Toronto International Festival (Sept. 6-16)

Stewart (Sharkwater, Revolution) died in a diving accident tin 2017, while working on the film, which was completed with through the Rob Stewart Foundation,  set up by his parents and sister, Sandy, Brian and Alex Stewart.

The late Rob Stewart's Sharkwater Extinction will be at this year's TIFF

The late Rob Stewart's Sharkwater Extinction will be at this year's TIFF

The documentary is among 23 Canadian features that were announced to shown at this year’s event, including Denys Arcand’s Fall of the American Empire, a Montreal-set thriller about a man who finds two bags of money from a robbery. The film, which opened in Quebec in June, is thematically linked to Arcand’s The Decline of the American Empire (1986) and its Oscar-winning followup The Barbarian Invasions (2003).

Arcand’s Quebec compatriot, Xavier Dolan, will bring his English-language debut and Hollywood scandal drama, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. It’s the seventh feature from the 29-year-old director.

Other familiar Canadian names include Patricia Rozema (Mouthpiece) Don McKellar (Through Dark Spruce) Bruce Sweeney (Kingsway) Kim Nguyen (The Hummingbird Project). Maxime Giroux (The Great Darkened Days) and Thom Fitzgerald (Splinters). 

New documentaries include Ron Mann’s Carmine Street Guitars, about the fabled Greenwich Village guitar store. It will have its premiere in Venice. Anthropocene, about the human impact on the evolution of the planet, is a new feature from the team behind Manufactured Landscapes (2006) and Watermark (2013). The title is taken from the Ed Burtynsky’s exhibition of the same title which opens this fall, on Sept. 28 at both the AGO and the NGC in Ottawa. 

Prolific director Barry Avrich brings, Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz, about the legendary Nuremberg trial prosecutor who helped found the International Criminal Court. Also in the documentary line-up is What Is Democracy? by Astra Taylor, director of 2008’s philosophy doc, Examined Life.

This year’s selection focuses on indigenous talent with three films: Edge of the Knife (Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown), Falls Around Her (Darlene Naponse) and The Grizzlies, the story of a Inuit lacrosse team, which is a collaboration between Inuit producers Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and Stacey Aglok MacDonald and director Michelle de Pencier), 

Other first-time features are Clara (Akash Sherman), Fausto (Andrea Bussmann) Freaks (Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein) and Firecrackers (Jasmin Mozaffari).

A scene from Baichwal and Burtynsky's doc Anthropocene

A scene from Baichwal and Burtynsky's doc Anthropocene

TIFF also announced four Canadian performers selected for this year’s TIFF Rising Stars program: Devery Jacobs, Lamar Johnson, Jess Salgueiro and Michaela Kurmsky.)

In addition, 24 Canadian short films will be shown at the festival.

Canadian films by program:

Special Event: Sharkwater Extinction (Rob Stewart).

Special Presentation: Giant Little Ones (Keith Behrman); The Hummingbird Project (Kim Nguyen), Mouthpiece (Patrica Rozema), Through Dark Spruce (Don McKellar). The Death and Life of John F. Donovan (Xavier Dolan).

TIFF Docs: Carmine Street Guitars (Ron Mann); Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz (Barry Avrich); What is Democracy (Astra Taylor)


Clara (Akash Sherman); Edge of the Knife (Gwaai Edenshaw, Helen Haig-Brown); Firecrackers (Jasmin Mozaffari); Freaks (Zach Lipovsky, Adam Stein).

Contemporary World Cinema: Falls Around Her (Darlene Laponse); The Fireflies are Gone (Sébastian Pilote); The Great Darkened Days (Maxime Giroux); Kingsway (Bruce Sweeney); Les Salopes or The Naturally Wanton Pleasure of the Skin (Renée Beaulieu); Splinters (Thom Fitzgerald)

Wavelengths: Fausto (Andrea Bussmann); The Stone Speakers (Igor Drljaca).