Canadians To Watch at Whistler Film Festival

Variety Whistler Festival Film Festival has teamed up for 10 Canadians Watch, an innovative program that recognizes Canadian top talent in entertainment and film.

On Dec. 3, the Whistler Film Fest will honor 10 Canadians To Watch.

“The Whistler Film Festival has proven to be a wonderful destination for Variety, first with a focus on screenwriters and now with the 10 Canadians to Watch,” says Steven Gaydos, Variety Executive VP Content “It’s inspiring to be able to celebrate the diverse talent in this convivial atmosphere where international film professionals gather to experience the best in the screen industry.”

The honorees are here:


Bilal Baig

Canadians To Watch at Whistler Film Festival

Tyler J. Sloane, Image Credits

Bilal Baig

Playwright, Performer, Showrunner, Producer 

After the highly-received world premiere of their first-ever full-length play, 2018 saw them move into a new era. “Acha Bacha,” Baig, a professional nanny at a well-respected alternative theater in Toronto was earning a living as an actor. In the fall of that year, Baig, a Toronto playwright, was offered a role in a new production and he met fellow actor Fab Filippo.  

“After the play ended, we started getting together [and] came up with the idea of a half-hour series around a me-like character, and it resonated,” Baig says. 

Thus, the series ‘Sort Of” was born. It has been a year since the premier of “Sort Of” A year ago, this drama about the interconnected love and work lives of Sabi Mehboob (“Baig”) has had a profound impact on viewers. The second season premieres this month on CBC-TV and Dec. 1st on HBO Max. “What we hope an audience feels … is compassion for the fact that what all people have in common is that we are all always in transition.” 

This year, in addition to numerous awards for the show and its diverse writers’ room, cast and crew — a Peabody, three Canadian Screen Awards, a Rockies Award, a GLAAD Award nom— “Sort Of” has hit the mainstream, with Baig recently making Time Magazine’s Next Generation Leaders class of 2022.  

Baig first found it “an epically tall order to lead a show for the first time, especially when your on-camera experience prior is a few classes in theater school,” but soon realized it was similar to  experiences in under-resourced neighborhoods with Toronto nonprofits focussed on literacy and playwriting for emerging creatives. “The core principles and ways of working are exactly the same: be kind, acknowledge the value of the work everyone is doing, and make space for everyone to shine.” 

— Jennie Punter 

Canadians To Watch at Whistler Film Festival

Justin Delorme

Composer

A Métis composer from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Delorme has scored more than 200 episodes of television, dozens of short films and documentaries and six feature films since 2013 — most recently the award-winning doc “Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On,” This premiered at TIFF. 

His work can also be heard on Nickelodeon’s animated series “Best and Bester,” as well as APTN and CBC’s acclaimed true-crime series “Taken,” He has been nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for his original music.  

Delorme used to sit down at his piano from a young age and listen to stories. “I had no idea what I was doing — I just explored the sounds of chords and learned to listen to what each sound made me feel,” Delorme: 

Even though it has been many years since then, little has changed. He still finds inspiration in stories. “I’m very lucky as a screen composer to be given an entire world of inspiration before I write any music — the story, the setting, the motivations of the characters, the cinematography and pacing of the cuts,” Delorme: 

He must then meticulously put the pieces together to make music that makes the picture come to life. “My goal is for the music to seamlessly become part of the story, and to give the audience permission to feel the emotions the director has intended for us to feel.” 

Delorme was immediately influenced by John Williams scores and music, even before he had any idea of the role of a screen writer. “Star Wars” “Harry Potter.” These days, he is inspired by Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score for “Arrival,” along with Gustavo Santaolalla and Mac Quayle’s work on the game “The Last of Us Part II.” Of course, there’s also his all-time favorite band, Radiohead.  

— Katherine Brodsky  

Canadians To Watch at Whistler Film Festival

Credit : Eva Maude TC

Sophie Dupuis

Directors and screenwriters

Known for an energetic, dynamic style, the Québécois director-screenwriter has been making a name for herself ever since her fierce feature film debut, 2018’s “Family First” (“Chien de garde”), a crime drama revolving around two brothers from a dysfunctional family that get involved with their uncle’s drug cartel. The film, which was selected as Canada’s Oscar entry for international feature, played at more than 20 film festivals around the world.  

The Concordia University alum’s latest cinematic outing — the third feature she has written and directed — is “Drag.” The pic reunites her with Théodore Pellerin, who takes on the role of Simon, a rising star in Montreal’s drag queen scene. This film explores his relationship with Theodore Pellerin, as well as his attempts to reconnect with his mother after 15 years. 

Dupuis finds inspiration in the stories and people she has met. “But, I’m inspired mostly by things that upset and disrupt me. Things that haunt me. Obsessions. Subjects and emotions that live in me and want to scream out of me.”  

As they confront the truths of their interior and external dramas, her characters are more likely to connect. 

“My films are like a vehicle moving forward,” Dupuis answers questions about her cinematic approach when Dupuis is asked. “You can’t just hop out. It’s an effervescent experience for the audience, there’s no steady road ahead.”  — Katherine Brodsky

Canadians To Watch at Whistler Film Festival

COZYDQ Photgraphy

Sasha Leigh Henry

Writer, Director and Producer

Henry is having a great year with two big productions and many projects in the works.  

Here’s the post “Bria Mack Gets a Life” Her original comedy series, Crave’s Canadian streaming service Crave, is about a young Black woman who must make life-altering lifestyle changes and the imaginary girl she calls her hype. Writer-director Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s feature debut, “When Morning Comes,” Henry and her Sunflower Studios cofounders produced the film, which premiered at Toronto’s festival in September. 

“My current goals are to decompress and go back to the drawing board,” Henry. “I want to bring my storytelling to wider audiences.” 

Henry, along with Tania Thompson as her writing partner, will now be focusing more of her time on the actioner that Henry is creating about drug smuggling rings for Mackenzie Donaldson.“Orphan Black”), Lana Mauro (“Once We Were Brothers”Bell Media. 

“I wear a lot of hats,” Henry served as story editor, writer, and producer for the sixth season. “Workin’ Moms” (Netflix/CBC). Her short stories “Sinking Ship” In 2020, Toronto’s mowed.  

“I come from the indie side of filmmaking, didn’t come up on the union side. So my work has blossomed out of that,” Henry is a communications specialist who donated her talents to a Toronto production company to take over the business. Henry also continues to learn at POV 3rd Street Black Women Film!, TIFF FilmmakerLab and TIFF Talent Accelerator Fellowship. Henry names her parents as well as visual art, Mara Brock Akil, Judd and her grandparents.
Influences of Apatow  

“I want all my work to be part of the global narrative of what it means to be a Black woman in the world,” She says. — Jennie Punter 

Canadians To Watch at Whistler Film Festival

Britt Kerr

Produce

A lifelong cinephile, Halifax-based Kerr took a roundabout path to showbiz through commercial banking and accounting before moving over to the film industry in 2015 — first as a production accountant and later as director of development at Holdfast Pictures (“Weirdos,” “Blackbird”).  

She has a unique edge in producing because of the business skills she gained in her early career as a financial manager. “Perhaps more significantly, this foundation provides me with the security I need to really stretch myself and grow creatively,” Kerr.  

In 2019, Kerr launched her own shingle, Brass Door Prods., and has had a busy few years producing projects such as Ashley McKenzie’s sophomore feature, “Queens of the Qing Dynasty,” This was the Berlin ale’s 2022 premiere. She’s currently in preproduction. “There, There,” Heather Young’s follow-up to her acclaimed debut feature, “Murmur” (2019), and wrapping up the Canadian side of Fawzia Mirza’s debut feature, “Me, My Mom & Sharmila.” This year, TIFF Talent Accelerator Fellowship was given to her for her effort. 

Kerr says  she takes inspiration from the start-up community in terms of how she approaches her work: “As project budgets grow, we often lose that sense of togetherness and default to the factory model of production because it’s simply what is expected: the ‘this is how it’s always been done’ approach. Learning from successes in alternative business models has inspired me to think differently about how to approach my own company’s development.”  

Kerr is interested in projects that combine activism and art, and hopes to be able to impact social change via media.  — Jennie Punbter

Canadians To Watch at Whistler Film Festival

Jules Koostachin, Asivak Koostachin

Director, writer; Actor

It’s not often that a mother gets to direct her own son, but that’s exactly what happened for Jules’ scripted feature debut, “Broken Angel,” which premiered at Toronto’s ImagiNative Film + Media Arts Festival in October. Participant in the Breakthrough Initiative for Black Magic Collective (an L.A.-based program that champions BIPOC TV writers, directors), she is now directing a documentary for National Film Board of Canada. 

Jules’ world completely transformed when her mom took her to see “Flashdance” When she was a kid. When she was a child, she knew that her dream was to be a theater and film director. Later, as an undergrad student at Concordia’s theater program, she was introduced to Alanis Obomsawin’s work.  “Again, after I watched her documentary film ‘270 Years of Resistance,’ my world changed. I knew in my heart that I needed to be in film in some capacity,” She says. Despite having to put her filmmaking career on hold several times, four kids one doctorate from the U. of British Columbia later, she has finally been able to dive in—collaborating with her son on this debut. “People often tell me that Asivak is my mini-me and we work incredibly well together.”  

Asivak is the eldest and no stranger to sets — he booked his first national television commercial for Health Canada at age 12.  Since then he’s had roles on series including “Cardinal” and “Letterkenny,” Starred in photos “Red Snow” “Montana Story.” He’s used to being directed by his mom: “I’ve been taking direction from my mom since day one. Whether on set or at home, it pretty much works the same. It’s funny, but we work very well together and hope to continue to creating films as the dynamic duo that we are.”  

— Katherine Brodsky  

Canadians To Watch at Whistler Film Festival

Chandler Levack

Director, writer

Blockbuster customers were bored when she shared her excitement with high school students. “Dekalog,” Levack left the U. of Toronto’s cinema studies program to be a freelance journalist in pop culture and a critic for North American publications. This steady work was continued for several years. “a safe space to explore ideas without artistic risks,” Levack was also exposed to all aspects of showbiz. The perspective Levack gained from these auspicious experiences informs her feature-helming debut — the nostalgia-tinged coming-of-age dramedy “I Like Movies” — as well as upcoming projects.  

Levack completed her bachelor’s degree before she moved to filmmaking. The core assignment of a screenwriting course taught by Patricia Rozema and Semi Chellas — writing a feature — was a total epiphany. “I realized I had to give myself permission to make a film or my life has no purpose,” She says. “And the fact that those women encouraged me to pursue it meant a lot.” Levack then attended the Canadian Film Centre Writers’ Lab, and directed music videos for a few years while working toward her 2017 short film, “We Forgot to Break Up,” These were screened in Toronto and SXSW. 

“I Like Movies” The 2022 Toronto festival premiered the film. It has also been seen at major festivals in Taipei, Calgary, Vancouver, Taipei and Taipei. In February, Santa Barbara will be the venue for its American debut. 

Levack also develops “Anglophone” With Zapruder Films, Matt Miller (her producer since 2016). Montreal“the great love of my life”The project was created in 2011 and is her interpretation of music hangout videos (“Singles,” et al) “if those people were terrible at speaking French, grew their own yogurt in their dresser drawers, and exclusively wore clothes that they found in the garbage.”  — Jennie Punter 

Canadians To Watch at Whistler Film Festival

Molly Cranna is the photographer.

Kelly McCormack

Actor, Writer and Director

After seeing the revival of Harold Prince, Stage-struck when she was 7 years old “Show Boat,” McCormack wanted to be onstage as long as she could. “broke and stupid enough to write a feature,” McCormack has just spoken Variety. “Since then, I’ve harassed my way into the film industry to play mostly dirtbags.” 

Moving from experimental stage work at New York’s Flea Theater to recurring roles in Canadian-made productions, notably sitcom “Letterkenny” (Hulu), sci-fi adventures “Killjoys” (Syfy), McCormack is turning heads as the Peaches’ shortstop, Jess, in Amazon’s “A League of Their Own,” It premiered August. 

McCormack & Steven Zahn meet around the corner “full honkytonk” as the Richeys in Showtime’s “George & Tammy,” McCormack said. “And I had the pleasure of working with my hero TIlda Swinton in Julio Torres’ brilliant upcoming film for A24.” 

McCormack also has been more involved with her projects. McCormack wrote, produced, and starred in several films. “Sugar Daddy,” The story is about a young musician who tries to make it in big cities. It was also the opening film of 2020 Whistler Film Festival.  

Aside from producing the cult CBC Web Series, “The Neddeaus of Duqesne Island,” McCormack is the director “a lovely, corrupt little film” by Canadian multihyphenate Tess Degenstein, starring Degenstein and Tatiana Maslany. 

Another current project is the production of a play. “no one has seen in 300 years,” She releases a record, sells her sci fi pic and shoots in Naples.  — Jennie Punter 

Canadians To Watch at Whistler Film Festival

Gail Maurice  

Director, Writer, Actor

Maurice started his career on the screen in late 1990s. He also worked as a director almost as long as Maurice, including creating Assini Prods. to tell stories highlighting strong Indigenous women. 

For her notable recent role — the resistance leader Ida in Danis Goulet’s award-winning 2021 film “Night Raiders” — Maurice spoke mostly in Michif, the Métis language mixing Cree and French, which she learned growing up in a village in Northern Saskatchewan. 

Maurice began his career making documentaries. He learned the value of sound from Alanis Obomsawin, an icon in documentary production. “I realized that it would dishonor the participants if I didn’t have proper sound, because their words are what matter most.” 

But she’s just bowed her debut narrative feature, “Rosie,” which follows an orphaned, English-speaking Indigenous girl sent to live with her artsy Francophone aunt in ’80s Montreal. The film premiered at the Toronto film festival in September and won the ImagineNative festival’s Audience Choice Award last month. 

Maurice claims that she started writing after being offered stereotypical roles in early stages of her career. A turning point came when she was cast in the starring role of Jorge Manzano’s 2000 Sundance-premiering prison-set “Johnny Greyeyes,” While shadowing crew members, she was able to earn a co-writing credit. ImagineNative has been her most consistent champion. It has seen all of her films and encouraged her to be a filmmaker.  

“Most of my stories have Indigenous themes and explore identity,” She says. “My next film explores what makes us who we are: is it our culture or the blood that flows in our veins?” 
— Jennie Punter 

Canadians To Watch at Whistler Film Festival

Daniel Roher

Documentary

Documentary filmmaking is in Roher’s blood, and he’s not afraid to make bold choices, take risks, gain trust and unprecedented access with his subjects, and tell larger-than-life stories that resonate with audiences on a personal level. Roher broke the mold with “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band,” a doc, which was exec produced by Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, and Brian Grazer, detailing Robertson’s journey through six decades in the music industry. The Palm Springs Intl. awarded it with a number of awards. It was nominated for the Canadian Screen Awards, Whistler Film Festival, and Film Festival.   

The following feature is his. “Navalny,” It was the Sundance Film Festival’s world premiere and earned him praise. In the secretly filmed doc, he takes a nuanced look at Russian president Vladimir Putin’s strongest opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, and explores the assassination attempt on Navalny as well as his perseverance despite the great risk to his life. Roher’s efforts earned him some of the festival’s highest honors: The Festival Favorite Awards as well as the Documentary Audience Award. And if that wasn’t enough, Roher even received fan mail from Jim Carrey. 

Roher, a skilled visual artist, photographer and filmmaker, brings this sensibility to his work while still being able fly-on the-wall.  

Roher jokes about his movie inspirations. “I continue to be inspired by Ollie Tabooger, the little-known Moroccan-French avant-garde cinema verité pioneer.” Bart Simpson’s inspiration can still be inspiring for serious documentary filmmakers.  — Katherine Brodsky 

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