Cannes 2021: A Canadian guide to the world’s most prestigious film festival

Cannes 2021: A Canadian guide to the world's most prestigious film festival

The Cannes Film Festival is back.

After last year’s edition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world renowned festival returns from July 6 to 15 with an enviable lineup of big-name directors and movie stars — as well as a strong Canadian presence.

As the festival shifts to a hybrid format, 18 Canadian films will be featured in its online repertoire, including a Céline Dion-inspired biopic, a Mad Max-like thriller set in the Canadian Arctic, and a documentary about Zoe Lucas, the Nova Scotia environmentalist.

The festival will also see the return of its Canadian short film showcase, now in its 11th year, as well as a number of Canadian documentaries to be featured in the Cannes Docs program.

CBC News offers a guide to all things Canada at this year’s edition of the world’s most prestigious film festival.

A general view of the red carpet for Cannes’ ‘2020 Special’ event, which took place last October after the official film festival was cancelled. This year’s festival is a hybrid model and is taking place in July, postponed from the typical May. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Céline Dion-inspired biopic to screen out of competition

Perhaps the most high-profile Canadian film to come out of this year’s festival is the Céline Dion-inspired Aline: The Voice of Love, a Franco-Canadian production which will have its world premiere out of competition.

It is the only Canadian-produced film to be an official selection of the 2021 festival. Among last year’s would-be selections were the Canadian films Nadia, Butterfly and Falling.

Aline is a biopic-style film directed by the French filmmaker Valérie Lemercier. In addition to directing, Lemercier stars as Aline Dieu, a Québecois singer from a humble, music-loving family who is taken under the wing of a producer with the hopes of making her a star.

The film has been marketed as an “unofficial” biography of Dion’s life; its trailer features her music and its protagonist bears her likeness. As well, much of the story is inspired by Dion’s real-life rise to fame and her relationship with her late manager and husband, René Angélil.

Aline: The Voice of Love is set to be released in Canada on Nov. 26, 2021. 

Program highlights include Yukon-set dystopian thriller

Polaris, written and directed by Yellowknife-born filmmaker Kirsten Carthew, will screen as part of the festival’s Fantastic 7, a program for “fantastic projects” submitted by selected international film festivals.

Polaris was submitted by the Toronto International Film Festival.

Set in a dystopian future, Polaris is a fantasy thriller about a young woman who must find her way home after evading capture from the warriors trying to kill her mother.

Carthew previously described the film to CBC News as “Mad Max set in the Arctic, but with a smaller budget.”

Elsewhere in the lineup is Songs She Sings in Shadows, the debut feature-length documentary of Afghan-Canadian filmmaker Fazila Amiri. The Dari-language film follows the lives of two Aghan women singers and their mentor as they compete in a reality talent show amid the U.S. and Taliban peace negotiations.

It will screen as part of the Docs-In-Progress showcase, for documentaries in post-production. The film was a previous entrant of the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) Talent Lab and the Hot Docs Accelerator Lab, both festival-run forums that nurture talent in the Canadian documentary scene.

For fans of the comedy-horror genre, Kicking Blood tells the story of a female vampire who decides to quit her blood habit after she helps a human alcoholic get clean — with potentially fatal results. It’s directed by Vancouver-based filmmaker and musician Blaine Thurier, a member of the Canadian music group The New Pornographers.

Kicking Blood is part of the Frontières Buyers Showcase, an industry event that is dedicated to genre film. That program is a collaboration between the festival’s industry market (Marché du Film) and Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival.

Other Canadian films to be featured in the Frontières showcase include Esluna: The Crown of Babylon, an animated feature by Victoria-based Denver Jackson and The Island Between Tides, from Vancouver filmmakers Austin Andrews and Andrew Holmes.

The poster for Polaris, the latest work by Canadian filmmaker Kirsten Carthew. (Submitted by Little Dipper Productions Ltd. )

Documentaries, short films to showcase Canadian talent

Telefilm’s short-film showcase, called Not Short on Talent, will feature eight titles: In The Jam Jar by Colin Nixon; Joe Buffalo by Amar Chebib; Joutel by Alexa-Jeanne Dubé; Lover Boy’s Little Dream by Ritvick Mehra; Second Wedding by Taylor Olson; The Southern Wind by Aucéane Roux; Tigress by Maya Bastian; and Unicorn Code by Martin Glegg.

This is the showcase’s 11th edition.

In addition to Songs She Sings in Shadows, a handful of Canadian films will screen under the Docs-In-Progress banner. These include Geographies of Solitude from Cape Bretoner Jacquelyn Mills, whose feature-length documentary is about Zoe Lucas, an environmentalist who has spent most of her life on Nova Scotia’s isolated Sable Island. 

There is also The Whalers, jointly directed by Cape Verdean-Canadian P.J. Marcellino and Northwest Territories-born Jerri Thrasher, a historical exploration of the Cape Verdean fishermen who worked in the dangerous whaling trade.

From Montreal’s Miryam Charles, This House revisits the 2008 death of a teenage girl, and from Haida filmmaker Heather Hatch, Wochiigii Lo End of The Peace chronicles the fight against the construction of a mega-dam by a West Moberly First Nation elder.

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