The 22 most influential people in Canadian film

Orginally Posted: April 7, 2022

By: Barry Hertz

This Sunday, the Canadian film industry will gather in that most pandemic era of fashions (virtually, nervously) to watch the 2022 Canadian Screen Awards. It will be that rare joyous moment for the community, which has faced relentless twists and turns over the past two years, never mind the previous two decades. But despite everything that has been thrown at filmmakers, and audiences, there is much to celebrate. Including the contributions of those listed below.

But this isn’t a traditional “Power List” – a standard-issue ranking of the expected gatekeepers, institutional leaders and household-familiar superstars. With great respect to the heads of Telefilm, the Canadian Media Fund, the National Film Board, SODEC, Cineplex and the country’s handful of marquee-level filmmakers (your Cronenbergs and Villeneuves), this particular roundup features players whose clout is more ground-level, behind-the-scenes. They are starting conversations, making waves, provoking change. These are the 22 (or so*) Most Influential People in Canadian Film for 2022, and why you should know their names.

*In polite Canadian fashion recognizing #teamwork, there are technically a few more than 22 …

1. Cameron Bailey and Robyn Citizen, TIFF


For the Canadian film community, all roads lead to the Toronto International Film Festival. Ask any of this country’s filmmakers, and they will tell you that their productions are scheduled almost exclusively around TIFF’s calendar. And now, more than three decades after joining as a seasonal programmer, Cameron Bailey is in charge of the organization, appointed chief executive officer after co-head Joana Vicente departed this past fall. But as smooth-yet-sharp as Bailey is at being Canadian cinema’s de facto global ambassador, he is not operating alone. There is just as good a reason to cheer on this February’s news that Robyn Citizen is now director of festival programming & Cinematheque, tasked with refocusing the team and filling the voids left by two high-profile 2021 departures (former senior director of film Diana Sanchez and long-time Cinematheque head James Quandt). Together, Bailey and Citizen are charged with not only bringing TIFF back to its larger-scale, necessarily extravagant self, but with ensuring that Canadian cinema receives the international platform that our artists deserve.

2. Laurie May and Noah Segal, Elevation Pictures


It is easy to think small in this industry – play it safe, live to see another TIFF. But Elevation Pictures, co-run by Laurie May and Noah Segal, tends to bet big. Since its 2013 launch, the company has become a four-pronged force, boasting expertise in service shoots (foreign productions that come here to shoot), co-pros (projects made between Canada and other territories), wholly developed Canadian movies and domestic distribution. May and Segal benefit from the backing of financier Teddy Schwarzman – and a thinned marketplace, helped by Entertainment One inching away from the English-language theatrical game after being acquired by Hasbro in 2019. But Elevation’s slate over just the past two years speaks for itself: essential additions to the new Canadian canon (Night Raiders, Possessor), commercial fare that slyly bends the expected definition of Canadian cinema (French Exit, The Nest, The Broken Hearts Gallery) and outright blockbusters (Paw Patrol: The Movie). Coming soon: promising new projects from Clement Virgo (Brother), Nicole Dorsey (Balestra) and Brandon Cronenberg (Infinity Pool).

3. Hussain Amarshi, Mongrel Media


If there is one constant in Canadian film, it is change: messy, unexpected, seismic. Yet for almost three decades, Hussain Amarshi’s Mongrel Media has ridden the waves, surviving as other distributors have fallen. Sarah Polley, Deepa Mehta, Jennifer Baichwal and countless other Canadian filmmakers came through Mongrel – and then there were the hundreds (thousands, likely) of international auteurs whom Amarshi has delivered to adventurous domestic audiences.

Over the past year alone, Mongrel has handled such lauded Canadian titles as Wildhood, Learn to Swim, All My Puny Sorrows, in addition to distributing arguably the country’s biggest critical hit of 2021, Tracey Deer’s Beans. Remove Amarshi from Canadian film history, and Canadian film might simply be history.

4. Nathalie Younglai, BIPOC TV & Film


Ten years ago, Nathalie Younglai was a fresh television writer looking for a mentor of colour, and finding few options. Today, Younglai has turned her volunteer-run grassroots organization BIPOC TV & Film, dedicated to expanding diversity and tackling systemic racism in Caanda’s screen sector, into an incorporated not-for-profit that has made real change in advancing careers and shaping the landscape.

From the organization’s many partnerships across the industry to its ambitious HireBIPOC initiative (a sort of LinkedIn meets IMDb portal that has support from more than 20 major Canadian media organizations), Younglai’s creation has transformed the country in ways big and small, perceptible and invisible.

5. Beth Janson, Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television


There is nothing easy about leading the Canadian Academy, which aims to make overwhelmed, sometimes indifferent audiences interested in this country’s many undermarketed films. And that’s before the pandemic forced the organization’s raison d’être, the Canadian Screen Awards, to contort itself into virtual forms. That said, if you simply wanted to celebrate what gets made, leading the Canadian Academy can be a straightforward enough gig. But CEO Beth Janson isn’t here to just throw confetti around – she’s here to change what gets made, too. Over the past two years, Janson has helped usher in a wealth of diversity initiatives that recognize the Canadian Academy’s power and influence to look down the production pipeline, ask tough questions and influence which voices get the next opportunity to tell their stories to audiences hungry for fresh, original and innovative work.

6. Patrick Roy, Les Films SĂ©ville


Quebec’s film industry can feel as removed from the rest of Canada as Hollywood’s, but that’s mostly because it is so financially successful. And if there is one person at the centre of Quebec’s fame game, it must be Patrick Roy, head of Entertainment One’s film operations and president of the Montreal-based Les Films SĂ©ville. Whether English-language audiences recognize Roy’s titles (Bon Cop Bad Cop, The Fall of the American Empire) or not (2019′s Menteur was that year’s highest-grossing Canadian film, and is finding new fans every day on Netflix), the producer is the strongest salesman that QuĂ©bĂ©cois cinema has.

7. Jesse Wente, Indigenous Screen Office and Canada Council for the Arts


Question: Do you have any idea who was the chair of the Canada Council of the Arts in 2019? Probably not, but most in the industry certainly knows that Jesse Wente has the job now, such is the journalist/film programmer/producer’s high-wattage profile. Canada’s leading advocate for Indigenous storytellers, Wente has proven his arts bona fides across his 11 years with TIFF as a programmer and two decades as a columnist on CBC Radio. But now that he’s chair of the Canada Council, executive director of the Indigenous Screen Office, published author (his 2021 memoir Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance is a must-read, and not only for his juicy chapter detailing his time at TIFF), and producer (Inconvenient Indian, a job that proved that he could weather a controversy), Wente is a true force to be reckoned with.

8. Jennifer Holness, Black Screen Office


Inspired by the creation of the Indigenous Screen Office, filmmaker Jennifer Holness and colleagues Joan Jenkinson, Damon D’Oliveria, Maya Annik Bedward, Floyd Kane, Tonya Williams, Clement Virgo, Charles Officer, and Sudz Sutherland (Holness’s creative partner and husband) drafted a passionate, urgent letter to then-heritage minister Steven Guilbeault in the summer of 2020. Their mission: to remove the “systemically racist barriers to access and achievement” in the country’s screen sector. Just a month later, Telefilm backed their bid with $100,000, and the Black Screen Office – with Holness as its chair – was born. But don’t let that speedy timeline fool you: Holness and the BSO are not looking for quick fixes, but “real transformative change.” Today, the BSO is already making noise (its “Being Seen” report from February is required reading), while Holness’s own groundbreaking documentary, Subjects of Desire, landed a spot on TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten of 2021 list.

9. David Hudakoc, Michael Baker, John Bain and Robin Smith, levelFILM


If levelFILM only distributed such new Canadian hits as Scarborough and Akilla’s Escape, it would be enough. But the distributor – founded by Michael Baker and David Hudakoc in 2013, with John Bain running distribution – has also helped deliver some of the best, scrappiest Canadian films of the past few years (The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, White Lie, No Ordinary Man, The Kid Detective, Firecrackers), while taking big swings on stellar international fare that might otherwise fall through the cracks (The Souvenir Part II, Benedetta, Rocks). Now that levelFILM has acquired KinoSmith and formed a partnership with Blue Ice Docs – which has brought Canada’s leading documentary expert, Robin Smith, into the fold as levelFILM’s head of factual content – the company is perfectly positioned to corner a market that needs all the love it can, and deserves to, get.

10. Andréa Grau, Touchwood PR


If you promote or write or perhaps even think about films in Canada, there is a 99.99 per cent chance that you regularly deal with Andréa Grau, founder of the Toronto-based Touchwood PR. With a company that counts Netflix, Cineplex, Telefilm and the CMF as clients, the unflappable Grau serves as something of a nexus point for all things Canadian film. And the industry is lucky to have such a devoted point person, too, with Grau using all of her dedicated Touchwood team’s pro-bono powers to advance such initiatives as HireBIPOC and #AfterMeToo, the Canadian charity dedicated to ending sexual violence in the workplace.

11. Niv Fichman, Rhombus Media


In 2015, producer Niv Fichman scored what might be a record: He had four films premiere at TIFF over five nights, each title speaking to one of his myriad specialties: Into the Forest (elevated genre fare connecting new Canadian talent like Elliot Page with Toronto New Wave icon Patricia Rozema), Closet Monster (coming-out drama from fresh voice Stephen Dunn), Zoom (splashy co-pro featuring easy-to-sell international stars) and Hyena Road (classic Canadian Paul Gross prestige pic). Fichman hasn’t had such a hectic TIFF since, but his stamp is still everywhere, from Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor to Albert Shin’s Disappearance at Clifton Hill to K’naan’s forthcoming directorial debut, Mother, Mother. And deeper behind the scenes, Fichman is a key bridge-builder between the old guard and the new, helping revamp Telefilm’s micro-budget Talent to Watch program – while also being one of the key advocates of Telefilm’s since-scrapped Fast Track system.

12. Stephan James and Shamier Anderson, the Black Academy


Actors, activists and brothers Stephan James and Shamier Anderson almost certainly had a more productive pandemic than you. James starred in the second season of Prime Video’s buzzy series Homecoming. Anderson co-starred alongside Anna Kendrick in the sci-fi thriller Stowaway as well as in Halle Berry’s Bruised. And both siblings managed to find the time to launch the Black Academy, an organization dedicated to “honouring, celebrating, and showcasing established and emerging” Black Canadian talent. The first test of their mission will arrive in September, when the Black Academy airs its inaugural Legacy Awards, a live 90-minute telecast on CBC and streamer CBC Gem that promises to shake up the country’s cultural sector – and marks the start of a three-year partnership with the national broadcaster.

13. Tracey Deer, filmmaker


A trailblazer ever since she launched her TV series Mohawk Girls in 2014, Tracey Deer raced to the top of the film landscape after her debut feature Beans premiered at TIFF in 2020. Quickly winning over critics and audiences, the coming-of-age film captured just about every major film honour in Canada: the Canadian Screen Award for Best Picture, the CSA John Dunning Best First Feature Film Award and, last month, the Rogers Award for Best Canadian Feature from the Toronto Film Critics Association, whose $100,000 cash prize makes it the richest film honour in the country. The autobiographical Beans, focusing on a 12-year-old Mohawk girl growing up in the midst of the 1990 Oka Crisis, is the latest evidence that the country’s next cinematic renaissance will be led by Indigenous voices.

14. Matt Johnson and Matthew Miller, Zapruder Films


Every industry needs its agitators, and there may be no bigger, louder, more successfully mischievous characters in Canadian film than “the two Matts.” Together, Johnson and Miller have completely rewired Telefilm’s micro-budget program (resulting in a flood of fresh and diverse films like Scarborough, Murmur and recent Sundance award-winner Framing Agnes), lobbied for systemic changes to such mammoth institutions as Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, and made a few wildly entertaining productions along the way (Operation Avalanche, Nirvanna the Band the Show, even the Prime Video children’s cartoon Matt & Bird Break Loose). Up next: Johnson is reuniting with his Anne at 13,000 ft. director, Kazik Radwanski, and co-star Deragh Campbell (see below) for the film Matt and Mara, while Johnson and Miller’s Zapruder Films is set to produce a project so juicy that it should make headlines once details are finally revealed.

15. Kazik Radwanski and Daniel Montgomery, MDFF


Brian Eno once (sorta) remarked that “the Velvet Underground didn’t sell many records, but everyone who bought one went out and started a band.” The same line of thinking can be applied to Kazik Radwanski and Daniel Montgomery’s MDFF screening series (named after their production company, Medium Density Fibreboard Films), which since 2014 has connected adventurous Toronto audiences with underseen works in venues as tiny as Double Land and Camera Bar, inspiring a host of rookie filmmakers along the way. Today, the MDFF series is a monthly must-see event inside the TIFF Lightbox, Radwanski and Montgomery have made three essential works of Toronto cinema (Tower, How Heavy This Hammer and Anne at 13,000 ft.), and its league of acolytes-turned-artists grows with each new screening.

16. Deragh Campbell and Sofia Bohdanowicz, filmmakers


Speaking of Anne at 13,000 ft.: If this country currently has an “It” actress, it absolutely must be Deragh Campbell, that film’s CSA-nominated star. A fearless performer with a courageous track record of speaking out against the industry’s many pretzel-logic inconsistencies, Campbell has shifted expectations of just what kind of films can break out beyond our borders. This includes her own work behind the camera on the acclaimed MS Slavic 7, which she co-directed with regular collaborator Sofia Bohdanowicz. Together, the pair have made a series of deeply affecting short- and feature-length works (Veslemoy’s Song, Never Eat Alone, Point and Line to Plane) that deftly blend documentary and fiction, and have in their own delightful meta-canon way built a shared Canadian cinematic universe. Take that, Marvel.

17. Danis Goulet, filmmaker


In a few years’ time, Danis Goulet’s feature debut, Night Raiders, will feel like an inflection point. The sci-fi thriller, which mines the darkest chapters of Canadian history to tell a dystopian tale of near-future terror, arrived in theatres last year like an overdue sucker punch. Leading (alongside Scarborough) this year’s CSAs with 11 nominations, Night Raiders not only cements a new made-in-Canada genre of Indigenous sci-fi, but has shot former filmfest programmer Goulet to the top tier of must-watch artists. Already, Goulet has a Netflix feature, the tech-thriller Ivy, in postproduction. And all eyes are on her next move.

18. Warren P. Sonoda, Directors Guild of Canada


One of the country’s most prolific directors (his IMDb page is genuinely intimidating), Sonoda has become an energizing, refreshingly blunt force of change as the national president of the DGC in 2020. From the “Directors Manifesto” he helped organize to challenge Telefilm on its organizational revamp to his tireless advocacy for Broadcasting Act Bill C-11, Sonoda has united his fellow filmmakers to advocate for not only themselves but also those in their industry who don’t yet have as prominent a voice.

19. William Woods, Hilary Hart and Tim Smythe-Bishop, Game Theory Films


It is difficult to take chances in the film-distribution game – no more so than today, when screen space is increasingly reserved for blockbusters, digital rights complicate the theatrical window and audiences are simply up to their eyeballs in new, must-see “content.” That’s what makes Game Theory Films such a consistently surprising risk taker, with a lineup dedicated to bold storytellers (Spinster, The White Fortress, A Colony), a marketing strategy that’s more personal than factory-floor and an eye trained on increasing opportunities for BIPOC filmmakers (thanks to its diversity-focused distribution fund). Like a (much) smaller, (much more) Canadian version of New York cool-kid distributor A24, Game Theory is a boutique brand that feels singular. President William Woods, senior market strategist Tim Smythe-Bishop and acquisitions and distribution head Hilary Hart are pushing the market in all the right ways, film by film.

20. Gabrielle Tougas-Fréchette, Voyelles Films]


One day, English-language Canada will come to appreciate the boundary-pushing cinema coming out of Quebec. Until then, curious audiences can look to Gabrielle Tougas-FrĂ©chette’s Voyelles Films, which is making the most adventurous Canadian productions in any language: Nouveau-Quebec, Sin La Habana, All You Can Eat Buddha, and the most gonzo purely Canadian film that our country has produced in a decade, Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century. Voyelles’ reputation is now secure globally, from Cannes to Slamdance. The rest of Canada awaits.

21. Karen Harnisch and Andrew Cividino, Film Forge


In 2015, Karen Harnisch and Andrew Cividino’s production company, Film Forge, hit the Canadian film jackpot: Cividino’s microbudget directorial debut, the coming-of-age tale Sleeping Giant, premiered in the International Critics’ Week section at Cannes, going on to win over critics at home and set a box-office record at Toronto’s Varsity cinema. Since then, Harnisch and Cividino have continued to push the industry forward, delivering titles that are daring (Drew Lint’s 2018 sexual thriller M/M), affecting (Antoine Bourges’s 2017 drama Fail to Appear, which will one day be viewed as a kind of ground zero for emerging Canadian talent) and gripping (2019′s excellent tick-tock thriller White Lie). And when Cividino wasn’t busy winning an Emmy for his directing work on Schitt’s Creek and Harnisch wasn’t juggling advocacy duties as a member of the Independent Media Producers Association of Creative Talent, the pair managed to produce one of this year’s most anticipated Canadian films, Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool.

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22. Ricardo Trogi, filmmaker


Ricardo Trogi might be Canada’s most successful director who no one outside Quebec has heard of. His 2018 dramedy 1991, the third instalment in Trogi’s autobiographical trilogy (after 1981 and 1987), was the top-grossing Canadian film that year, and found an even larger international audience after it was picked up by Netflix. Then last summer, Trogi’s Le Guide de la famille parfaite earned more than $2.1-million at the Quebec box office – a huge figure made all the more enviable given that COVID-19 frightened QuĂ©bĂ©cois audiences from going to theatres. It is a stellar run that has made Trogi Netflix’s new favourite Canadian filmmaker, with Le Guide now streaming in more than 190 territories.

Bonus Entry: The Toronto Film Critics Association

Is it a cheat or a humble-brag to include the TFCA on this list, given that a handful of Globe and Mail writers are members? Probably both. But thanks to the organization’s annual $100,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award, it would be dishonest to ignore the rich spotlight that the TFCA wields. As discordant and messy and even occasionally ineffectual as the organization can be (an effort to get studios to add virtual screening options during the Delta wave went predictably nowhere), the TFCA’s impact on the careers of such filmmakers as Radwanski, Ashley McKenzie (Werewolf), Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn (The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open), Hugh Gibson (The Stairs), and so many others before and still to come cannot go unrecognized.

Source: The Globe and Mail

The 22 most influential people in Canadian film
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