AFM: Canadian Movie Directors Go From Local Box Office to Hollywood

Jean-Marc Vallee - P 2013
Malcolm Taylor

Jean-Marc Vallee - P 2013

Jean Marc Vallee's 'Dallas Buyers Club' helped Canucks carve out careers on both sides of the border

Jean-Marc Vallee, Denis Villeneuve and Philippe Falardeau are from Canada, but U.S. audiences aren't likely to know that by their Hollywood screen credits.

They instead figure among the latest Canadian directors to bring their idiosyncratic visions to major studio and U.S. indie titles, and possibly Oscar-season contenders. "They (Canadians) are increasingly moving very nicely between Hollywood and Canada, going back and forth," Mark Slone, executive vp theatrical distribution at Entertainment One, the Canadian distribution giant, told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of AFM.

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Villeneuve shot Prisoners for Warner Bros. before returning to Toronto to direct Enemy, both of which starred Jake Gyllenhaal. Now he's just directed Scicario, the drug cartel drama starring Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro for producers Black Label Media and Thunder Road.

Black Label also backed Demolition, Jean Marc Vallee's next movie after the Reese Witherspoon-starrer Wild, to be followed-up with an untitled French-language movie in Vallee's native Montreal down the road. And Black Label helped finance Falardeau's The Good Lie, which also starred Witherspoon, after his Canadian indie Monsieur Lazhar was nominated for an Oscar in the best foreign language category.

There's nothing new in this. Hollywood has long tapped Canadian directors like Norman Jewison, Ivan Reitman and James Cameron, who crossed the border to make their careers stateside with artistic freedom and big budgets. What's new is, after Vallee's Oscar success with The Dallas Buyers Club, the latest crop of Canadian talent like Michael Dowse, Atom Egoyan and Patricia Rozema are no longer permanent expats in Los Angeles, sewn up by U.S. producers.

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"They do work in the States, make major Hollywood films, and they can come right back and do a film in Canada. That never happened before," Slone said. Dowse followed up the Daniel Radcliffe-Zoe Kazan romantic comedy What If for eOne by directing The Politician, a Columbia comedy starring Vince Vaughn, which Seth Rogen is producing via his Point Grey partners Evan Goldberg and James Weaver.

Dowse's breakthrough film was the cult hockey comedy Goon, which starred Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel and Liev Schreiber. Rozema directed fellow Canadian Ellen Page in Into the Forest, her film adaptation of Jean Hegland's novel of the same name, before returning home to do back-to-back Canadian co-productions, including the upcoming Via Dolorosa for Prospero Pictures.

And Xavier Dolan, director of Cannes award winner Mommy, is to direct the Jessica Chastain-starrer The Death and Life of John F. Donovan as he makes his first English language movie. Behind the new wave of Canadian directors going from home box office success to working stateside are homegrown producers like eOne, Myriad Pictures and Mongrel International bringing worldwide distribution to the table.

"With Maps to the Stars, we didn't just buy Canada. We helped finance the film for the whole world," Slone said of David Cronenberg's latest film, which earned star Julianne Moore a best picture trophy in Cannes.