TORONTO – A slew of Canadian filmmakers are slated to make big Hollywood splashes in 2013, with hyped releases including Vancouver-based Neill Blomkamp’s hotly anticipated followup to “District 9,” Denis Villeneuve’s English-language debut and a DreamWorks remake of a francophone smash.
That’s in addition to star-packed projects from Atom Egoyan and Jean-Marc Vallee that have yet to secure release dates but could make waves in 2013.
“It’s going to be an extremely busy year,” predicts film watcher Steve Gravestock, responsible for putting together the Canadian program at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“There’s lots of stuff from this year that will be released next year that I’m looking forward to seeing.”
After garnering an Oscar nomination for 2010’s searing saga “Incendies,” Villeneuve leaps to two high-profile projects with A-list names — both in English and both featuring Jake Gyllenhaal.
In “An Enemy,” the “Jarhead” actor plays a man obsessed with finding his doppelganger after spotting him in a movie. The Canada-Spanish production shot in Toronto earlier this year and is expected to hit screens in 2013. It also stars Mélanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini and Toronto’s Sarah Gadon.
But Gyllenhaal in particular must have hit it off with Villeneuve because he also jumped aboard the Quebec director’s English-language thriller, “Prisoners,” a Warner Bros. release that could also land next year.
That film centres on a father who takes hostage the man he believes is responsible for kidnapping his daughter and her friend. It boasts a top-tier cast including Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard and Viola Davis.
Gadon, who plays the wife of Gyllenhaal’s character in “An Enemy,” says her film is being billed as Villeneuve’s English-language debut.
She jokes that she had a hard time following his French accent on set — “I had no idea what he was saying to me!” — but also heaps praise on Villeneuve for inspiring the cast.
“He really is an incredible director and he really taught me and reminded me how important it is to love the people that you’re working with when you’re making a movie,” says Gadon, who also appears in Amma Asante’s upcoming “Belle,” with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson and Miranda Richardson.
“He just brought a real passion to our set and that was really incredible.”
Gadon says much of the performances involved improvisations, leaving her uncertain as to how it will all come together.
“Every scene we kind of improv’d so I really have no idea tonally what the film is going to be like,” she admits.
Villeneuve’s not the only Quebec phenom leaping to Hollywood — “Starbuck” writer-director Ken Scott is transforming his 2011 homegrown smash into a New York version for DreamWorks called “The Delivery Man,” which he will also write and direct.
Here, Vince Vaughn plays a middle-aged New Yorker who finds out he fathered 533 children through sperm donation. His life is turned upside down when hundreds of the donor babies decide they want to meet him.
The film also stars Cobie Smulders, Britt Robertson and Chris Pratt. It’s expected to hit screens in October.
And the translations don’t end there.
Scott’s other francophone hit, the 2003 film “Le grand seduction,” is being transformed into an English-language version with help from director Don McKellar and actors Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Liane Balaban and Gordon Pinsent.
“Grand Seduction” chronicles the efforts of a small Newfoundland town to lure a doctor so they’ll qualify for a new factory.
While the original was set in a tiny Quebec fishing village, the new version wades into themes not unfamiliar to Newfoundland.
“It really did fit well and I think every Newfoundlander that was involved — and there were a lot — really connected with it easily,” says McKellar, adding that the remake nevertheless boasts a very different tone from the Quebecois original.
“It’s a very different feel, the actors are different, the location’s very different.”
One of the most anticipated releases comes from Blomkamp, the South African-born “District 9″ visionary who earned an Oscar-nomination for co-writing the 2009 futuristic sci-fi adventure.
He reunites with “District 9″ star Sharlto Copley for “Baja Dunes,” which also pulls in A-listers Matt Damon and Jodie Foster for the sci-fi thriller, apparently about a space station where the rich can escape a diseased earth.
So far, details on this release are scant — Blomkamp, Damon and company were notably careful in a summer appearance at Comic-Con back when the film was known as “Elysium.”
Also getting plenty of early attention is Vallee’s AIDS drama “The Dallas Buyer’s Club,” based on the real-life saga of a Texan trailblazer who smuggled alternative drugs into the United States in a bid to treat his HIV. Photos from the New Orleans set reveal shockingly slim physiques of stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.
Meanwhile, Egoyan’s true crime tale “Devil’s Knot” is in the final stages of completion, according to longtime collaborator Mychael Danna, who is composing the score.
Danna jokes that he’s looking forward to the premiere where he may actually get to hobnob with a stellar cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth and Stephen Moyer.
He says Egoyan tries something a bit different with his dramatization of the West Memphis Three case.
“He’s known for kind of fracturing timelines. In this film that’s not a technique that he’s used,” Danna says of “The Sweet Hereafter” director.
“(It’s) a straightforward storytelling style and what’s ironic, of course, is that the story has no satisfying ending in the sense that there is no justice, there is no solution.”
Also expected next year is the big screen leap by “Corner Gas” star Brent Butt, who writes and stars in the comic whodunit “No Clue,” about a bumbling regular joe who gets pulled into a mystery. Carl Bessai directs while Amy Smart and David Cubitt co-star.
Meanwhile, Laurent Cantet puts his spin on a Joyce Carol Oates novel with “Foxfire,” Kevin Zegers and Laurence Fishburne appear in the sci-fi thriller “The Colony,” and documentary filmmaker Paul Saltzman heads to Mississippi for “The Last White Knight,” where he reconnects with a young Klansman he met decades ago.
Michael McGowan says he has high hopes for his love story, “Still,” starring James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold, noting that it scored promising distribution deals.
“We sold to Samuel Goldwyn Films in the States which is huge, we sold to Australia, we sold to a bunch of other territories so it seems to be picking up momentum,” says McGowan.
Based on a true story, Cromwell plays 89-year-old New Brunswicker Craig Morrison, who runs afoul of a government inspector when he decides to build a more suitable house for his ailing wife, played by Bujold.
“I’m hoping it’ll find an audience. It’s a tough environment and we’re really happy with what’s happened so far and hopefully just continue to roll on nicely,” says McGowan.
Gravestock says he’s especially excited to see what’s new from “Hobo With a Shotgun” director Jason Eisener, one of several directors helming segments in the horror anthology “S-VHS.”
“He’s a great guy but he’s also a wickedly fun filmmaker so I’m always looking forward to what he’s doing,” Gravestock says of Eisener, whose film is headed to the Sundance Film Festival in January.