Meet Variety’s 10 Canadians to Watch Set to be Honored at the Whistler Film Festival

Variety and Whistler Film Festival have teamed for 10 Canadians to Watch, a new program unique to WFF that celebrates top Canadian talent in the film and entertainment industry.

The 10 Canadians to Watch honorees will be celebrated at the Whistler Film Festival on Dec. 3.

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“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 of 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.”

Meet the honorees:

Bilal Baig

Bilal Baig 
Credit: Tyler J. Sloane
Credit: Tyler J. Sloane

Bilal Baig

Playwright, Performer, Showrunner, Producer 

In 2018, not long after the well-received premiere of their first full-length play, “Acha Bacha,” at a prestigious alternative theater, Baig was making ends meet by working as a nanny. That fall, the Toronto playwright and performer got cast in a new play and hit it off with fellow thesp Fab Filippo, also a performer who created his own work.

“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. Since the premiere of “Sort Of” a year ago, the dramedy following the intersecting love, work, and family lives of fluid millennial Sabi Mehboob (Baig) has resonated profoundly with viewers. Its second season lands this month on CBC-TV, Dec. 1 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 initially 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 

Credit: Buio Assis
Credit: Buio Assis

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,” which 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,” for which he has earned a Canadian Screen Award nomination for original music.

From an early age, Delorme would sit at the piano and play music to the stories in his head. “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 says.

Many years later, not much has changed. Stories are still his best source of musical inspiration. “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 says.

His challenge then becomes to meticulously piece together the puzzle pieces to create music that brings the picture 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.”

Early on, before he even had any concept of what a screen composer does, Delorme was influenced by John Williams and his scores for “Star Wars” and “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  

credit : Eva-Maude TC
credit : Eva-Maude TC

Sophie Dupuis

Director, Screenwriter

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. The film explores his love affair with a new performer, and his attempt to reconnect with his famous opera singer mother who returns after 15 years of absence.

Dupuis draws much of her inspiration from the people she meets and stories she hears. “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.”

The characters in her films tend to relate as they explore the realities of their own interior and exterior dramas.

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

Sasha Leigh Henry

Writer, Director, Producer

Henry has been enjoying a banner year, with two major productions lifting off and multiple projects in development.

Now in post, “Bria Mack Gets a Life” is her original comedy series for Canadian streamer Crave about a young Black woman forced to make unexpected lifestyle adjustments, and her imaginary hype girl. Writer-director Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s feature debut, “When Morning Comes,” which Henry produced with her Sunflower Studios co-founders, premiered at the Toronto festival in September.

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

With that in mind, Henry will be devoting more time to the one-hour actioner about a drug smuggling ring that she is developing with writing partner Tania Thompson for producers Mackenzie Donaldson (“Orphan Black”), Lana Mauro (“Once We Were Brothers”) and Bell Media.

“I wear a lot of hats,” says Henry, who served as a story editor and writer on the sixth season of “Workin’ Moms” (Netflix/CBC). Her short “Sinking Ship” bowed in Toronto in 2020.

“I come from the indie side of filmmaking, didn’t come up on the union side. So my work has blossomed out of that,” says Henry, who volunteered her communications skills to a Toronto production startup to soak up the business after university, and has continued to hone her skills at POV 3rd Street, Black Women Film!, TIFF Filmmaker Lab and the TIFF Netflix Talent Accelerator Fellowship, and lists herparents, visual art, Mara Brock Akil and Judd
Apatow as influences.

“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 

Britt Kerr

Producer

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”).

The business acumen she developed in her early career in financial management gives her a particular edge as a producer not only when it comes to financial scenarios but also learning to think proactively and strategically and finding creative solutions. “Perhaps more significantly, this foundation provides me with the security I need to really stretch myself and grow creatively,” Kerr says.

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,” which premiered at the Berlin ale in 2022. She is currently in pre-production on “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.” For her efforts, she was awarded the TIFF Talent Accelerator Fellowship this year.

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 hopes to take on projects that are the interaction of art and activism, and have the ability to influence social change through media.  — Katherine Brodsky

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. A participant of the Breakthrough Initiative for the Black Magic Collective, an L.A.-based program to champion BIPOC TV writers and directors, she has already secured funding for her second feature, and is directing a doc for the National Film Board of Canada.

Jules’ world completely transformed when her mom took her to see “Flashdance” as a child. She knew then she wanted to work in film and theater. 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 and 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,” and starred in pics “Red Snow” and “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  

Chandler Levack

Writer, Director

After boring Blockbuster customers with her high-schooler raves about “Dekalog,” Levack dropped out of the cinema studies program at U. of Toronto to become a freelance music journalist and pop-culture critic for notable North American outlets. For several years, the steady work was “a safe space to explore ideas without artistic risks,” while also exposing her to the good, bad and ugly 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.

Before shifting to filmmaking, Levack decided to finish her degree. 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,” which screened at Toronto and SXSW.

“I Like Movies” premiered at the 2022 Toronto fest, and has since played major festivals in Vancouver, Taipei and Calgary. Its U.S. premiere is at the Santa Barbara festival in February.

Levack is also developing “Anglophone” with Zapruder Films and Matt Miller, her producer since 2016. Set in Montreal (“the great love of my life”) circa 2011, the project is her take on music hangout movies (“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 

Kelly McCormack
Credit: Molly Cranna
Credit: Molly Cranna

Kelly McCormack

Actor, Writer, Director

Stage-struck at the age of 7 after seeing the Harold Prince revival of “Show Boat,” McCormack had every intention of staying onstage until she was “broke and stupid enough to write a feature,” McCormack recently told 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) and sci-fi adventure “Killjoys” (Syfy), McCormack is turning heads as the Peaches’ shortstop, Jess, in Amazon’s “A League of Their Own,” which premiered in August.

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

McCormack has also been increasingly busy with her own projects. She wrote, produced and starred in “Sugar Daddy,” about a new-age musician trying to catch a break in the big city, which was the virtual opener of the 2020 Whistler Film Festival.

In addition to producing the cult CBC web series “The Neddeaus of Duqesne Island,” McCormack will be directing “a lovely, corrupt little film” by Canadian multihyphenate Tess Degenstein, starring Degenstein and Tatiana Maslany.

Other current projects include producing a play that “no one has seen in 300 years,” releasing a record, selling her sci-fi pic and shooting in Naples.  — Jennie Punter 

Gail Maurice  

Director, Writer, Actor

Maurice has been working steadily on screen since the late 1990s, and as a filmmaker almost as long, 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 started out making documentaries, learning the importance of sound from icon Alanis Obomsawin: “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 says that getting offered mostly stereotypical roles early in her career led her to start writing. A turning point came when she was cast in the starring role of Jorge Manzano’s 2000 Sundance-premiering prison-set “Johnny Greyeyes,” and ended up earning a co-writing credit while shadowing the crew. Her most persistent champion has been ImagineNative, which has screened all her work and helped her believe in herself as 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 

Daniel Roher

Documentarian

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. He broke through 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. It picked up awards at the Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival, the Whistler Film Festival and the Canadian Screen Awards. 

His follow-up feature, “Navalny,” made its Sundance Film Festival world premiere this year and not only had earned him further praise but established him as a documentarian to firmly keep an eye on. 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.

As an accomplished visual artist and photographer, Roher brings that sensibility into his work, while also being able to maintain fly-on-the-wall observations.

As for his cinematic inspirations, Roher jokes: “I continue to be inspired by Ollie Tabooger, the little-known Moroccan-French avant-garde cinema verité pioneer.”  Even serious documentary filmmakers can be inspired by Bart Simpson now and again.  — Katherine Brodsky 

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