By Gill Pringle

In a special presentation at The Toronto International Film Festival, writer-director Jane Campion’s highly anticipated drama, The Power Of The Dog, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst is already being talked about as an Oscars contender. Set in 1920s Montana, Campion’s revisionist western is adapted from Thomas Savage’s acclaimed novel, and tells the story of successful rancher brothers George (Plemons) and Phil Burbank (Cumberbatch), whose relationship cracks and splits when the younger and less forceful George marries local widow Rose (Dunst), who takes up residence on the ranch with her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The new arrivals soon become targets for brusque, macho cowboy Phil, who exerts a strange power over the land that he owns and the people that live on it.

Also featuring the brilliant Thomasin McKenzie (Jo Jo Rabbit, Old) alongside Campion’s own daughter, Alice Englert (Top Of The Lake: China Girl), The Power Of The Dog once again proves why New Zealand-born Campion is one of today’s greatest filmmakers, applying her keen, artful eye to the American West in a manner unlike any other filmmaker to come before her. Aided by cinematographer Ari Wegner’s poetic imagery, and a mesmerising score by Radiohead guitarist and There Will Be Blood maestro Jonny Greenwood, The Power Of The Dog takes the Western mythos and turns it rigorously inside out. Melbourne-raised Wegner (True History Of The Kelly Gang, Zola) will be honoured with the TIFF Variety Artisan Award at this year’s TIFF Tribute Awards.

A scene from The Panthers.

Representing New Zealand in the Primetime section is Halaifonua Finau and Tom Hern’s The Panthers, a mini-series which retells the fascinating story of how the Polynesian Panther Party was founded in 1970s Aotearoa (NZ). The series follows PPP co-founder Will ’Ilolahia (newcomer Dimitrius Schuster-Koloamatangi), whose blood starts to boil out of control as his people are marginalised and mistreated in a broken system lorded over by newly elected Prime Minister Robert Muldoon (Roy Billing). Inspired by America’s Black Panther Party, Will ’Ilolahia mobilises energetically for change, and sets about rearranging the very fabric of his politically enflamed country.

Co-creator/writer/producer/showrunner Finau is a proud Tongan, born and raised in Aotearoa. He studied at Whitireia Performing Arts as a dancer but made his name in the industry as an actor and presenter, and now, as a writer and producer. His credits include Small Blacks TV (2009), Baby Mama’s Club (2017), and Jonah (2019). Fellow co-creator and writer Hern is a Kiwi actor/producer, whose many credits include TIFF selections Guns Akimbo (2019) and Shadow In The Cloud (2020), which won the People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award.

A scene from Burning.

Featuring in TIFF’s documentary section is Oscar/Logie/Emmy-winning Melbourne filmmaker Eva Orner’s Burning, a riveting film about the horrifying 2019-2020 bushfires that tore through huge expanses of Australia, and sparked heated conversations about the role that climate change had – or hadn’t, depending on your viewpoint – played in starting them and keeping them going to such devastating effect. Executive produced by Cate Blanchett and backed by Amazon, Burning is set to be another powerful, thought provoking effort from Orner (Taxi To The Dark Side, Chasing Asylum, Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator), and will hopefully redirect a little thought and consideration back to the issue of climate change once COVID has been suppressed, or at least satisfactorily managed.

Representing Australia in TIFF’s ever popular Short Cuts selection is Nash Edgerton’s Shark and Madeleine Gottlieb’s You And Me, Before And After. Shark completes Edgerton’s trilogy of spiky black comedy shorts that began with Spider (2007) and Bear (2011), in which the director pulls double duty by also starring as Jack, a man for whom pulling pranks is a way of life. In Shark, however, Jack may have found his personal Waterloo in the shape of Rose Byrne’s Sofie, who loves pranks just as much as he does. But when the duo embarks on a game of prankster one-upmanship, the consequences could be dire. Writer-director Madeleine Gottlieb’s dramedy, You and Me, Before And After, meanwhile, stars the dynamic Yael Stone (TV’s Orange Is The New Black) and Emily Barclay (Suburban Mayhem) as two sisters who share a very special bond.

Australasia and Canada have always shared a complimentary relationship based on the apparent similarity between the two regions, and it’s continuing at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

For more information on The Toronto International Film Festival, head to the official website.


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