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A scene from Philip Hoffman's film, All Fall Down.

Looking over the list of films in the Canada First! Program at this year's TIFF, it's a bit startling to see the name "Philip Hoffman" on the list.

Could this be the same Philip Hoffman who has been making highly personal films in Canada for more than 30 years, has had two anthologies of criticism written about him, and had retrospectives of his work from Cuba, New York, Australia and India as well as at Toronto's Images festival?

Or maybe a son following the family trade?

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It turns out this is the original Philip Hoffman. His film, All Fall Down, had its debut at the Berlin Film Festival in February and like, all Hoffman films, it's personal and complex. This multistrand narrative follows an historical 19th-century native woman activist and the difficulties of contemporary writer George Lachlan Brown ( the father of the filmmaker's stepdaughter). Add in footage from a historical melodrama that Hoffman made, the writings of George Orwell and Wallace Stevens, phone messages, home movies and the paintings of Winslow Homer and Paul Kane, and you have a complex work of art.

Typically, Canada First! is thought of as TIFF's newcomers' slot. The category was created back in 2004, when the festival dissolved its all-Canadian sidebar, Perspective Canada, with the argument that veteran Canadian filmmakers shouldn't be lumped in with baby filmmakers fresh out of school.

I ran into festival programmer Steve Gravestock and asked him what the thinking was. He said All Fall Down could have gone into another program, but he thought it made a interesting fit with the other five films in Canada First! And technically, it qualifies: At 94 minutes, this is Hoffman's first feature-length film.

Reached at his York University e-mail address, Hoffman didn't seem particularly fussed where his film was placed; he's primarily interested in making something that lasts.

"I do feel this is an experimental film, pushing boundaries of what film can be, not adhering to a set genre, and set conventions. I kind of let the subject I am tracking take me for a ride. It has been called an experimental doc - its certainly not a straight forward doc - it skirts the edges of doc, fiction and experimental. So, its place in Canada First! only relates to the fact that this is my first feature, after about 18 shorts ... and 30 years of filmmaking.

"My method is that I follow the subject of the film I'm working on over long periods of time - five to seven years often - and I also have an archive of collected image and sound which I dip into, which I definitely made use of through the making of All Fall Down. My new film has many story threads, is dense and needs time to unravel."

All Fall Down screens on Saturday, April 12, 2:15 p.m. at AMC10 and Sunday, Sept. 13 at 11:45 a.m. at AMC2

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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