By Kim Voynar

TIFF 2010 Preview, Part One

The Toronto International Film Festival is looming ever closer, and as always, one of the greatest challenges faced by film journalists attending the fest is determining which films on the fest’s packed slate they’ll see. With roughly a week to cover the fest and only so many hours in the day to see (and write about!) films — not to mention those late-night parties and more basic needs like food, a few hours sleep, and the ever-present caffeine fix, there’s just no way to see everything you’d like to see.

Before every major fest I like to sit down, sift my way through the catalog, and start prioritizing which films I’m most interested in seeing — with the caveat that the list will almost certainly change once I’m at the fest juggling my schedule, and even more so as certain films start picking up buzz. Looking over 300+ films and wrapping your head around them is a bit like cramming an entire college semester’s worth of learning into a few days before finals, but it’s either that or draw films at random out of a hat.

Here’s my TIFF wish-list as it now stands for the Canada First!, Contemporary World Cinema, Discovery and Real to Reel sections of the fest (all film descriptions courtesy of TIFF; further commentary provided by yours truly):


As you might expect, this section is for films hailing from Canada.

You Are Here
Daniel Cockburn, ON, Canada

You Are Here is a smartly-crafted commentary on our modern day existence. Comprised of interconnected mini-narratives, the film’s characters find themselves trapped in bizarre social experiments of their own making. The film features Tracy Wright and Nadia Litz.

Pedigree: First time writer/director; playing the Locarno Film Festival prior to TIFF.

Comments: Sounds potentially like a Charlie-Kaufman wannabe, but I’m always up for an interesting and intricate plot … and who doesn’t like bizarre social experiments?

Daydream Nation
Mike Goldbach, BC, Canada

In this striking and slyly funny debut by filmmaker Mike Goldbach, a young woman (Kat Dennings) is uprooted to a small town where her classmates seem permanently stoned, an industrial fire burns ceaselessly in the background and a killer preys on the unsuspecting populace. The film also stars Andie MacDowell, Josh Lucas, Reece Thompson and Rachel Blanchard.

Pedigree: Having its world premiere at TIFF. Stars Kat Denning, who charmed as Norah in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Comments: I like Denning, and Lucas is certainly easy on the eyes. Plus, the TIFF description (above) makes it sound much more interesting than this synopsis on IMDb:

A provocative yet humorous romance about a rural community shaken by the arrival of an acerbic teenage girl.

… we’ll see who’s right.

The High Cost of Living
Deborah Chow, QC, Canada

Deborah Chow’s dark drama centres on the burgeoning relationship between an unlikely pair. Nathalie (Isabelle Blais) is expecting her first child and Henry (Zach Braff) is on his way to his next drug deal. Their paths fatefully collide one night in an event that will irrevocably change their lives.

Pedigree: World premiere at TIFF; freshman feature debut for writer/director Chow.

Comments: It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Braff on the big screen, and this film is said to offer him a much darker role than he’s known for. Casting against type is potentially interesting. The film seems to be a bit of a downer, but hey, it’s TIFF. Warning: The IMDb synopsis is very spoiler heavy. I wish I hadn’t read it.

A showcase for films from around the globe, sometimes from known filmmakers, sometimes not so much.

A Night for Dying Tigers
Terry Miles, Canada

The night before Jack goes to prison for five years, his family gets together at their ancestral home for a farewell dinner. What begins as a civil, if not joyful, reunion quickly devolves into a morally questionable whirlwind of regret, reversals, and revelations. The film stars Jennifer Beals, Gil Bellows, Kathleen Roberston, Lauren Lee Smith, Tygh Runyon and John Pyper-Ferguson.

Pedigree: World Premiere at TIFF

Comments: The first thing I thought of when I read the description of this film was: Could it possibly be as good as the brilliant, seemingly similarly themed 1998 Danish film The Celebration (Festen), notable for being the first of the Dogme films? We shall see. The title feels a little unwieldy, but perhaps it has some hidden meaning that will make sense when I actually see the film.

Behind Blue Skies
Hannes Holm, Sweden

In Hannes Holm’s beautiully crafted Behind Blue Skies, Bill Skargard stars as a young man on the cusp of manhood who escapes his troubled home to work at a summer resort, but somehow finds himself embroiled in one of the most scandalous criminal cases in 1970s Sweden in this affectionately mounted period piece based on actual events.

Pedigree: World premiere at TIFF. Stars Bill Skarsgård, Son of Stellan.

Comments: I have a long run of having good luck with the Swedes at both TIFF and Sundance, which automatically gives this one a boost in my book. Also, it gets bonus points for a description using the phrase “affectionately mounted” in a PG way.

Meek’s Cutoff
Kelly Reichardt, USA

It’s 1845 and a wagon team of three families have hired a guide to take them on the Oregon Trail and over the Cascade Mountains. They become lost and while suffering from hunger, thirst and fear, they encounter a Native American who forces them to reassess everything.

Pedigree: Director Reichardt had previous critical success with Wendy and Lucy and Old Joy. Premiering at Venice before heading to TIFF.

Comments: Reichardt re-teams with Wendy and Lucy‘s Michelle Williams in this period Western piece that also boasts Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kazan and Will Patton in its cast. A period piece is new ground for Reichardt, but her previous films were so gracefully, subtly strong that I’m eager to see how Reichardt handles the material.

Tom Tykwer, Germany

Returning to the rule-breaking freedom of early films like Run Lola Run, Tykwer introduces a sophisticated Berlin couple who both start affairs with the same man, putting them on a collision course.

Pedigree: Premiering at Venice before heading to TIFF.

Comments: Tykwer is, if nothing else, both fiercely independent and consistently original, and I’ve always enjoyed the end results of his very hands-on directorial style. If he’s truly back to his Run Lola Run form, this could be an intriguing ride.

This category is a showcase for new filmmakers; as the term “discovery” implies, the quality of the films can be dicey, but every now and again you uncover a real gem. For the adventurous.

As If I Am Not There
Juanita Wilson, Ireland, Macedonia, Sweden

As If I Am Not There relates one woman’s experience of the horrors that took place at the beginning of the Bosnian War. Disturbing and powerful, the film is an important testament to the survivors of the atrocities in the former Yugoslavia.

Pedigree: TIFF debutante. Stars Stellan Skarsgård, Father of Bill (see above.)

Comments: This one looks depressing as hell, but also potentially good enough to merit being on my list.

Michael Henry, Australia

A group of young vigilantes seeking revenge for a sexual betrayal fall far from grace. When the truth is out, they find themselves on the dark side of justice.

Pedigree: First-time director, debuting at TIFF.

Comments: The longer description on the TIFF site is considerably more intriguing than the short blurb above. Cast is, according to the catalog, the cream of the young Aussie actor crop (I’m sadly not up to speed on my young Aussie actors, so will have to take their word for it). Looks promising, at any rate.

Look, Stranger
Arielle Javitch, USA

An unflinching portrait of desperation and survival, Look, Stranger depicts the homewards journey of a refugee woman as she tries to make her way across a wartorn country. Featuring another remarkably visceral performance from acclaimed Romanian actor Anamaria Marinca (4 Weeks, 3 Months, 2 Days), the film captures the particular horrors confronted by women under military occupation. But this is no simple essay on individual exigencies amidst war-induced lawlessness; it is an intimate story of one woman’s very personal flight.

Pedigree: Premiering at TIFF.

Comments: This one stars AnamariaMarinca, who played the less-annoying girl in Cristian Mungiu‘s grim Romanian abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days. I wasn’t wild about that film, actually, but Marinca was the best thing about it. The description of this one, which is apparently very visual with minimal dialogue, evokes a bit of a Wendy and Lucy vibe in that it features a young woman traveling alone. Either it will be very engaging in spite of limited dialogue, or slower than molasses. Time will tell, but I’m hoping for the former.


If you love documentaries, as I do, TIFF is one of the best places to catch the best of the best. This year boasts a particularly strong lineup, with several films that I need to make room for in my schedule …

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Werner Herzog, USA

Werner Herzog gains exclusive access to film inside the Chauvet caves of southern France, capturing the oldest known pictorial creations of humankind in their astonishing natural setting. He puts 3-D technology to a profound use, taking us back in time over 30,000 years.

Pedigree: Directed by the eclectic, but always interesting Herzog. Likely to show up at Telluride the weekend before TIFF, as Herzog is a perpetual favorite son there.

Comments: While the subject matter doesn’t intrigue me quite as much as some of his other films, Herzog directing anything is always worth checking out.

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
Alex Gibney, USA

Investigating the sex scandal that forced New York’s Governor to resign, Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney gains revelatory interviews from Spitzer, his most frequent escort and his Wall Street enemies that bring new perspective on his downfall.

Pedigree: Oscar-winning director; TIFF premiere

Comments: Gibney has yet to make a film I haven’t liked, and he tends to make his audience think about things in unexpected ways.

Cool It
Ondi Timoner, USA

Award-winning filmmaker Ondi Timoner trains her camera on Bjorn Lomborg, the controversial author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” who takes on the issue of climate change, challenging the status quo, and pointing toward new science and technology that might hold the solutions for our future.

Pedigree: Snatched up by Roadside Attractions today, ahead of its TIFF premiere.

Comments: Timoner previously made the compelling We Live in Public, which I thought was a rather interesting film. Looking forward to seeing what this one’s all about.

Naomi Kawase, Japan

In Genpin, Naomi Kawase casts a gentle and serene look at natural childbirth and delivers a visual meditation on the unshakable bond between mother and child. The result is a lucid and moving documentary that captures the splendour of labour with intelligence, emotion and delicacy.

Pedigree: Toronto premiere.

Comments: I’ve had three natural births myself and advocated for less medical intervention in childbirth over the past decade, so this film’s topic is near and dear to my heart. Looking forward to a break from the grim and depressing for something a little lighter and sweeter.

Inside Job
Charles Ferguson, USA

An in-depth exploration of what caused the financial crisis from the Oscar-nominated director of No End in Sight, highlighting failures in business, government and academia.

Pedigree: Oscar-nommed director, TIFF premiere.

Comments: Ferguson’s No End in Sight was one of the best docs of 2007, and word on the street is that Inside Job is excellent. Can’t wait to see this one.

Mother of Rock: Lillian Roxon
Paul Clarke, Australia

Witness to New York’s infamous punk scene, Lillian Roxon chronicled the movement during the 1960s and 70s. Roxon mingled with the likes of John and Yoko, the Velvet Underground and Janis Joplin and was one of the first on the scene to champion the work of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors.

Pedigree: TIFF premiere

Comments: One of the best things about TIFF is discovering a director or subject about which I know nothing going in. Last year that film for me was The Topp Twins. This year, it might just be Mother of Rock.

Precious Life
Shlomi Eldar, Israel

With the help of a prominent Israeli journalist, Precious Life chronicles the struggle of an Israeli pediatrician and a Palestinian mother to get treatment for her baby, who suffers from an incurable genetic disease. Each must face their most profound biases as they inch towards a possible friendship in an impossible reality.

Pedigree: TIFF premiere. Acquired pre-TIFF August 31 by HBO

Comments: My other pick for a promising-looking unknown. Would you save a life if you knew the person you were saving might grow up to be your enemy, who might even kill you or your loved ones? This film, by its subject matter, forces an examination of the Middle East conflict in a new way, which in my book makes it compelling.

Errol Morris, USA

The director of The Thin Blue Line and the Academy Award®-winning The Fog of War tells the story of a former Miss Wyoming whose quest for one true love led her across the globe and onto the pages of tabloid newspapers.

Pedigree: Errol Morris.

Comments: ’nuff said.

Look for Part Two of my TIFF 2010 Preview, featuring the Gala, Special Presentation and Midnight Madness sections, on Friday.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon