MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

TIFF Dispatch Day Six: Catching Up

Time to lighten things up a bit, after that last dispatch, eh?

As we near the homestretch, this has been a really good fest for me. In a lot of ways I feel like this fest represents a bit of a coming full circle for me from last year’s devastating fest-spent-in-a-hospital bed, which was all kinds of double-plus-unfun.

Over the past 12 months my life has pretty much completely changed in many ways — a bit of a rebirth, you might say, and like any birth you have to go through the pain to get to the new life waiting on the other side. But I am very glad and very grateful to be back at TIFF and back on my fest coverage game, working productively and filling my soul up with so many good films.

The slate at this year’s TIFF — and I don’t think I’m alone in saying this — has been exceptionally strong. I’ve seen 25 films in seven days, and of those there are only a couple that I’d say I actively did not like. That is an incredible run of good luck for a critic, because so often it’s a total crapshoot at a fest this; I couldn’t begin to tally up how many times I’ve gone to a fest and sat through mediocre-to-bad films far more often than films that blew me away, or even just made me happy I’d worked them into my schedule. But this fest? Has been mostly great.

Yesterday at a screening some press folks behind me were bemoaning the “terrible” slate at this year’s fest, and I had to wonder if we were attending the same festival. Or perhaps I’ve just gotten really lucky with the screenings I’ve chosen, and they were particularly unlucky with theirs. Or, who knows, perhaps they were just tired and having a bad day. Certainly by this point in the fest, everyone’s walking around looking a little shell-shocked.

Before TIFF, after a slate of mostly boring summer movies, the excellent Scott Pilgrim not doing well at the box office, and another Oscar season looming, I was dealing with a seriously annoying case of “I don’t give a shit about awards season.” After TIFF? I’m feeling rejuvenated, excited even. There are some excellent films at this festival with an eye toward the upcoming awards rush — some very much expected soft pitches and others that were unexpectedly good, or smaller films with outstanding performances.

And while many of us like to say we really don’t care about awards season, what we do care about is that the frenzied buzz around the Oscars, in particular, can give some smaller films a boost that can make a real difference to their bottom line. So while I don’t care much about a naked golden man statue, I do care very much about film, particularly good films, and the people who put their hearts and souls into making them, and there are a couple of films out of TIFF I will be championing over the coming months.

Since my last dispatch, there are a few films I’ve particularly enjoyed. I was surprised by how much I loved I Saw the Devil, which just may end up being the first serial-killer thriller to end up on my year-end list. It also may be the best-directed film at the fest; certainly it’s among the best.

It was less surprising that I enjoyed the new Mike Leigh film, Another Year, but what was surprising for me is that this film has surpassed Secrets and Lies as my favorite Mike Leigh film. And if you are also a Mike Leigh fan, you know this is high praise. Lesley Manville gives a stunning performance in the film; it’s worthy of an Oscar nom, but in a crowded field this year, it’s going to take a serious push to get it there, but she could (and should, if we’re judging on actual merit) be a dark horse contender.

I saw Another Year at a public screening, where it was very enthusiastically received. I always enjoying watching Mike Leigh at Q&As, because I think he tends to be much more open to audiences at screenings than he can sometimes be with journalists. Very quickly into the Q&A, Leigh turned it around on the audience and turned it into group discussion on the film, and it was a lot of fun to watch the enthusiasm and passion with which the crowd discussed the film. Anytime a film inspires that level of discussion, I think it’s achieved something special.

The other part about TIFF, of course, is that it’s end-of-summer camp for film geeks. It’s always great to come to Toronto and reconnect with friends. In a normal year I would have seen most of these folks at Sundance, but this year a nasty post-surgical infection pre-empted my Sundance plans, so I haven’t seen most of my friends in a year. It’s a relatively small world in which we all work, and most of us use Facebook and Twitter prolifically to stay in touch. However did people stay in touch before the Internet age? It’s hard to imagine my world without the daily IMs and texts and Facebook messages that allow me to stay connected to friends who have, over the years, because my extended family.

But this fest is so busy for most of us that much of our social interaction is actually not so much social as it is sitting next to each other in screenings, and perhaps rushing over for a quick coffee fix before the next one. I don’t attend most of the parties at TIFF, my schedule really precludes doing much beyond the occasional small dinner party for this or that film.

But the one party I do attend every year is the SXSW karaoke party, which took place last night at a new location downtown. This is the one place where I can always count on seeing most of my good friends in one place, at a time in the fest when we’re all tired and desperately in need of a night of letting our hair down, so to speak. I banged out three reviews before the party so I could take a break with a clear conscience, then stayed way later than I intended to once I got there, but it was a much-needed break from the fest grind.

In spite of being up way too late I did manage to get up and drag my butt to the 9AM screening of Black Swan. I’d heard very divisive buzz on the film around and about the fest, but for me, it was throroughly engaging and emotionally devastating. Aronofsky is just a remarkable director, and with Black Swan he weaves together a tightly controlled, nightmarish story about self-destructive perfectionism within the world of ballet. I’d heard that Black Swan was more The Wrestler than The Fountain, but I’d have to disagree with that. It’s not really like either film, and yet it bears a distinctive Aronofsky feel. I’m not quite sure I’d call him an auteur yet, but with this film he’s getting there. More on that one later.

Another full day ahead of me, so onward.

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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