MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Confessions of a Film Festival Junkie

It’s kinda official. To be honest I really haven’t noticed anyone taking notice of the fact that Toronto mayor Rob Ford hasn’t shown his face at the Toronto International Film Festival. Granted the local attendees don’t appear to be his constituency and there is a mayoral race coming up before the end of the year. In fact, there either was a debate scheduled (there are three others on the ballot) or one that went forward that Ford opted out of without extending much of a reason.

Regardless, I bumped into TIFF CEO Piers Handling and ask whether his worship Ford had or would poke his pug nose into this year’s event. Handling gave a shrug and said that Ford had not RSVPed for any events. He also noted that he’d attended in past years, presumably in an official capacity.

So, I’ve been busy.

The highlight of the festival personally has been Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. The filmmaker, whose earlier movies include Scenes from the Second Floor, has a truly idiosyncratic take on life and art and speaks to me in a fashion that’s impossible to explain. It would be foolhardy to assay a narrative description; his sequences have a tonal cohesion though only a couple of characters pop up through the course of the film and while largely set in the present it manages to incorporate Sweden’s King Charles and a band of 19th Century colonialists.

On the flip-side, there have been a lot of films with a conventional narrative that ultimately emerge as nonsensical. Veteran playwright Israel Horovitz arrived with his first feature, My Old Lady. The 75-year-old deb’s film features Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristen Scott Thomas. The gist of the story is that a man inherits a rather capacious apartment in Paris and arrives in the City of Lights to sell it only to learn that its elderly inhabitant has literally been given tenancy for life. It’s something peculiarly French and while the scenery and performers are all highly watchable, the story twists in a most unconvincing trajectory.

Also of note were a couple of films that explore social issues with rather unusual and unsettling approaches. Force Majeure begins with a family skiing holiday. Early on the couple and their two pre-teen children believe they are about to become avalanche victims. The husband bolts from the scene while the wife grabs for the kids in hopes of shielding them with her body. It quickly turns out to be a false alarm but the damage has been done. He has an explanation for his action that’s so transparently ludicrous you wonder whether this relationship has any hopes of surviving and while director Ruben Ostlund has a tendency to overplay his hand, mostly one squirms and grapples with the pain and shame.

Closer to home, Kevin Costner has to deal with a custody battle in Black and White. The film opens with the death of his wife in a car crash and we learn in short order that they were raising their 7-year old granddaughter as their daughter died in childbirth and the father is a no-good crackhead. He also happens to be black and the tyke is mocha and precocious. The birth father’s mother moves to take custody and instructs her good son, a lawyer, to play the race card. Objectively, it has comparable naivety to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and maybe a jot or two a more nuanced appreciation of color, shame and ingrained prejudice. That said, not many people seem to want to talk about it and truly believe if ignored it will just disappear. So however inelegant Black and White may be (is), it has sufficient skill to make some points and, hopefully, elicit some dialogue.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that my second home at the festival is the press room which has about ten computers should you want to get on the net, a printer and lots of spots to set up your personal laptop. In order to get to the press room you have to get your press pass scanned by a volunteer. Nosey parker that I am, I asked why the need for this process and was told that it was to ensure that the room didn’t get over crowded.

Naturally that begged the question: how many people are currently there? Wouldn’t you know it, they had no idea. I should also point out that via the same entrance is the video library and I’ve yet to be asked my exact destination when I’ve passed through the screeners. The other thing that might complicate a number count is the fact that should you require a bathroom break, go get a coffee or snack or just stretch your legs, you must go through the scanner procedure again. It a wonder mayhem isn’t breaking loose so I offer up this potential solution. Should the press room reach capacity, the volunteer in that space could take the fifteen-second walk to the scanner station and inform them.

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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