MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Confessions Of A Film Festival Junkie: TIFF 2014 Opening Days

The first thing you notice, or, rather, sense about Toronto is there is no recession. In the midst of festival village and all around there is massive construction. A couple of natives (and former TIFF employees) told me they hadn’t seen this level of building activity in the downtown district for at least two decades. So it’s noisy. Traffic, human and vehicular, is very stop-start. And to up the ante, the festival got the city to agree to closing off about four blocks and turning the area around the Bell Lightbox into a temporary mall with art and live music events.

Day One turned into what I missed by not going to Cannes. But let me back up slightly. I arrived Wednesday night about 20 minutes too late to get my press pass. Bright and early I got into the lineup and in what has become an annual tradition got put into the wrong line and spent an extra 10 minutes sorting things out. It’s weird that this happens virtually every year in light of the fact that Toronto otherwise is attuned to the public and industry needs and has one of the best trained volunteer staff I’ve ever encountered.

At this point I finally had a hard copy of the press and industry screening schedule and about 15 minutes to get to a movie. The old cinephile in me saw a 9 a.m. projection of Winter Sleep, this year’s Cannes Palme d’or winner by … Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the great Turkish filmmaker. How could I ignore that?

I’ll just say that the story of a famous actor in retreat to a remote part of Anatolia where his family owns property including a hotel has a fabulous opening 40 minutes (it’s 3 hours). Unfortunately the momentum seizes up from time to time with long, philosophical exchanges between the central character, his sister and his wife. It’s still well worth the effort and, need I say it, exquisitely filmed.

The other day I meant to give a brief idea of what an average day might involve. If you’re really here to watch movies, you will see three or four a day. It can be a grind and you should stop from time to time for a meal or just to catch your breath … or go to a social event. I’ve been very bad in that respect in the opening two days and sat through 10 films … believe me this has nothing to do with bragging.

Certainly near the bottom rung of my initial choices was the opening night Gala, The Judge. For the uninitiated opening nighters are often terrible because they’re targeted at patrons and the company behind the selection also has to pay for the opening night party. The Judge isn’t terrible, it’s just mediocre; a tale of a son come home (Robert Downey Jr.) to a small Indiana town for his mother’s funeral and his strained relationship with his title father (Robert Duvall). The twist is an accident that puts the old man on trial (in his former courtroom) with his son becoming his attorney. There’s also some cutesy stuff with an old flame and it’s all just a sloppy mess of emotion, humor and pathos.

Then there was the left curve I mentioned as a possibility in the last column. The tip came from Steve Gravestock, a TIFF programmer and the man who invited me to be on the Canadian jury several years ago. It’s called Corbo and centers on a high school lad who gets involved with Quebec’s radical FLQ movement back in 1966. It’s a first film of exceptional promise by Mathieu Denis with albeit some small flaws in tempo and narrative but otherwise handsomely produced and emotionally gripping. It was produced by Felize Frappier, the daughter of one of Québec’s premiere filmmakers, Roger Frappier.

Then there was the weird, the Ukrainian social thriller The Tribe about teenage hooligans. What pushes it over the edge is that they’re all from a school for the deaf and the film’s done entirely in sign language without sub-titles. The problem ultimately is that the filmmaker doesn’t quite have the skill to employ the device organically and that imbues the film with an erratic quality that keeps the action at a distance.

And briefly a thumbs up for Belgium’s amazing Dardenne frères with Deux jours, une nuit that arguably was worthy of a third Palme d’or in their trophy room. Marion Cotillard once again amazing in a tick…tick…tick tale of a woman trying to keep her factory job in unusual circumstances. Be surprised. It was also nice to see some vets back in action including Barry Levinson with The Humbling, casting Al Pacino as an actor who just can’t do it anymore. Based on a Phillip Roth short story it is lightweight fun. Conversely Polish master Krzysztof Zanussi is back with Foreign Body, the sort of complex moral tale that established him in the 1970s. It grapples with a thorny intrigue of business chicanery and manages to waft in religious piety of a decidedly Catholic nature. It’s wildly circuitous but well worth the journey.

I could say more … but I need the sleep.

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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