By David Poland

Wrapping TIFF 2014

tiff jon stewart

My experience of the Toronto International Film Festival used to be quite different.

The film count was about the same. The location was different… but not so that it really changed the tone of the festival.

The event screenings were, back in the 90s, pretty much exclusively at Roy Thompson Hall. Opening night sported just one film and one party. The RTH was an exotic location, miles from the rest of the festival.

Over time, the Elgin evolved into a key premiere (and sometimes studio “work-in-progress) venue. It only got hotter when the entire event moved into the theater district.

The Princess of Wales was only added to the screening schedule a few years ago, when Jonathan Demme wanted better sound for that year’s Neil Young doc. Dolby built out the best sound at the festival and by the next year, it was a full time festival theater… which was also the preferred choice for many filmmakers premiering at the festival.

So now you have 3, count ’em, 3 venues at TIFF for major premieres… each of which usually has at least 2 major premieres a night over the opening 5 days of the festival. That makes 30 PREMIERES! (as opposed to the more staid “premiere”).

Parties in the old days might be at Roots or some other retail venue turned party room during festival week. There were some bigger rooms. Some temporary discos. Closing night was in the Skydome.

In 2000, the festival asked 25 directors to make 25 films of (approximately) 25 minutes in length in 25 hours at the festival in celebration of the festival’s 25th anniversary. It was called 25 x 25 and featured some very well known directors and some up and comers.

If they tried that these days, the filmmakers would be followed live by TV crews, appear together in a 2-page spread in EW, have a special issue in The Hollywood Reporter, be branded trendsetters by a certain LA Times reporter, and have their sex lives investigated by The Wrap.

I miss the Uptown theater. I miss Dusty Cohl. I miss Roger Ebert.

The Sony Classics dinner, which has been going on forever it seems, used to be quiet and mellow. This year, there was a red carpet and no fewer than 150 people trying to get a look at the parade of SPC talent. I get it… I get it. But it was once a singular respite from the insanity. Now it’s a great place to catch up with filmmakers and journalists… but a bit like a wedding with two dozen brides.

But the past is the past. The TIFF show is bigger and brassier than ever. More importantly, there is still a great film festival there.

I only saw 27 movies at TIFF this year. We shot 30 interviews, but some of those were Cannes titles and there were a few titles that got multiple interviews. I would have preferred over my 7 days at the festival more like 35 or so. I missed some films that I really wanted to see, partially because some were too late in the festival and partially because my production schedule makes a five-screening a day schedule impossible.

Here are my 27:
Black & White
The Drop
Electric Boogaloo
The Humbling
The Imitation Game
The Judge
Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet
License To Drive
The Look Of Silence
The Reach
Revenge of the Green Dragons
Seymour: An Introduction
Song of the Sea
The Sound and The Fury
St Vincent
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
The Theory of Everything
Time Out Of Mind
The Yes Men Are Revolting

Only 4 docs… which really sucks. History reminds us that documentaries are, as a group, the best films available at any film festival (except, when like Cannes, they are not a focus). I didn’t see Beats of the Antonov or Do I Sound Gay?, the winner and 2nd runner up, respectively, of the audience award for docs. I did see the first runner up… and loved Seymour: An Introduction. Seymour makes an interesting TIFF bookend with Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look Of Silence, which has much of the perspective and good-heartedness of Seymour, but in dealing with a mass murder whose perpetrators are still in control of the country. Both films could well be…


I decided not to mention the Academy Awards in this piece. I’m going to write another piece about the award season and the recent festival run, so… forget I started that sentence…

Out of my list of 27 titles, there were only 4 that I actually disliked. That’s a pretty good festival. (And don’t forget the great Cannes films from Assayas, Leigh, The Dardennes, and Bennett Miller that I’m not counting. There are probably a few others.)

I’m really interested in talking about the films that didn’t get as much overwhelming media love as some of the others.

I irrationally loved both Al Pacino films. They are very different and yet, somehow connected for me. The discussion of aging and one’s place in the world are also themes in Mr. Turner, Clouds of Sils Maria, Seymour: An Introduction, Time Out of Mind, St Vincent, and even, in a slightly odd way, in The Look of Silence, which includes aging perpetrators.

The Humbling is a Barry Levinson comedy about a man/actor who becomes self-reflective, it seems, for the first time in his life. The reason I lead with the director is that it feels like Barry Levinson. It’s also very Phillip Roth (whose story this comes from)… rye and self-deprecating and full of embarrassing things and wicked smart. Pacino plays the actor who is still able to generate a quick six figures by agreeing to do a dumb commercial or the like. But he is back on Broadway… and he can’t remember his lines or quite find his way through his King Lear. Making things even more complicated, he starts an affair with a much younger woman who is working through her teenage crush on him, even though she is now out as a lesbian. What starts as a fling becomes real and then he faces having his middle age all over again. hat is less Levinson than usual is the visual style of the film. It is the most complex visual experience that I recall seeing in any Levinson film. Its silences are as important and meaningful as its words, words being Levinson’s most obvious gift.

It is worth noting that there are many similarities (and differences) between The Humbling and the steaming-hot Birdman, which was the most talked about film at TIFF without even being at TIFF.

Pacino is back again in Manglehorn, as an aging locksmith who is by turns a free-floating source of wisdom and an immobilized wreck who can’t get out of his own way. Like Levinson, David Gordon Green seems to be pushing himself into new territory visually here, as Manglehorn lives in a world of memory infringing on his reality. It’s quite beautiful to watch. And the material doggedly refuses to fall into traditional ways of telling a story “like this.” Pacino’s Manglehorn is a bit of a genius and a bit of an asshole and a bit of a magician. He is still of the world, not a curmudgeon hiding in the corner or seeking saving. But he is not fully alive either. It is one with David Gordon Green’s work in that it is more interested in the ambiguities than in An Answer.

Another film that didn’t get the attention I felt it deserved (though it did win a critics award) was Time Out Of Mind, a remarkable collaboration between Oren Moverman and Richard Gere. Simply – surely too simply – the film is a slice of time in the life of a man of 60 or so and has found himself living on the street. Why? We don’t know. And the movie is in no rush to explain itself. The film was shot by the great Bobby Bukowski, who conspired with Moverman and Gere to make the city a set and the camera as invisible as possible at all times. We experience this man’s journey, trying to find his way, with just one attachment in the world. It’s not a doc. But it is one emotionally, really. When the quiet gets too much – Gere’s character is not a guy who likes to gab – alongs comes a glorious – yes,i will say it, breaking my own rule – Oscar-nomination worthy turn by Ben Vereen as a thinks-he’s-seen-it-all motormouth who provides an entertaining, if sometimes exhausting narrative. This movie is truly one of a kind. Special. Challenging. And again… word of the day… ambiguous.

Nightcrawler, which is being released by Open Road, is imperfect… but a thrilling thing to watch. Jake Gyllenhaal turns himself into an absolute creep. And the story, of a guy who sees his opportunity specializing in getting footage from the most unpleasant news scenes possible to great success with the local news, is not quite Chayefsky for 2014… but it makes a real stab at it. I really look forward to seeing the film again soon. My biggest argument in the film is that it doesn’t get degrading enough. Others feel the opposite. But this is in-your-face stuff that will make you look around carefully next time you are in a car at night in Los Angeles.

Finally, distribution-free Learning to Drive is this year’s The Visitor. It’s an unexpected, charming, serious, sexy, goofy, philosophical, heartbreaking little movie from Isabel Coixet (working the comedy beat as lightly as she can). Sir Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson are a pairing of opposites, but both are searching for something. The joy is in the journey. I’m not sure why Fox Searchlight or Sony Classics hasn’t already picked this one up. It’s a delight and will be a money-maker for someone.

It was a really good TIFF. Solid.

What was missing, really, were the home run-hitting feature films. (Great docs… but we expect that.) I really like The Imitation Game, but it is old-fashioned in many ways. Great performances in The Theory of Everything, but as wonderful it is in humanizing Stephen Hawking, it doesn’t quite make the connection to his genius. St. Vincent is a Bill Murray showcase, but it isn’t as special as Rushmore or Broken Flowers or Lost in Translation. Rosewater is terrific for everything it chooses not to be, which is leaving many feeling like they are missing something.

After some seemingly over-the-top negative reviews of Men, Women & Children, I went to go see it on my last day… but I arrived a little late and then left within 20 minutes because I was so exhausted that I just wasn’t in a mood to deal with the darkness. But I can’t wait to check it out here in L.A. It could easily make it into the “underappreciated” ranks for me.

The issue of Toronto vs Telluride, which was wildly overwritten before both festivals, turned out to be mostly a non-issue. I know it was a pain in the ass for Sony Classics and Toronto would have done well to have an opening weekend gala for a couple of their titles that they took to the mountains. But aside from that, it actually stretched the festival. And even though people still streamed out of town on Monday and Tuesday, the festival had a lot to offer in the second half… more this year than in many. And frankly, I lost out by leaving on Thursday afternoon. There was a lot to do on Thursday and Friday that I missed and will have to catch up on soon.

I would love to see TIFF try to keep moving the bar and make it a must-stay event through Wednesday, at least.

It’s taken me a few days to regain my sanity after going into the bunker of fabulousness for a week. But I can’t wait until next September, when the whole insane thing will happen again.

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3 Responses to “Wrapping TIFF 2014”

  1. David says:

    One thing: it’s called the Princess of Wales Theatre.

  2. David Poland says:

    Oy on me, David… long, hot week. Apologies.

  3. Stella's Boy says:

    I can’t believe how much has changed since I last attended TIFF, in 2005. I believe Roy Thomson was still the only theater hosting red carpet premieres. There were still theaters up by Yonge/Bloor. I’d see celebrities just wandering around. It wasn’t $70 for a single ticket to a premiere, and there wasn’t a separate package for premieres. But man it was still awesome to be back. Toronto is an amazing city. My wife and I had a blast and ate a ton of great meals. We walked all over, one of the best parts of attending the fest and being in Toronto. We can’t wait to go back.

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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