MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Confessions of a Film Festival Junkie: Toronto Wrap

TIFF is a mess! Well, that’s not exactly true, but the anarchic element that is the Toronto International Film Festival is part of its charm and vitality.

Not many remember the early Festival of Festival years, as well as all the baby steps and strides that have brought the Ontario metropolis into the ranks of hosts of great annual film showcases.

And yet it remains a kindred event to Cannes, Berlin and Venice in its gravitas, spectacle and quest for discovery and invention. But unlike that august trio, and let’s toss Rotterdam and Sundance into the mix, Toronto always refused to take what should have been the next logical step of a formalized competition.

The event does dole out a swath of awards, including a critic’s prize, juried section kudos and most famously, a people’s choice award that this year went to the musical romance La La Land. But unlike the other big guns, Toronto lacks the weight that others have as promoters of worthy underdogs.

Toronto also refuses to incorporate a formalized film market. There is a rough equivalent dubbed a Sales Office and there’s no question that a lot of business is done at TIFF from acquisition and sales to pre-financing.

Still the division between competitive sections and market titles would be a healthy line in the sand. It struck home with this weekend’s theatrical release of Deepwater Horizon, which I caught at TIFF 2016. It has its virtues—a strong cast, adroit direction, remarkably visual recreations—but it is not a “festival” film. It’s an entertainment that fails to delve beneath the surface of fact to provide deeper resonance.

This year the festival screened about 350 features and with that type of volume, even excluding galas where the emphasis is to generate ink, there will be dross. This is not meant to impugn the hard work of programmers. Year after year Toronto comes up with the goods among new movies.

Some chroniclers of this year’s slate have been downbeat, but you have to keep in mind that the selection unquestionably reflected the best of the new season. Going for a week and seeing 35 to 40 films ultimately means missing a lot of the program.

My 2016 shopping list included two films that left me cold to the point that I gave up and a lot of good, solid efforts that were “respectable,” “professional” “engaging” and from time to time arid and dry. Only two films jumped out as having something extra, including Toni Erdmann that I discussed in an earlier column.

The other gem was Jackie, a grueling bit of history that focuses on the days following the assassination of John F. Kennedy from the perspective of his widow. It also interweaves an interview between Jackie and a reporter that takes place sometime (but not too long) afterward. It is a film that gets under your skin in a positive way, owing in large part to the structure. There’s something unsettling yet organic about the material that allows for a chilling dichotomy (abetted by an unvarnished performance by Natalie Portman in the title role) between being in the moment and reflecting on it.

Whatever qualms one has about TIFF 2016, you have to concede that it’s awfully nice to have this level of cinema on offer on the same continent as one’s home and available via a direct air route.

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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