Posts Tagged ‘toronto film festival’

Confessions of a Film Festival Junkie

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

In the early days of the Toronto International Film Festival (then known as the Festival of Festivals) its chief nemesis was the World Film Festival in Montreal that immediately preceded it on the calendar. About a decade back the WFF imploded following government investigations and rival local events that nonetheless failed to put a stake through its heart. It still exists but at a considerably diminished level from its heyday.

Despite overlapping schedules, Toronto has never really viewed Venice as competition. The two events do share a significant number of films, particularly those from high profile filmmakers. Venice concluded yesterday with the announcement of its jury prize winners and all, with the exception of Somewhere by Sofia Coppola which took the top prize, are on the Toronto schedule.

One anticipated film that Toronto received the very first look see is Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter. It screened yesterday for press including the army of junket scribes that attend about 20 interview roundtables during TIFF’s opening weekend. They were grumbling about the filmmaker only doing two interviews during his stay and having to go to New York in October for the official press junket.

The film itself can glibly be described as Eastwood does Lelouch. The story, like many by the French writer-director, has multiple story lines involving people whose lives and tales are unconnected at least until the third act. At that point luck and coincidence take hold and, in the case of Hereafter, converge somewhat sentimentally as the principles deal with death and beyond. It’s a pretty good Lelouch and a pretty good Eastwood … but not great stuff.

Three days into the festival I’m feeling a little ambivalent about the paucity of press/industry screenings after 5 p.m. It appears that (at least during the weekend) the Scotia Bank multiplex is reluctant to give up evening screen time and the festival doesn’t quite have its home Lightbox in full operation enough to pick up the slack.

I say ambivalent because I’m using the night time to write and work and the routine of watching and writing seems significantly more grueling than in the past.

There also appears to be fewer regulars attending this year and I don’t feel like I’m getting the tom tom messages about interesting films. It may simply be the physical move this year that’s yet to establish a new buzz central or it might just be me. Grrrrrr.

Confessions of a Film Festival Junkie

Friday, September 10th, 2010

There’s a sliver of confusion that permeates the air between Queen and King and East of University in Toronto. That’s the new hub of the Toronto International Film Festival – about four subway stops South of where it resided for three decades. Reasonably speaking it shouldn’t exist and one imagines the wafting of anxiety will dissipate in a day or two. It’s just tough for some to break old routines and one can imagine veterans organizing a ceremonial march from the Sutton Place to the ManuLife Centre to commemorate miles logged in pursuit of the hot new film.

I’ve been told by people who know this sort of thing that orange is the most disturbing hue in the color spectrum. They say that it’s a shade that the eye naturally travels to and if you rest there too long it will make you ill at ease. So, the festival isn’t doing itself a favor by selecting orange for the t-shirts its hundreds of volunteers sport. It’s particularly disconcerting this year with the temporary staffers going out into the streets to distribute flyers on fest events and the organization’s new home – The Bell Lightbox – that opens officially this weekend.

“Have you been inside?” asked local filmmaker (and opera director) Atom Egoyan who I ran into on the street. “It’s great,” he enthused.

I confessed that I wasn’t yet at his enthusiasm level. However, my Lightbox experience to date had largely consisted on trying to get from point A to point B without being thwarted by confused throngs.

Still I’m favorably disposed to the new venue and reminded that TIFF has evolved into the template for what a contemporary film festival can and should be doing. I’ve read too many pieces (including a clutch by this scribe) over the years about the evolution and relevance of film festivals.

Pondering on those questions today, I’ve become convinced that film festivals ought to be the engine for other pursuits during the 50 weeks between annual programs. Sundance (even though its festival followed several years after the Institute’s establishment) does this rather well with such things as an eco-friendly consumer catalogue and selling its brand to cinemas and the like to maintain workshops and outreach programs all over the world.

Toronto has also evolved along these lines. It runs arguably the best programmed cinematheque in North America, touring film programs and underwrites scholarly research and publications that otherwise would be marginalized. The Lightbox marketing employs the catch phrase: The House That Film Built and, considering past good works, it should be a home base that’s both state of the art and sturdy.

Meanwhile back at this year’s festival, the opening day program proved to be quite half hearted in large part the result of its un-serendipitous alignment with the Jewish New Year. The official curtain raiser Score: A Hockey Musical strived to be Glee on ice but it’s one of those unfortunate tuners that lacks a single memorable song. It also doesn’t help that its writer-director Michael McGowan decided to write the song lyrics. My most haunting memory of the picture is trying to remember what word he chose to rhyme with “saliva.”

Considerably more compelling was an unheralded Russian film titled The Edge that cannot be easily log lined. Set in Siberia after the Second World War, it truly conveys the physical and emotional devastation that lingered after the German surrender. It’s hard to explain how an abandoned train engine threads through the story and gives this complex tale cohesion … but it does.

Black Swan, like such diverse films of recent time as Brokeback Mountain, Redacted and Slumdog Millionaire, arrived in Toronto fresh from heated (mostly positive) response in Venice. One can carp at some of the metaphoric devices employed in the staging of a re-imagined Swan Lake, but the film’s very audacity is essential to what makes the it work. Ballet is cinema’s short hand for obsessive, often destructive, artistic behavior and the intensity filmmaker Darren Aronofsky exacts is both difficult to watch and brilliantly realized. If there’s a more original and potent vision this year, I haven’t seen it.

Confessions of a Film Festival Junkie

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Try as I may, I’ve yet to conquer the feeling of apprehension that floods through me as the countdown to the Toronto International Film Festival enters the single digit phase. It is a wholly irrational emotion but it nonetheless persists.

Essentially it has no basis in fact or experience or, if it does, the nature of the vulnerability occurred so long ago that its retrieval would – at minimum –  require psychiatric hypnosis. Oh, there are so many films to see and how can I ever hope to keep to a set schedule, I could trill. But that would be frippery. Barring a filmmaker burning the negative, erasing all digital elements, and immolating any existing prints, it’s pretty easy to catch up with a movie missed in the festival maelstrom – considerably more so today then when Toronto was in its naissance.

Still the festival has relocated and, I suppose, getting one’s bearings could be worrisome. I’ve yet to hear word one on the functionality of the Bell Lighthouse, the Fest’s new home.

My method of coping is simply to ignore anything relating to the event until I have no other choice but to confront matters head on. (I’ll address how that policy manifests itself very shortly). Of course, in modes both conventional and novel, one assimilates information about programs and personalities.

Just yesterday I was surprised to learn that Somewhere – the new film directed by Sofia Coppola – won’t be going to Toronto or New York. The producers decided that a screening in Venice (initial word is positive) would be sufficient for their publicity needs. That suggests they expect Europe to embrace the film more warmly …

Frankly, the prior graph almost put me to sleep. And there are people “out there” spending way too much time speculating on what will screen where; who will be promoting movies; and how much is being spent on parties. I salute all those who filter out such nonsense and inconsequence.

About the only pre-Toronto item that I found intriguing was the two-day (maybe three?) news cycle involving the fact that opening night 2010 coincided with the start of the Jewish New Year – one of the few days that secular Jews set foot in a synagogue. To the best of my knowledge this confluence is a first in the event’s history. From time to time Rosh Hashanah has overlapped with TIFF but never has it fallen on opening day (the first Thursday following Labor Day weekend for decades).

In fact, there was more commentary than news over this fact. Weren’t the Reitman’s and other Jewish benefactors upset by the situation, some speculated?  The juicy stuff appeared to be that Barney’s Version, based on the novel by Mordecai Richler and produced by Robert Lantos, would not be the opening night gala. Instead, Score: A Hockey Musical (Glee on Ice?) will wave the colors for Canada and Barney has moved to a Sunday Gala slot.

Now, a rationale sort might wonder what would be so terrible about advancing or delaying the Toronto festival by a couple of days. There’s nothing legally binding about its position on the calendar. However, if it had opened even a day earlier, the prospect of an even greater overlap with Venice and Telluride might have put the involvement of several films and personalities in jeopardy.

What’s lost in the shuffle of Toronto is that it has evolved as more than just 11 days of movies and glitz. But more on that mañana ….

TIFF 2010 Preview, Part One

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

The Toronto International Film Festival is looming ever closer, and as always, one of the greatest challenges faced by film journalists attending the fest is determining which films on the fest’s packed slate they’ll see. With roughly a week to cover the fest and only so many hours in the day to see (and write about!) films — not to mention those late-night parties and more basic needs like food, a few hours sleep, and the ever-present caffeine fix, there’s just no way to see everything you’d like to see.