Tuesday, August 30, 2005

poignant poetic provocative

On Sunday, hana ran crazy in a field, disappeared into the gully creek of our friends' backyard and emerged half-black with mud. We chased her with a hose (she loves water but hates that long green thing that the water comes out of). Later she slept on her back with all four paws hanging in the air. When she dreamed, it looked like she was running upside down.
Soon I will be too.

9 days til the film festival and today is festival program book day - when all of the movie descriptions and scheduling for the public festival go on-line. Its the day when that film you have been looking forward to for weeks is finally described in greater detail and you experience that pure nirvana rush of anticipation, or the crushing numb silence of disappointment (yes, it is this intense). Toronto festival programmers spend the year combing the worlds best film festivals and screening rooms to find what they think are the hidden jewels. They then write the detailed profiles that appear online and in the program book.

Because they chose the film, they are often rhapsodically poetic. The discerning reader learns how to spot key phrases like "hypnotically paced" [bring a pillow], "emotionally challenging,..." [plan therapy afterward], "flying in the face of film conventions.." [impossible to follow], or "not for the faint of heart..." [don't go if you still haven't recovered from Pulp Fiction].

15 years of festivaling causes regulars to become attached to certain programmers who seem to share their aesthetic sensibilities and story style. When programmer Kay Armatage moved on to another life a couple of years ago, people openly wept. I was one of them. (Who else could be counted on to program the feminist voice of contemporary cinema, or at the very least a full Nell Shipman retrospective?)

Equally, programmers can cause movies to be written off immediately. It is the first place I look, after reading the name of the film's director. I have colour coding strictly for drawing my attention to a much dreaded programmer (who shall remain nameless) who seems committed to sentimental drivel from far-flung places. I look up all her movies and red-X them in the top right hand corner.

My favourite programmer by far is Dimitri Eipides, who has demonstrated a remarkably clear and consistent eye for new talent, particularly from the middle east, north africa and eastern europe. His choices are usually poignant, poetic and provocative. The shifting of program structure in the last two years has allowed a much-needed streamlining of cliched and now (it's a good thing!) outdated definitions of community voice. I for one am glad that the entire continent of Africa is no longer represented in one program, but finds its stories integrated throughout the festival's fare.

Some programs have cult followings. Midnight madness attracts the after hours crowd and those who seem to have a deep appetite and tolerance for senseless killing and the grotesque. I am bewildered by it and often don't get past the titles. Midnight madness program notes include sentences like this one: "An alien dominatrix clad in leather turns a sci-fi geek's wet dream into a painful reality. Human body parts fly through the air when the aliens' supply of cattle runs out." Wow. My body is aflutter with anticipation. Not!

When I was at film school in Los Angeles, a famous guest once said "to create any world that is a place in which you would not be able to live for two hours is an anhilistic act" and that has stayed with me. The responsible depiction of violence is a necessary and desirable aspect of culture so that we may always know ourselves. Violence in movies can and should be challenging but it should never be indiscriminate or senseless. Anhilistic acts of personal expression seem to me the height of indulgence. Still, I respect the right of those who get into this to have their program. (Only because I assume there is a value which I simply don't see.)

The markers are out, the pages are flagged, the schedule is coded. The days ahead will be marked by endless cups of sugar-free vanilla lattes, sipped in the cool darkness of a cinema paradiso.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

movie manna

Day 2. hana is dreaming of the Toronto film festival.
No, hana is likely dreaming of early morning rabbit hunting, her paws wet with sticky dew. I am dreaming of the Toronto film festival.

I started this blog in part because I used to cover the festival for a now defunct movie magazine site and I just miss it too much. So I plan to do it here. The film festival is like a high holiday to me. I start with the website press releases in July, colour coding and keeping lists. Cross-checked with Cannes, Sundance, Berlin and everything inbetween. If you're into this kind of thing, right now you're watching Venice. Venice just precedes Toronto and some of the films get a buzz there just before they come here. What you don't watch, is Montreal. New York is just behind us but they don't care.

It's a banner year. These come along every three to five, or so. A year when almost every significant working filmmaker has something to show. This year is downright delicious for me. The next instalment of the posthumous Krzysztof Kieslowski trilogy of screenplays, completed by his co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Hell, will premiere. The first one, Heaven, released in 2002 and directed by Tom Tykwer, was a beautiful homage to the polish filmmaker while retaining Tykwer's fluid camera visual style. Hell, directed by Danis Tanovic (creator of No Man's Land) promises a very separate but equally powerful experience. In both cases, the ideal directors have been chosen for Kieslowski's vision.

I consider it a good year when there's a Juliette Binoche movie premiering (even the snack-pak Jet Lag was unexpectedly pleasing). I remember exactly which screening room I was in at the festival in 92 when I first saw Three Colours: Blue. It's not possible for me to adequately describe the impact on my soul of the luminously beautiful face and deeply spiritual screen presence of Binoche. It is to me, what the face of Garbo was to Roland Barthes, or what the colour blue created by Giotto became to artists after him, and perhaps more. This is my cinema Beatrice, a figure I will follow like Dante, into any sphere with absolute trust. I know how pretentious all that sounds but don't give a shit.

So to follow her into a Michael Haneke film (Cache), an Abel Ferrera film about an actress playing Mary Magdalene (Mary) and an American film about an unravelling family (Bee Season) all in one year is heavenly manna indeed. The latter movie also features the debut of Max Minghella, son of filmmaker Anthony Minghella who directed Binoche in The English Patient.
The festival starts in 12 days. As I countdown, I will reflect on some great other anticipated bliss in movie dreamland.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

dusa manna istina

These were the words I considered first as blog names until looking over at my sleeping dog hana, the real name came. This picture is of hana as a puppy, she is much bigger now but still sleeps the same way.

Dusa and istina are Russian words having to do with spirit and the soul. Dusa is described by one book I read as "an internal theater where a person's moral and emotional life is staged". Istina has to do with spiritual values. Two Russian words for someone who is not Russian, though who knows. My father's origins are only traceable a generation or two.

I have been drawn to things Russian all my life. I wrote a play about the Russian writer Turgenev. I am writing a novel set in St. Petersburg. I have said that I have a Russian soul, a Russian dream. I have a dream of rushing through long open snowy countryside in a troika, bells ringing. Hana likely dreams of snow. She was born in winter and spends the many months of our snow-bound year here in the countryside where we live leaping in ecstasy between white hills.
Manna, the bread of life. Belonging also to the spirit world, possession of all cultures, all religions. Basic manna, basic food, food for thought.
Welcome to my blog.
Day 1. And hana is still napping. Though now her feet are still, her body resting.