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.


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