Wednesday, August 23, 2006

mozart, masters, mavericks and mike: countdown to TIFF 06

You can taste it.
To a diehard Festival fan, the end of August is not about cottages and camping and packing the last late hours of summer with as much nature and cocktails as humanly possible. (Though it's nice if you can fit it in!) The real stuff of the end of August is the lead-up to the film festival - those glory days when the press releases come thick and fast and the announced film lists get longer and longer. Ever since I realised that Inarittu's Babel might come to Toronto (and it will!), my markers have been at the ready. For those of us who colour code and list the announcements in complex layered systems, the top seeds are, by now, already in place. It's all about scheduling!

It certainly is his year. And it's not like the maestro was hard to find in other years. The celebration of Wolfy's 250th year since birth has been rung out far and wide with productions and recordings and yes, now film projects. One of the most interesting roster of movies announced for this year's festival is the group which participates in the Mozart's Visionary Cinema: New Crowned Hope series dreamed up by Peter Sellars in association with filmmaking financiers in Austria. In the great (and seemingly endless) tradition of commissioning filmmakers from around the world to explore common themes, the seven films in this series coming to Toronto are a response to the central thematic ideas in Mozart's work, identified by Sellars and others as "the role of women in society, magic and transformation, the notion of forgiveness and reconciliation, and recognition and remembrance of the dead." It could be argued that these themes are not limited to Mozart, but never mind. Some great stuff is headed our way. Some of it has already garnered attention, like Paz Encina's Hamaca Paraguaya which was buzzworthy at Cannes. Focussing on an elderly couple awaiting the return of their son from war (but not certain if he will come), it is Paraguay's first entry in the festival - ever. Some festival favorites, like Bhaman Ghobadi, whose A Time for Drunken Horses and Turtles Can Fly have been loved in recent years, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady, and Tsai Ming Liang (whose Wayward Cloud achieved nearly cult status at last year's festival) are returning with brand new projects that are responding to Mozart. Ghobadi will be screening Half Moon, a post-Saddam Hussein film about a man trying to present a woman singer in concert in Islamic-fundamentalist Iran. Weerasethakul's film Syndromes and a Century is a time-travelling fantasy exploration of the relationship between a man and a woman living 40 years apart. Liang's feature, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone explores the psyche of a man who has been attacked in Kuala Lumpur and subsequently becomes involved in the complexly dark world of immigrant workers. Move over Amadeus!

But if it's the pure Mozart you're after, watch out for Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of The Magic Flute complete with English language libretto (very hot and vogue in the classical music biz these days) penned by Stephen Fry of all people! Fantastic. The styling is avant-garde, but Branagh's rigorous intellectual authenticity in anything he engages should give it the depth it shouldn't be without!

And plenty of 'em. Every year, the feast of fine filmmakers coming to Toronto looks like an exotic buffet of cinematic amuses geules. Pick a country. Okay, UK. Ken Loach, Michael Apted, Ridley Scott, Keith Michell, Kenneth Branagh, Anthony Minghella. Pick a genre. Okay, Bollywood. Karan Johar, Kabir Khan, Chitra Palekar. Pick a vanguard avant-garde. Okay, French auteurs. Alain Resnais, Benoit Jacquot, Robert Guediguian, Patrice Leconte, Susanne Bier, Anne Fontaine. Pick a style. Okay, American hyper-realism. Bruce Weber, Todd Field, Spike Lee, Todd Haynes, Barbara Kopple. And so it goes. The Toronto International Film Festival is a challenge for even the masters to network efficiently, let alone sell their own films. Imagine the possible elevator encounters!

They come in all sizes. They come in the form of small independent filmmakers emerging from countries not known for their cinematic profile, like Paraguay. They are innovators in form, like the Wavelengths folks. If there was ever a year to take in Wavelengths (and every year is a year to take in Wavelengths), this is really the year to take in Wavelengths. Some extraordinary filmmakers, new and old, are participating in this under-appreciated showcase of experimental filmmaking. Where else could you find surreal animation, time-lapse photography and Abbas Kiarostami in one programme?

For the Industry folks, there is the programme actually labelled Mavericks, in which established industry professionals and newcomers alike share notes on common themes of filmmaking. This year, watch out for Michael Moore, who will preview some footage from his much anticipated doc on the American health care crisis, Sicko. It's a fitting way to finish my post: I remember attending a screening years ago, cramped into the tiny Cumberland 3, where a programmer explained that the movie we were about to watch had literally come in across the transom - so last minute that it wasn't in the programme book. The movie: Roger and Me.

The festival, despite its ever-expanding reorganizations and corporate entities and real estate ventures, prides itself on being a showcase for innovators of all kinds. Yet, there are those undoubtedly overlooked or missed. (I can think of a couple in particular.) Still, there's lots of room for discovery and in the end that's what it's about. 15 days, and counting.

I am thrilled to be linked to the blogs section of the official TIFF site (click on logo below). If you're new to my blog, navigate at left to see my posts on last year's TIFF. Also check out my other blog:

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