Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Full film schedule online!

Today marks the beginning of the best part of the pre-fest, the planning! With the full public schedule now online, and full descriptions too, there is everything needed to begin to shape the days ahead. For me, the wait is longer: the Industry schedule won't occur til later in the week. Today is the day that the program guide becomes available too at the public festival box office, and when ticket ballots can be handed in.

I am working on linking all of the programs and films at right - but it may take a while! In the meantime, here is my own personal film list: the movies I intend and/or hope to see. Although obviously I won't get to all of these! I have asterisked my ten top seeds.

*4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (Mungiu - Visions)
L'Age des Ténèbres (Arcand - Gala)
Alexandra (Sokhurov - Masters)
Atonement (Wright - SP)
Les Amours d'Astrée et de Céladon (Rohmer - Masters)
Blind (Van den Dop - Discovery)
Breakfast with Scot (Lynd - CWC)
Brick Lane (Gavron - CWC)
Bucking Broadway (Ford - Dialogues)
*Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (Makhmalbaf - Visions)
Callas Assoluta (Kholy - RTR)
Captain Mike Across America (Moore - SP)
Cassandra's Dream (Allen - Gala)
Le Cèdre Penché (Ouellet - CF)
Chronique d'un Été (Brault - Canadian Retrospective)
*Chacun son Cinéma (Various - SP)
Children of the Sun (Tal - RTR)
Closely Watched Trains (Menzel - Dialogues)
Closing the Ring (Attenborough - Gala)
Dans la Vie (Faucon - CWC)
Dans la ville de Sylvia (Guerin - Visions)
*Désengagement (Gitai - Masters)
Duchess of Langeais (Rivette - Masters)
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Kapur - Gala)
*Emotional Arithmetic (Borzman - Closing Night)
Encounters at the end of the World (Herzog - RTR)
Entre la mer et l'eau douce (Brault - Canadian Retrospective)
Fugitive Pieces (Podeswa - Gala/Opening Night)
Fados (Saura - Masters)
La Fille Coupée en Deux (Chabrol - Masters)
Geneviève (Brault - Canadian Retrospective)
*Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (Hicks - RTR)
La Grande Illusion (Renoir - FIAF special presentation)
I'm Not There (Haynes - SP)
In Bloom (Perelman - SP)
In the Valley of Elah (Haggis - SP)
*It's a Free World (Loach - Masters)
*Just Like Home (Scherfig - CWC)
Juno (Reitman - SP)
The Last Lear (Ghosh - Gala)
Lust, Caution (Lee - SP)
Man From London (Tarr - Masters)
Man from Plains (Demme - SP)
Mid Road Gang (Thongsang/Vithuranit - SFZ)
Mira Nair Presents: Four views on AIDS in India (Mavericks)
My Winnipeg (Maddin - SP)
Night (Johnston - Visions)
Nightwatching (Greenaway - SP)
Nothing Is Private (Ball - SP)
Les Noces de Papiers (Brault - Canadian Retrospective)
*Oh What a Lovely War! (Attenborough - Dialogues)
*Persepolis (Satrapi - SP)
Pour la suite du monde (Brault - Canadian Retrospective)
Princess of Nebraska (Wang - Masters)
Rendition (Hood - Gala)
Rails and Ties (Eastwood - SP)
La Scaphandre et le Papillon (Schnabel - SP)
Secret Sunshine (Chang-dong - CWC)
*Silent Light (Raygadas - Visions)
Smile (short) (Kwan - SCC)
Silk (Girard - SP)
Savages (Jenkins - SP)
Sleuth (Branagh - Gala)
Sukiyaki Western Django (Miike - MM)
The Secrets (Nesher - CWC)
Then She Found Me (Hunt - SP)
Tracey Fragments (MacDonald - Visions)
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (Wang - Masters)
Virgin Spring (Bergman - Dialogues)
*Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge (Hsien - Masters)
Wavelengths 1 - 5 (see right)
The Walker (Schrader - Gala)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

full film list announced

After a day delay to honour the death of Canadian Opera Company director Richard Bradshaw, TIFF announced its full 07 line-up Wednesday, including programmes that have not been previously announced, and innovative cross-over industry public festival events and forums. The list features expected crossover festival entries like Kenneth Branagh's film adaptation of the Broadway play Sleuth, starring Jude Law and Michael Caine (which premieres in Venice) and a good dash of the unexpected, like Wayne Wang's two features on contemporary life for Chinese immigrants in America, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and The Princess of Nebraska.

Doc Talks has gone public. For all fans of that form, this will be a great opportunity to listen to the masters talk about development, production and financing. A normally industry only event, the decision to open it up responds to a clear initiative in the festival to bring the public and industry aspects of the event closer together. A wide range of guests will look to subjects like, covering war, adapting biographies and how to tackle large 'theme projects' like the BBC's Why Democracy series. For Canadians, there is a rare and wonderful opportunity to hear Michel Brault and Denys Arcand talk about Quebec cinema and the distinctive needs of docs and fiction films. Arcand's L'Age des Ténèbres will screen in this year's TIFF as well.

Mavericks is back, and taking a cue from Michael Moore's hit appearance last year, the events are going to tackle socio-political issues like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and HIV/AIDS by showcasing people who are working hard to make progress in those areas. Former President Jimmy Carter, himself the subject of a documentary called The Man From Plains, will join his wife Roslynn at Mavericks to speak about his Carter Center which aims to assist efforts at peace in the Middle East. The director of the doc is veteran Hollywood filmmaker Jonathan Demme, crossing over into the documentary realm. Not often you get to see a former President (or any President) talk about world peace instead of world war! Indian filmmaker Mira Nair will present and talk about four short films that look at differing perspectives and experiences of HIV/AIDS in India.

And speaking of Michael Moore, TIFF's favourite maverick is back with his movie Captain Mike Across America, which chronicles his attempts to help swing the US national election of 2004. If there was ever a resume that was developed by the Toronto Film Festival it is this one. Moore has debuted every single movie he's made at TIFF and holds huge regard for Canada in general. I remember eavesdropping on a conversation he was having once on the Park Plaza roof with a (friendly) man who wanted to convey an important opinion to Moore. Mike listened closely for much longer than many would, then thanked the man quietly for what he had said and excused himself to move on. It was classy in a quiet way, the side of the filmmaker that gets less exposure to the public but is probably closer to the truth of who he is.

Enough! Let's talk about movies! The Dialogues program, previously completely unannounced, shows great promise. Peter Bogdanovich is presenting restored versions of two films: Jean Renoir's classic La Grande Illusion and a long lost John Ford silent film Bucking Broadway. Ellen Burstyn will present the 1970s landmark film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore? which not only sparked a successful tv series but captured the early days of the feminist movement as it impacted on the average life of the average woman. Most exciting for me, Richard Attenborough, a filmmaker I am not normally drawn to, is presenting his own debut feature from the 60s, Oh What a Lovely War! This intensely satirical and fun musical about the British World War I experience features an incredible cast of British actors. (Picture at top of page.) Those who think of Maggie Smith only in terms of Harry Potter, should check out her showstopping number as a stripper seducing men into signing up. Like the films of Michel Brault, this film too was screened on my living room wall when I was a child and my father was preparing his film classes. For those interested, my essay about those evenings appears in today's Globe and Mail national edition.
Happy planning!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

now it gets exciting...

Not that it wasn't already. But now the fun begins. On Wednesday, TIFF announced 73 new titles, and with it the substantial portion of the programming, including the lion's share of Special Presentations, Masters, Visions and Vanguard. Another Juliette Binoche film is in the mix: Amos' Gitai's Désengagement, a film about a woman searching in Israel for the daughter she lost at birth. In our one degree of separation game, Gitai (pictured above) is also one of the filmmakers participating in Chacun Son Cinema, a celebration of the Cannes Film Festival by 35 directors whose lives have been changed by the French event, including Canadian Atom Egoyan.

There are so many ways to go one step forward from this film!
Among the 35, is the already mentioned Hou Hsaio-hsien, whose Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge is discussed below. Another director, Youssef Chahine, has his own festival entry, Chaos, about the tyrrany of a single policeman in a Cairo neighbourhood. Contributors the Coen Brothers, are bringing No Country for Old Men to the Special Presentations programme. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who has debuted almost all of his feature films at TIFF, and who wowed festival audiences last year with Babel, is another one of the 35 Cannes artists, though he has no other film in the festival. Still, he is worth mentioning because of his skill with the short format. His entry in the September 11 shorts project, 09'11"01, was arguably the best, alongside Samira Makhmalbaf's (see last post). I have been teaching ever since, his use of black screen and expressive sound in that memorable piece.

Another festival favourite, Ken Loach, winner of last year's Palme D'Or for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, will be bringing his latest film, It's A Free World to this year's TIFF.

And speaking of Palme D'Or's, the top prize at Cannes this past May was for Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, which critics have been quick to name one of the finest films of the year. The Romanian filmmaker's movie is about the oppression of Communism in that country and about a woman seeking an illegal abortion in a bleak political and social reality.

The social realism of Iran in the 70s is the setting for Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, an adaption of her own award-winning graphic novel about growing up in the Iranian revolution. Other women filmmakers to watch out for include Lone Scherfig (pictured below), whose previous films, Italian for Beginners and Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself both debuted at TIFF and who returns this year with her latest film, Just Like Home. Her movies always have a slightly black comedic element. In this film, a streaker runs through the streets of a small Danish village, sparking depression among its residents. The ever sensational Catherine Breillat, whose deep preoccupation with the sexual and sensual nature of humanity is expressed in previous films like Romance and À Ma Soeur brings to this year's festival, Une Vieille Maîtresse about a bridegroom's secret passionate life among the French aristocracy and featuring Italian sensation Asia Argento in we-can-guess which role.

With about two-thirds of the programming now announced, the final ranks will be filled out on Tuesday, when the full and final film list will be presented in a press conference and announced on-line. Final list? I remember the days when movies came in over the transom at such a last minute that they didn't make the programme book. One such case was a documentary on a small auto town in Michigan made by a newcomer. That debut screening was held in the tiny Cumberland 4, and I still remember an excited but slightly bewildered filmmaker lumbering to the front to gratefully talk about his work. It would be the last time his movies could screen in such a small venue. Why? The filmmaker was Michael Moore. And the movie, Roger and Me.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

makhmalbaf moxy

I think Iranian women are like freshwater springs: the more pressure applied, the more force they show once they are freed. Samira Makhmalbaf

When you've been around the film festival for as many years as I have (this is my 17th festival), you begin to experience a kind of strange but exciting deja-vu of discovery. I remember when Samira Makhmalbaf, the elder daughter of Iranian master filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf arrived at TIFF with her debut film The Apple. She had been 17, when she shot it, 18 when it was brought to Cannes. The documentary-drama chronicled the attempts of some village people to pressure an average Iranian man to let his two daughters out of forced captivity in their home. The girls, who were 11, had never been outside - at all - because of the man's religious fear that they might shame themselves and/or him. Through Samira's film (and with the help of Iranian social workers), their cocoon is finally burst. The closing image I remember vividly: the girls laughing and eating apples outside the house.

No two young women could be more different from the housebound girls of The Apple than sisters Samira and Hana Makhmalbaf, despite a shared country and society, proving just how providential birthright is. As children, the young filmmakers played on the sets of their father's films and hung around his film school. Their step-mother, Marzieh Mezkini, who once was a student of their father's, made films on which they worked. The combined talent here cannot be calculated. But the real story is the emergence of a female family aesthetic. These bright, amazing women are capturing, with incredibly moving sensitivity, the private, untold stories of very real Iranian women.

Enter Hana Makhmalbaf. The newest comer of the family is now 17 herself, the age her big sister was when her first feature debuted. TIFF announced this week Hana Makhmalbaf's film Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame as headlining a list of new Visions programming. But this is actually Hana's second feature. Her first film was a documentary on the making of her sister's movie, At Five In the Afternoon, which premiered at TIFF '05. In the newly liberated Afghanistan, women faced new opportunities, and also very old minds and hearts. The documentary looked at the consequences of even making a film about the post-Taliban era. Heady stuff for a 14 year old, as she then was. Prior to that, she shot the stills for Marzieh Mezkini's The Day I Became A Woman, which observed the last day of free play in the life of a little girl, before she becomes housebound herself on her 9th birthday. (Islam marks nine as the age of maturity for girls.) She also worked as second unit director for Meshkini's brilliantly observed Stray Dogs (also TIFF'05).

On the virtue of sheer pedigree, this latest Makhmalbaf screening will be a top seed for me. I am so used to thinking of Samira as the young upstart. Her impressive debut was followed by the by-far-best short in the 11'09"01 collection which appeared at TIFF'02. In her nine limited minutes, Samira followed a young woman Afghan teacher as she attempted to explain to her small charges the collapse of the World Trade center. The children understood terrorism; they understood bomb. What they didn't get was 'tower'. The teacher took them round their small village, pointing to monuments and asking the children to imagine something hundreds of times higher. They are never able to.

Imagination. Integrity. Inspiration. The strength and vision of this family of women filmmakers stands out on the skyline of Iranian cinema like a beacon for the generations of women who are coming of age in the middle east. Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame promises to live up to expectation. This drama follows a six year old girl and her family who live in the wreckage of a Buddha destroyed by the Taliban. The world around the girl is inhabited by boys who imitate the violence they have seen.

If you have missed the work of Samira and Hana Makhmalbaf and Marzieh Meshkini, start now. Ten years from now, no doubt, you will be the 'old timer' watching the debut of yet another clanswoman, and remembering nostalgically when you caught Hana Makhmalbaf's North American debut at TIFF'07. Hana dreaming indeed!
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Thursday, August 02, 2007

one degree of separation

I am pleased to be linked to the blogs section of the official TIFF site. If you're new to my blog, navigate at right to see my posts on previous year TIFFs as well.

I have been wanting to do this for a while. I have been wanting to see how many films announced so far at TIFF I could thread together on a one-degree of separation connection. The trick is where to start?

Real to Reel was announced this week. Alongside these films, TIFF did a big media release on Tuesday identifying four programmes now fully slated (they are Canadian Retrospective, Sprockets Family Zone, Wavelengths and Midnight Madness). What they neglected to add is that the scheduling for these programmes is also on view. For some of these, that is nothing new. If, like me, you are a Wavelengths fan (more later), you know that the experimental film screenings always appear early in the media waves and always are screened in the popular first weekend. The venue this year seems to have moved from the arty but cramped Al Green Theatre at the Miles Nadal Community Centre to the Varsity 7. Though they do not say so, I imagine that this is to accommodate the Industry folks interested in those screenings and operating on tight schedules. Too bad. The Wavelengths vibe is a beat of its own and the alternate venue was a great thing. The festival always combines the Wavelengths public and industry screenings and all industry showings are at the Varsity. For those of us who enjoyed getting out for the walk along Bloor Street, this move is sort of sad news, though the Wavelengths programme itself is better than ever! (Stay tuned for a later post profile.)

Sad news? How can I speak of sad news in a week that holds the deaths of both Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni. That is cinematically akin to when Princess Diana and Mother Teresa died in those same memorable days in August ten years ago. Both filmmakers are giants, but Bergman's legacy cannot possibly be imagined: he was for a generation of directors an icon of how to find personal expression without losing depth or cultural value. My first memory on hearing the news was entirely personal. On the orientation day at the American Film Institute where I went to school in Los Angeles in 1983, I discreetly hid my feelings of intimidation from my already networking colleagues and hung out by the refreshment table. There, a lovely bearded older man struck up a conversation with me. He turned out to be Sven Nykvist, Bergman's legendary cinematographer and the school's guest speaker for the day. I wonder how those who helped to make the vision of a genius, respond to a death like this. Nykvist is also gone: he died last year. Cries and Whispers and Fanny Alexander not only had an impact on my impressionable young artist soul, they helped to form it. Sad news indeed.

To get on with the one-degree chain, let's start there with Bergman. One of the most moving testimonials on Bergman this week came from Woody Allen, who said, ""He was a friend and certainly the finest film director of my lifetime." Allen's latest film Cassandra's Dream was announced today as a new Gala. Featuring Ewan MacGregor and Colin Farrell, it is the latest in a series of Allen's movies to be shot entirely in England. It has a darker narrative than usual, but features a score by Philip Glass. Philip Glass is the subject of the newly announced Real to Reel documentary Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts by Australia's Scott Hicks (of Shine fame). The title says it all, reflecting Glass' own signature composition style and causing me to wonder if this will be like a slimmer version of 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould.

And speaking of that film, Francois Girard, its director, has a new film in this year's festival, Silk, which chronicles a 19th century silk merchant voyaging in Japan. The film features Keira Knightley, who is certainly hot this year. She appears also in British director Joe Wright's Atonement, which, like many films, is being screened at Venice before arriving in Toronto.
And now that we're on to Venice (I couldn't resist this pic which has nothing to do with the film festival!), a quick look at the slate for that event (which immediately precedes Toronto so closely that journalists can't even go home and do their laundry), shows already some overlap with TIFF and some titles we might hope to get. Besides Atonement, Venice is premiering TIFF entries In the Valley of Elah (Paul Haggis), Nightwatching (Peter Greenaway), Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik). Let's hope that Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited and Youssef Chahine's Heya fawda (le Chaos) also cross the Atlantic. These are just the films in competition! Out of competition there is Woody Allen's film mentioned above, and another Wes Anderson film, this time a short, Hotel Chevalier. Venice is also showing out of competition two restored and rarely screened Bertolucci films, La Via del Petrolio and Strategio del ragno. Which causes me to say to that organization one-degree removed from TIFF, "Take note, Cinematheque!" Happy planning!