Wednesday, August 27, 2008

the final week countdown

T minus 8 and counting... ! While the lottery watch is on at the public festival and there is quiet and not-so-quiet criticism about screening limitations, I'd like to celebrate one of the truly great bureaucratic decisions of this festival in recent years - and that is providing us with the entire festival programme book online. This hefty manual which is as expensive as a gala screening ticket, but online for free, is an invaluable resource - since the full program write-ups are an essential part of planning. We all have our favourite programmers and that's where I always begin. I take the hit list gleaned from a summer of press releases and then check out my programmers and see how things line up.

Let's here it for the programmers. I notice their pictures are all online too this year, so we can put faces to those names we always circle at the bottom of the page, for better or worse. This works both ways, by the way. There are programmer names I circle and stay away from like the plague! Through years of experience, I have learned! Two in particular come to mind but I'm not into dissing them here. Some of the great bygone programmers I credit with having introduced me to some of my all time favourite films. Among these are the late David Overbey, who through this festival, introduced me to the work of Hou-Hsiao Hsien twenty years ago. I remember hearing a CBC radio interview with him and his rhapsodic descriptions of the great Asian filmmaker's works sent me directly to that screening. The movie? Dust in the Wind. I also remember the great Kay Armatage, whose feminist voice and penchant for high-style were an important presence in this festival. Frankly, she has yet to be replaced. Bring her back! Of those who are indeed here, I am a fan of Dimitri Eipides probably first and foremost, Andrea Picard, Jane Schoettle (who also runs Sprockets), and I am increasingly beholden to Giovanna Fulvi. Check them out on the Programmers page and find your own heros.

Press/industry market screenings begin next Thursday, early in the day, as usual. Here are the screenings competing for my attention on each day. Public folks take note, my scheduling is from the logged-in Industry site. These P/I screening times do not appear on the regular public festival pages. Asterisk means an unmoveable programmed element!

I have listed here only the first two days - as the post would get way too long! Watch out for reviews of some of these films on each day.

Thursday, September 4 (Industry schedule)
Snow, Begic
Dimitri Eipides says there are "unforgettable moments" - that's enough for me in a film about Bosnian women coping with loss.
*L'Heure d'Ete, Assayas
Though released earlier this year in France, Assayas rarely disappoints.
Laila's Birthday, Masharawi
I loved Masharawi's Ticket to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, I won't see this til the following week because of L'Heure D'Ete but I won't miss it.
*Two-Legged Horse, Makhmalbaf
This family of gifted Iranian filmmakers manages to give us one a year. A must-see. (pictured at top)
33 Scenes from Life, Szumowska
The Kieslowski influence is calling me to this one. (pictured above)

Friday, September 5 (Industry schedule)
Waltz with Bashir, Folman
Ever since Richard Linklater and Waking Life, I thrill to animation springing from captured video.
Faubourg 36, Barratier
A musical set in Paris - what more do you want?
Empty Nest, Burman
A movie about a playwright is too close to home to resist.
Comte de Noel, Desplechin
An award-winner at Cannes, and already much ballyhooed.
Heaven on Earth, Mehta
From the woman who brought us Water, one of the best films of recent years.
Appaloosa, Harris
Harris' previous movie about Jackson Pollack was confident and assured.
24 City, Zhang-ke
It features the wonderful Joan Chen.
4 Nights with Anna, Skolimowski
From the new wave of Polish cinema, a quiet movie about obssession.
Woman in Berlin, Farberbock
Though I was disappointed in his Aimee and Jaguar, the era and subject interest me for a project I'm working on.
Country Teacher, Slama
Being gay in a small Czech village can't be fun but I'm going with Dimitri on this one.
Hunger, McQueen
Irish hero Bobby Sands, and one of the most interesting British visual artists of our time, as subject and director respectively.
*Wavelengths 1, Dorsky/Straub
Much written on this already, below.

Stay tuned for more one-line tips and daily screening picks!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

super tuesday part II - vive juliette!

The day has borne out well. Though the final release of film titles is slimmer than expected, the programmes can now be examined in their robust final fit for how they are going to hang together. There is also good news about Juliette! - as L'Heure d'Ete has indeed been programmed into Contemporary World Cinema. Focussing on the lives of three siblings who meet up at their mother's birthday party, it stars Charles Berling and Jeremie Renier and a very blonde Juliette!

In this same program, Samira Makmahlbaf (see below) premieres Two-Legged Horse with the kind of ingeniously simple premise that is a hallmark of Makmahlbaf family films. In the Dialogues program, Terence Davies (also mentioned below) is presenting the rarely seen trilogy of his works Children, Madonna and Child, Death and Transfiguration about a young Catholic boy facing his sexuality. Dialogues is dedicated this year to the late David Overbey's programming vision. Masters has added a new film by Paul Schrader that looks extremely interesting, looking at mental illness among holocaust survivors in Israel. Also on an Israeli theme, in Reel to Real, I am drawn to Leon Geller and Marcus Vetter's The Heart of Jenin (pictured here), about the donation of organs to Israeli children from a deceased Palestinian child.

Speaking of the Coen Brothers (see below), this dynamic duo will give us Burn After Reading, a thriller about a CIA analyst whose memoirs go astray. In the Gala programming, I am partial to seeing Anne Fontaine's new feature, La Fille de Monaco, only because I once interviewed her and really enjoyed the conversation. The heat is on! and now's the time to use the press releases to winnow down your 50 most likely favourites, so that you are ready to most time efficiently read the full write-ups when they become available online next Tuesday the 26th. Happy planning!

super tuesday!

Well, it's here! Today is the Super Tuesday of the TIFF pre-festival programming announcements - the day when all the final lists of films go online. (Detailed descriptions and schedule follow on August 26). If you're like me, this is the last day to cling to hope for some so-far holdouts. As the unabashed Juliette Binoche fan (see many posts at right), I am a bit on tenterhooks to see if L'Heure d'Ete (Summer Hours) makes it into the final list. The film is scheduled for the New York Film Festival (along with many announced TIFF flicks). I am hopeful, and trying to put to rest the nagging sensation that it would have been announced by now. Filmmaker Olivier Assayas has already been named to participate in the Industry's Talent Lab, but without mention of bringing a film with him. Could be that New York scooped us on this one.

And speaking of the Industry events, yesterday TIFF Industry announced the participants in the Talent Lab for emerging filmmakers. This is a series of master classes with established directors. Besides Assayas, look for appearances by Terence Davies and Samira Makhmalbaf. Both of these are exciting to me. Davies' exquisitely (I am tempted to write 'tortured') autobiographical films are often based on painful episodes from his own life, wrapped up in beautiful moments of redemption. I think of the scene in Distant Voices, Still Lives when the family oppressed by a tyrannical father gathers to sing songs at a pub. Makmahlbaf I wrote a great deal about last year, when her sister Hana emerged on the scene with Buddha Collapsed out of Shame, one of the best films of TIFF 07. This breathtaking young Iranian woman debuted at 17 with The Apple, which made it all the way to Cannes. Both helmers are bringing new films to the festival: Of Time and the City and Two-Legged Horse, respectively. Two speakers well worth catching.

Stay tuned for later tonight or tomorrow for the upshot of the day's results. In the meantime, I want to take a moment to feature some of my highlights announced so far.

In the 1980s (yes, you read that right), I was an enormous fan of a great Canadian filmmaker named Lea Pool. Her movie Anne Trister had a profound impact on me and I awaited each new feature with excitement, never disappointed. Among my favourites was her 10 minute short, "Risponditemi" in the 90s compilation Montreal Sextet, which chronicled a woman's life in flashbacks during the ride from an accident scene to the hospital. However, apart from the occasional mainstream flick (like Lost and Delirious), Pool has more or less disappeared. It's therefore thrilling for me to see that she has a brand new film in this year's TIFF: Maman est chez le coiffeur. I have no idea whether it will focus on the narrative elements more common to her recent pics, or mark a return to the fluid lyrical style of her earlier films, but I cannot wait.

Some Cannes Festival favorites and award winners are headed our way, including Comte de Noel (Desplechin), Entre les Murs (Laurence Cantet), and the newest Dardennes brothers film, Silence de Lorna (pictured). The Dardennes are kind of the Coen brothers of France, though their grittiness is more in the nature of the human capacity for suffering, than narrative environment. What is it about filmmaking sibs? The industry is populated with some giants, including these mentioned, the Wachowskis and oh yeah, that famous founding family of bros, named Marx. Much has been written about the Cannes films, so I won't do more on them here til I see them.

Steven Soderbergh's much anticipated Che or Guerilla will debut at the festival in two long parts. A massively ambitious work, it features Benicio del Toro and a lot of the geography of South America. This man who is often credited with having re-launched the independent film movement with Sex, Lies and Videotape is always interesting.

Among the Real to Reel entries, I'm looking forward to Unmistaken Child, an Israeli film by Nati Baratz about the search for the reincarnated master Lama Konchog (pictured at top). Also enticing are new entries from Mike Leigh, and Charlie Kaufman, whose Synecdoche, New York brings together some of my favourite actors in the world.

Hands up if you're already tired of hearing about Bell Lightbox? Ai yi yi! The same paragraph is at the end of every press release. I'm all for this new venture, but it's hard to get excited about a hole in the ground. The Lightbox could easily be another condo tower going into the same area. Why not wait til there's more of substance to actually tell us? But whose kvetching...

Hang in there. More later, as the results come in..... !

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Public vs. Industry festival - hard to call!

There are times when I have to admit I am grateful I made the move to the Industry festival about six years ago. I remember wishing I had done it much sooner. The Industry festival is the only way for true film lovers to now attend TIFF without major ticketing headaches and long lines. Don't get me wrong - there are still ticketing headaches and long lines for us too! but it's the "major" that drops out of the sentence. Now that I am linked to the TIFF site I have been checking out my blogging buddies from years gone by (people I've never met and don't know but whose blogs I check every year). Of these, I have to say Tifftalk and Crunchy Squirrel are among my favourites, because you can tell how deeply they love film, love the festival and how seriously they look at the experience as a whole. Tifftalk is great for people who are new to the festival and need to get their bearings. Crunchy has very nice short, pithy film reviews. (Don't you love the word pithy?)

Crunchy has helped me to realise two of the most startling TIFF changes this year for average film fans - the restriction of the Elgin from pass ticketing, and the priority access of donors to ticketing. They are politely upset about it, I would be real mad if I were them and if I relied on the public festival. The Festival is starting to mirror more and more the capitalist societies their films criticize, in which those with the most (but not necessarily the most knowledge and passion for film) squeeze out those with the least.

When I taught film (for 9 years at the International Academy of Design), I was always amazed by how many of my students did not attend the festival out of sheer finances. It is crazy - as this is not only the talent pool of tomorrow but the most passionate audience of today. Something must be done to help facilitate access to the festival for those who are its true backbone and mainstay and for those less advantaged all around.

In the meantime (and I hate to do this to you regular festival folks), here's the inside scoop on how the Industry festival works. If you've already been an Industry attendee once, they send you a link in May (yes, that was May) to renew your pass from last year. You click on the link, which takes you to an already filled out form. You make sure everything's still the same, enter your VISA and presto, you're done. From this, the next step is arriving at the Sutton Place on September 2 or 3 (this year) and picking up your fully prepared package. In the pass I have, this also includes accessing some public screening tickets (2 per day). A special, separate box office for these tickets is on the second floor of the Sutton. We line up in a single file line that, when it's audacious, may get up to a 'horrifying' ten or twelve people, but it is in the nice surroundings of that hotel, often with a Starbucks mini-station nearby. We have our own computer room and access to press information (technically for the press among us but it's open to anyone with an Industry pass).

Of course, there are down sides to the Industry festival, despite these clear perks. Everyone is generally extremely tired (Toronto is the third of three festivals the press attends in a row - and let's face it, as cities go, Toronto is nice but it ain't Venice). The conversations in the line-ups are more apt to be about the failings of a film, instead of the passionate dialogues of endorsement you get outside the public venues. We're in the same 8 cinemas for two weeks and start to get Varsity vertigo, and we miss all the Q and A's with directors and actors. That's why I feel lucky with my setup. I attend primarily Industry screenings, but also get the public buzz. Public audiences are the greatest difference from Industry - they are enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Industry audiences are stressed. Still, there's nothing that quite beats that moment in an Industry screening that's going well, when a great line or funny moment has just happened on screen, and instantly 100 penlights click on, notebooks flip open and hands are going. In the end, we're all in it together!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

let the games begin!

You don't have to be an athlete to compete in that Olympic-sized sport - the countdown to TIFF! Now that the summer rains have drowned Southern Ontario out of any remaining hope of pure hot summer, it's time to start thinking of the fall and the banquet of moviegoing bliss that awaits. With much of the major programming already announced (and with much more to come in the next two weeks), TIFF 08 is already looking good. Here are some highlights.

Wavelengths, Sprockets Family Zone and Midnight Madness are always the first programmes to be announced in July. Wavelengths is the experimental programme of the film festival and always one of my favourites.

The quality of the film festival is all about its programmers - and someone who deserves great kudos for her work is Andrea Picard, the programmer for Wavelengths. She has an incredibly creative programming style, combining films of various genres and media in a way that speaks to their common underlying themes. She is also one of the best programme book writers. (Though the whole programme book will be available online by later this month, the write-ups are already available for Wavelengths and Midnight Madness.) This year Andrea has once again beautifully combined works from masters and newcomers alike. Of these, my high-starred pick is the Wavelengths 2 programme, already scheduled for Saturday September 6 at 6:30 at the AGO. Love in all its textures is the theme here, with films from David Gatten (How to Conduct a Love Affair), Hannes Schupbach (whose L'Atelier meditates on the rooftops of Paris - pictured at bottom), Charlotte Pryce (whose Parable of the Tulip Painter and the Fly - pictured at top - is described by Picard as having the "intoxicating colour and the velvety texture of a Dutch still life"), Astrid Ofner (who works with the love letters of Franz Kafka in Tell Me on Tuesday), Abraham Ravett (who meditates on embroidered tablecloths and napkins to convey themes of grief and loss in TZIPORAH - middle picture) and John Latham (represented by a posthumous restored print of enfant terrible). Exciting? You bet!