Wednesday, July 29, 2009


In the fortnight (there's a word that needs to come back into common useage) since my last post, there have finally been some solid programming announcements. TIFF has now released a substantial list of films being presented in the Wavelengths, Midnight Madness, Vanguard, and Discovery programmes as well as the lion's share of Special Presentations and Galas. Wavelengths and Midnight Madness represent two (closer than you'd think) ends of the TIFF spectrum: from the art house to the horror house. Both have a finite number of possibilities, like the Dialogues category (in which filmmakers show movies that have influenced them and talk about why - not yet announced for this year) so it makes sense that they are announced first.

Readers of this blog in past years will know that I am a huge fan of the Wavelengths series, which presents gifted artists in the experimental and avant-garde scenes to an international audience. It is such an important venue in this way, one of the true 'maverick' programmes left in the festival unaffected by market and distribution politics. (It actually seems as if every time TIFF becomes aware of this lapse or gap in their programming, they add a new area to get it back. Vanguard, Discovery and even in its day Midnight Madness were/are all meant to be the cutting edge of the festival. But often these films have now come from somewhere else first, whether Cannes, Berlin or even Sundance. The premium on true world premieres is becoming compromised as years go by but that's for another post!) This year, the "City to City" programme is the new nuanced, 'vanguard' film viewing genre.

I always try to get to all of the Wavelengths screenings. As a sample I offer Wavelengths 1, the opening night programme, featuring T. Marie's 010101 (pictured above), described by the most articulate programmer in the festival, Andrea Picard, as "an incredibly meticulous digital painting, offering one minute, one second and one frame of shimmering and breathtaking beauty through its diaphanous and forever-changing palette." It is programmed with a cornucopia of films looking at artistic manipulation of form, from Heinz Emigholz' Two Projects by Friedrich Kiesler (the Viennese architect), to Klaus Lutz' Titan, which reflects on the filmmaker as voyager, to Ernie Gehr's Waterfront Follies, which observes Brooklyn Harbour as it is "interrupted by the flow of human interaction." Be sure to check out this always exciting programme, usually screening only in the first weekend.

What else surfaces? Well more of those Cannes hopefuls have dropped in. Ounie Lecomte's A Brand New Life (see post below) has now been slated and Susanne Schneider's The Day Will Come (pictured), the story of a woman facing the daughter she gave up thirty years ago to do terrorist underground work in Germany. Though I did not mention Schneider's film in my Cannes post, it did originate there.

The documentaries, split up among Real to Reel and the other programmes, also offer the usual possible riches. Michael Moore will weigh in with Capitalism, a voyage into American financial markets. There is no end to the brave bullying of this true maverick, whom I will never forget strolling down the aisle at his very first TIFF appearance twenty years ago. Don Argott's The Art of the Steal looks at what happened to the Barnes collection of impressionist art once the collector himself died.

I'm not the gal to guide anyone through Midnight Madness, but Rick Jacobsen's Bitch Slap (pictured) has caught my eye, since I loved the work of this helmer in the vintage Xena television series and the movie looks to be a campy take on the sexploitation classics. Jennifer's Body will be the undoubted draw in this category, as Juno sensation Diablo Cody returns with a script directed by Karyn Kusama and featuring the ubiquitous Megan Fox. Whether I will actually get to either of these - we will see.

From this end of feminism to a perhaps more socially observant one, if I could pick two films from the recent releases that most excite me, they would be Shirin Neshat's Women Without Men, which looks at the lives of four Iranian women during the summer of 1953, and An Education (pictured at top), the always wonderful Lone Scherfig's take on suburban teenaged life in 1960s London.

Still... despite these riches, there is much more programming to come. Up next will likely be the Canada First list (my prediction!). It is already being announced much later than usual, perhaps because a non-Canadian film is opening the Festival for the first time in quite some time. Stay tuned.

PS: It is now a day later, and I see from the TIFF home page that the Canadian programming is indeed slated for August 4th.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

slow TIFF summer

Wow! Is it ever a slow-TIFF PR summer! I don't think I can recall this little in the way of programming information, so close to the festival itself. After nothing since June 23, on Tuesday the Festival released the bulk of Galas and a handful of Special Presentations. Only 47 films have been announced to date, including opening night film, Jon Amiel's Creation. What is going on? By now we should know much more, even considering the "week late" factor (the festival feeling like it's starting a week later than usual).

However, from my earlier Cannes review, it is good to see Jane Campion's Bright Star enter the field. Of the remainder, the most intriguing for me is Rachid Bouchareb's London River, featuring the always-wonderful Brenda Blethyn, about a man and a woman who come together to find their children in the aftermath of the London bombings of 2005. Catherine Corsini's Partir also catches my eye, featuring the once-again very hot Kristin Scott Thomas (pictured at top). Scott Hicks' The Boys are Back, featuring Clive Owens, takes on men, and particularly fathers, coping with grieving sons.

Hopefully, this dearth of programming info will end in a blaze of announcements. I expected some more to be released today (it's mid-July!), but things should ramp up soon. One new feature TIFF has introduced that helps to make up for the wait, is the release of multiple images for each film already announced and temporary descriptions that have some weight. It's nice for us TIFF bloggers to have some choice now as we go shopping for images to populate our posts! (Click on the pictures here to go there and see more....)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

pina dreaming

Once, when I was a teenager, immersed in acting lessons and still unable to give up ballet, despite an upper body that had filled out and a patrician second toe that made pointe work impossible, I went to see Pina Bausch's Wuppertal Dance Theatre. I still remember the piece I saw: there were leaves and dirt on the floor that the performers slid on and smeared each other with. At one point there was a kind of cakewalk in which the dancers followed each other single file while making a beautiful repetitive arm and hand gesture that spoke to my childish heart. The music of that little cakewalk I still remember, all these years later. It is a complete unit of melody which, like the dance, repeats itself over and over. I don't know why my brain has held on to it, but it has.

In the week or so since Pina Bausch died, that melody has been haunting me. I have plunged into a sea of youtube, dailymotion and other video sites, trying to determine what must have been the piece that I saw. The leaves and dirt point to Rite of Spring, the early monumental work that took on Stravinsky with a kind of existential, almost reluctant spirituality, thwarted by a downward spiral of human emotion. The dates for that project (mid-70s) jive as well. I watched segments from it with amazement and new appreciation, but the gorgeous Stravinsky was wrong for the work I saw. The music I remember is extremely playful. Like the music of a jewel box, it is a tune a child could pick up and hum for days. And I remember it being a briefer work - a short piece.

As I continued my search, I was reminded of Pina Bausch's exclusive and devoted relationship to the classical choral music repertoire. In an era when her North American spiritual cousin Twyla Tharp was criss-crossing the landscape of western musical tradition with her works, Bausch stayed remarkably loyal to the classical choral forms. Her passion for Gluck allowed for her beautifully layered Orphee et Eurydice (pictured above). Though in later years she experimented with African and Asian themes and rhythm, she was most at home with the European canon, both classical and contemporary, and leaning toward opera in new and revitalized ballet interpretations of such legendary works as Bartok's Bluebeard.

Since I was not often able to see her work live, the video journey has led to yearnings and regrets for missed opportunities. Of these, Cafe Muller sticks out, and watching her lifelong collaborator, the amazing Dominique Mercy in Ein Trauerspiel, set to one of my favourite piano works by Schubert (the piano trio in E flat). Kontakthof with its somewhat oversimplified message of sexism is still a raw, powerful piece and I would be curious about its echos in memory for me of a youthful feminist zeal. But if I could snap my fingers and see anything in the next minute, it would undoubtedly be Vollmond, the very recent work which is an extraordinary celebration and lamentation in water. It would have been not only affecting, but hugely impressionable to me. Watch a trailer from youtube and you'll see what I mean.

I still haven't figured out what was the work I saw back in my teens. But my journey also took me to one of my favorite films, and one of my earliest encounters with international cinema, Fellini's E la nave va (And the Ship Sails On). In that movie, Bausch plays a blind princess on a 19th century ocean voyage with other nobility. In the scene I remember, she recounts the colours produced by the sounds of people's voices. It's one of the few times we the world heard the actual voice of Pina Bausch in a performance context. Watch her and note how her lovely character, at first glance the most colourless and dowdiest person at the table, becomes by the end of the scene the most transcendently compelling.

Her face then, and especially in recent years, looked a bit like Virginia Woolf, another hero of mine. There is the same intelligent brow and slightly sunken cheeks, smallish eyes that somehow still dance with liveliness. The face is expressive, like Martha Graham's. It causes me to imagine how the face would have leant itself to the body when she performed her own works. In that regard, perhaps nothing is more iconically vivid as a farewell image of Pina Bausch than the white-draped sylphanic and diaphonous black and white scenes from Cafe Muller. In them, she is almost a dream incarnation of herself, even while rooted in the rough and tumble hard-edged and very earthbound choreography of the men who fight and fall around her in the cafe. That footage is available in many places online, but watch it here in this French tv version where the quality is best. It starts at minute 2:27 but the documenary profile, if you understand french, is a good setup. We are so lucky that we have that sequence to watch so that we can always remember this goddess of the underground as the moving spirit that she was, rooted in earth and leaves but equally and eternally buoyant.
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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

TIFF 09: first programming announcements

In my post below, I spoke of films to look for at TIFF that have originated at Cannes. Two of those have now been announced: Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, and Haim Tabakman's Eyes Wide Open. I discussed earlier the reasons why these two films have captured my interest. Other previously festival-exposed films of this year announced by TIFF for September include Tsai Ming-Liang's Visage (Face) which has been named in the Visions series. I can't say I have really understood this director's vision, nor have I ever sat through an entire feature. But I am likely to see this one, if anything for its portrait of artistic process and the fact that it features Fanny Ardant (pictured). Jessica Hausner's Lourdes interests me for a bevy of personal reasons, though I am otherwise unfamiliar with her.

Those one-liners that the Festival releases with these announcements (until the programme book descriptions are ready later in August) are often frustratingly banale or really usefully insightful teasers. One falling into the latter category for me is the description of Asli Ozge's Men on the Bridge (pictured here): "The stories of three men working at the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul are told by the original characters, in this mosaic depicting real persons exposing their lives and aspirations." I have no idea what that will amount to but it sounds intriguing!

One of the most exciting developments is the introduction of a brand new programme: City to City. Films will profile a particular metropolis every year. TIFF 09 is focussing on Tel Aviv in honour of that city's centennary in 2009. A great start, as the festival has left largely unrepresented of late Israeli cinema. The films of this country usually come in under the rubric of the Masters programmes where noted filmmakers like Amos Gitai show their latest works. The fact that there are enough new films to support an entire programme is exciting to me. The films themselves have not yet been announced.

The first press releases have now begun to dribble in and with them the Festival season begins. Don't know if it's true, but everything has seemed a bit "late" this year. Still no opening night film announced for instance, but there is much already to cheer for - summed up by the Festival's "Customer Service Improvements" press release. Last year's festival was steeped in public discontent in the wake of a ramped up corporate privilege scheme (no doubt tied in part to how Bell Lightbox has changed the financial dependency of the festival on its sponsors). The good news is - they listened. This year some of the dropped privileges for public passholders have been restored. The festival is now offering repeat Gala Screenings to ticket package-holders. And the Elgin has been given back to the public in a mix of public and industry/corporate screenings. Single ticket sales will be available well in advance of the beginning of the Festival now and and the advance review process window for early balloting of ticket choices has increased to a week. Check out the TIFF site to find out more - the 09 site is now officially launched.In the past, I was allowed two public screenings per day in addition to the Industry screenings, but unfortunately, my budget required me to opt for the Industry pass without the festival tickets this year. But I will be watching closely what happens with the public festival as well. More to come!