Sunday, August 29, 2010

TIFF 10: Random Favourites

A great sadness for me in this year’s festival is no new film with Juliette Binoche! I had hoped that Kiarostami’s Copie Certifié would land at TIFF but no. Instead, however, I get to enjoy two films with Kristin Scott Thomas, whose work of late has been extraordinary (thinking especially of Il y a longtemps que je t’aime). Alain Corneau's Love Crimes unfortunately looks like a French version of the cable show Damages. I have greater hopes for Sarah’s Key, directed by Gilles Pacquet Brenner, which is the story of a journalist whose investigation into a holocaust round-up profoundly influences her own life.

Several years back, I saw a Canadian film about lost seigneuries in Quebec, shot with a gorgeous stillness by Catherine Martin. Martin has returned this year with Trois Temps avant la mort d'Anna (Mourning for Anna), about a woman coping with the loss of a child who was a promising violinist.

Deep in the Woods bears all the signs of a Benoît Jacquot film, with its characters following uncontrollable forces and propelled to likely catastrophe, but once again I am opting for the filmmaker not the movie write-up.

Once upon a time, not very long ago at all, the Festival had a marvelous programme called “Dialogues: Talking with Pictures”. It has vanished, but instead we seem to have something very similar: “Essential Cinema In-Person Events”. Okay. Well, what’s the difference? The difference is that the films being screened are not chosen by directors who have films in the festival. The films are culled from the Essential 100 list of films that the festival and its industry patrons helped generate last year. The presenters may, or may not, have new films in the festival themselves, and/or are re-screening old favourites. And it all happens after TIFF is done. While there is much to applaud in this idea, it’s disappointing to lose the Dialogues program, only because there was always a vital electricity to the older series, with the combined excitement of a filmmaker’s current work juxtaposed (in a larger context) with the works that influenced them. Now we are slave to some list that has been created, which is controversial in its inclusions and exclusions as lists always are.

That said, however, there are many “In-Person Events” that will be too compelling to miss. I hesitate to mention first Walter Murch’s introduction to Acopalypse Now Redux only because this filmmaking legend has already written and spoken much on his reorganization of the Coppola masterpiece. But then again, this is a man who is never not-interesting. Watch out also for his speech on the “State of Cinema”, which imagines what would have happened if film had been invented one hundred years earlier, scheduled as a post-TIFF event on October 10th. I will likely attend “A Night in Nashville” with Michael Murphy and Jacob Tierney.

The standout events in this series will be Molly Haskell, the first feminist to assess women in cinema from both an academic and an accessibly populist perspective, as she introduces Maurice Pialat’s à Nos Amours. And wild horses and natural disasters could not detain me from Isabella Rossellini introducing her father’s Voyage to Italy alongside her own work shown in previous festivals, including the cult-hit Green Porno.

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TIFF 10 round-up of previews: Masters & Special Presentations

The Masters programming has now been rounded out with the addition of ten new films to those noted in previous posts. Of these, Film Socialism, Jean-Luc Godard’s attempt to grapple with a meaningless world “in three movements” will be interesting, since grappling with the meaning of Jean-Luc Godard films is a perplex task for many. But I will certainly see it. Poetry by Lee Chang-dong about a woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s mixed with a “disturbing take on juvenile violence” has me worried, but this master is always worth taking in. Each year, the indefatiguable Amos Gitai has something to offer us and each year I go – it’s just a festival priority now. This year, Roses à Crédit continues a fascination with historical drama and is set in WWII and after France. Ken Loach is back with a film that sounds like one of his most socially critical yet: Route Irish about abuses during the Iraqi war. Who can resist a Catherine Breillat feature – even when she fails, she’s fascinating. The Sleeping Beauty, about a girl’s coming of age is said to also have “breathtaking cinematography”. Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira is similarly prone to success and failure, but like Loach, you gotta go because how many more can this octagenarian possibly turn out. The Strange Case of Angelica sounds like his most metaphysical yet.

Over in Special Presentations, besides the frontrunners mentioned in previous blogs, I am certain to see Dan Rush's Everything Must Go, in part because I loved Will Farrell in Stranger than Fiction and in part because my friend Kara production designed it. (This picture is a great preview of her work!) Mike Leigh’s Another Year got my attention, about a dysfunctional group of people who confide in a perfectly happy older couple. Mike Leigh is one of the few filmmakers who are still able to think in complete ideas about characters, rather than character traits: so characters are seen right through to their inevitable conclusions, sometimes in every painful step. I am also curious about Clint Eastwood’s, Hereafter, which sounds very Babel-like in its focus on random stories around the globe joined by themes of death and spirituality. There is, however, only one screening of this film – period. No P & I screenings are listed at the moment. So it may be impossible to see. I probably won’t be able to resist Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Jack Goes Boating about New York couples or John Turturro’s Passione, a musical romp through Napoli. I still miss the fact that his Romance and Cigarettes of recent years was never properly released on this continent. Ditto Woody Allen’s You Will Meet A Tall, Dark Stranger, only because it is such a wonderful pleasure to see a largely underappreciated and unknown character actress like Gemma Jones, have an entire Woody Allen film built around her.

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TIFF 10 Preview: Contemporary World Cinema

The oldest programme, and arguably the backbone of this festival, is its survey of Contemporary World Cinema, a daunting mandate but one it often admirably lives up to. 45 titles were announced here, making film descriptions one-liners at best, but even a single sentence can convey excitement. Africa United by Debs Gardner-Paterson might be the feel-good find of the year, or a moving story of three boys who dream of attending world cup football. I will likely pass, but I predict this one to be a festival favourite. On my list from this programme will be some truly exciting stuff. A new film by Hong Kong feminist filmmaker Ann Hui is a cause for celebration: All About Love takes a look at queer family life in Hong Kong, a first for that cinema.

Justin Chadwick’s The First Grader again has the potential for sentimental agenda, as the story of a man in his 80s who joins a first grade class in Kenya, but something tells me it will rise above that.

I have loved Fest favorite Bent Hamer’s previous films such as Kitchen Stories, so I will look forward to his offbeat humour brought to bear on Christmas in Norway in Home for Christmas. Gabriel Range’s I Am Slave looks at London’s slave trade. Aktan Arym Kubat’s The Light Thief looks promising, as the story of an electrician who steals electricity to assist poor people in a small village. Avi Nesher’s The Matchmaker takes us to 1960’s Haifa, and a young man’s encounters with a holocaust survivor into brokering marriages. Mama Gógó is Fridrik Thor Fridricksson’s film about his relationship with his ailing mother, set in Iceland. Ever since I saw Peter Mullan in Ken Loach’s My Name is Joe, I have appreciated him as an actor. Now he’s a director as well, returning to TIFF with another feature, Neds, about a Non-Educated Delinquent in 1970’s Glasgow. Xavier Beauvois’ Of Gods and Men looks at the real life confrontation between Trappist monks and unknown assailants who viciously murdered them in mid-90’s Algeria. German director Tom Tykwer, whose work has made him one of my favourite directors, returns with Three a story of a Berlin couple who both have affairs with the same man.

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TIFF 10 Preview: Discovery, Visions & Vanguard

Every few years the festival attempts to get back down to the innovation and avant-garde promotion that was one of its founding principles. These programs do so well and bring so many new interesting talents to light that they quickly feel mainstream, and so a new program must be invented. Discovery was the first of these, then Visions, then Vanguard. It’s now almost impossible to see a real discernible difference in the three.

The Discovery programme, according to the press release, is for ‘up and coming’ and ‘new and emerging’ filmmakers, but these certainly populate the other categories as well. Of these, what caught my eye was Zhang Meng’s The Piano in a Factory, the story of a man’s attempt to win custody of his daughter by building her a piano; and Sarah Bouyain’s The Place In Between, a dual story of two European and African women seeking answers to questions of personal history, through voyages abroad. Sometimes trends emerge that seem interesting: Argentina is offering us two films about two women coming together to confront the past and/or stare down the future. Delfina Castagnino’s What I Most Want and Stefano Pasetto’s The Call both focus on road journeys, with The Call looking like an Argentinian Thelma and Louise. Argentina seems just generally noticeable in this programme, a trend that might be worth paying attention to.

The Visions and Vanguard programmes were announced in the same press release, just underscoring further their similar focus. Officially, Visions represent films that “push the boundaries and challenge mainstream filmmaking” while Vanguard is for those who are young and “irreverent, always on the cutting edge.” Difference? My case rests.

That said, there are some real treats here. Numbers in titles mark the notables: in Visions, k.364 A Journey By Train by British helmer Douglas Gordon, has possibly the shortest feature film description: “Two musicians return to a haunted landscape and play the concerto of their lives” (that’s it!) but it’s enough for me to be interested. Michael Nyman’s Moscow 11:19:31 is in fact a short film about how music intervenes when the ability to speak fails. Vincent Gallo’s Promises Written in Water is shot in black and white and is about the trials of devotion to a promise made. None of these sounds like they push the boundaries of mainstream cinema, but worth looking for nonetheless.

In Vanguard, things do sound indeed much more challenging and gritty, but the grit tends to the gorey, horror and/or psychosexual, meaning some of them might just as easily have been programmed into Midnight Madness. I will, however, try hard to see Tetsuya Nakashima’s Confessions which has been drawing attention. It is the story of a teacher’s attempt to have vengeance on two of her own students who are are responsible for the death of her daughter.

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TIFF 10 Preview: City to City - Istanbul!

The City to City programme last year became an unlikely hotbed of controversy with its focus on Tel Aviv, which some festival filmmakers and viewers believed to be inappropriate in a year that held the attacks on Gaza. (For my own response to the controversy, see my blog post here.) This year’s city, Istanbul, promises to be much less scandalous, though perhaps more exotic and will allow a terrific opportunity to catch up with Turkish cinema. Of these I am drawn to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s new film, Distant which is billed as an “exploration of existential heartache”. Trust me that it is the filmmaker I am following on this one, not the synopsis! The really exciting entries in this programme are the entire slate of Turkish short films, which are a fascinating mix of experimental and narrative dramas told in a wide variety of creative forms.

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TIFF 10 Preview: Canada First and Short Cuts Canada!

The programme used to be called Perspective Canada, and it was exactly that: a cross-section of Canadian perspectives on Canadian story, with an increasingly diverse collection of filmmakers and filmmaker origins adding to those perspectives. Then it was cut and a series of smaller programmes were created. The selection of home-grown product seems to shrink as each year passes, while every indication exists to prove that the actual quantity and quality of production only increases in this country. (See Playback for instance). TIFF would like us to believe that more Canadian films are actually present in the festival - spread out across the other programming categories and that this is good news – and I agree, it is. But the focus on Canadians trying to break into an international pool of talent should still be a very valuable and important goal of this festival. TIFF has lost its commitment to new and emerging Canadian artists and prefers those artists to be already mainstream before it offers support. What is up with that? This festival has given birth to many now world-renowned artists (Jeremy Podeswa, Atom Egoyan, Léa Pool, Patricia Rozema, and even David Cronenberg owes a thing or two to TiFF).

This year, TIFF has programmed a shocking six films in its Canada First programme, a categorty that presents first features by Canadian filmmakers. I have trouble believing there were only six worthy submissions this year: why a cap on this category!? Of the six, I find myself most interested in Katrin Bowen’s Amazon Falls, only because anything that discourages young people from moving with a dream to Los Angeles I would love to endorse. Daniel Cockburn’s eclectically multi-storied You Are Here offers a chance to see the late Tracy Wright in one of her last roles, although you can also see her in Bruce MacDonald’s Trigger, about a female rock’n roll duo who reunite a dozen years after the bust-up of their band.

A more likely place to find the filmmakers of tomorrow is in the Short Cuts Canada programme offering more than 40 shorts. Like Wavelengths, it is broken into programmes of 6 or 8 shorts each, offering a wide and impressive variety of formats and genres. I have quite often really enjoyed at least one slate of films in this category. Trying to see specific films is often hard to do because of these random groupings (they lack the thematic thinking that is found in Wavelengths). Best to just pick a collection that works with your schedule and enjoy. There are always at least two or three that stay memorable. This is the category where I first found the work of Helen Lee, whom I have followed as she moved into feature filmmaking since. I will say, however, that I have noted the following: Champagne, On the Way to the Sea, La Métropolitaine, Green Crayons, Eggcellent, Sophie Lavoie (by Anne Émond), The Trenches and Woman Waiting. Which means I’m probably looking at Programmes 3, 4 and 5.

Elsewhere in the Canadian programming, in other categories, is Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies. The story of twins who go to the middle east to understand their mother’s death, it promises to be a welcome return of this French-Canadian master.

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TIFF 10 Preview: Mavericks

On the whole, the Mavericks sessions this year lack the ‘cutting edge’ sensibility and controversy of times past and seem likely glorified talk show format encounters, with a nod to creative process. There are some exceptions. The only one that interests me is the Ken Loach/Paul Laverty discussion of the use of privatized soldiers in Iraq, as part of an overall trend in wargame planning. Moderated by Michael Moore, the chance to see veteran social justice filmmaker Loach and Moore have conversation is worth the outing alone. Both men are rarely seen in a more congenial conversational mode, and both men have a spirituality that feeds their sense of social justice that is quiet and private but makes its presence felt in their work. Loach must be in his late 70s by now and these opportunities will only get rare. The session with Apichatpong Weerasethakul would also draw my attention except that I fear this will mostly be a lovefest for a man who is (justifiably) the darling of the indie exhibition world and will not offer any real insights into craft or process. The blockbuster Mavericks session will be Bill Gates, being interviewed by An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim. One of those gigs that could be penetrating and insightful, or a non-profit infomercial. We’ll see.
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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

TIFF 10 Preview: Hot Wavelengths and Lacklustre Real to Reel

Gee, just a month til opening night (okay five weeks), and most of the programming yet to be announced. To last week's line-up of Galas, Special Presentations and some Masters, today TIFF released Wavelengths and the lion's share of Real to Reel. Readers of this blog (and apparently you exist) know that Wavelengths is one of my favourite programs. The ingenuity, diversity and creativity of programmer Andréa Picard continues with this year's announced films.

The genre 'experimental film' is so murky and undefined that it can allow for a wonderfully wide range of thematic groupings, as Picard testifies to year after year. Her instinct is such that the programs inevitably do what programs should: allow the works to inform each other. It is such an interesting thing for me how programming like this actually achieves what many omnibus films (like Paris Je T'Aime) built around a common theme, try to do and fail.

Here then is a profile of the six Wavelengths programmes, taken from Picard's Press Release notes:
"Wavelengths 1: Soul of the City: As the pace of the contemporary urban experience grows faster and the world becomes increasingly fractured, artists are documenting the vestiges and layers revealed in flux; global updates on the city symphony." This collection of seven shorts set to open the series includes Nishikawa's Tokyo-Ebisu, "a 16mm in-camera patchwork constructed from multiple viewpoints from the platforms of Tokyo’s busiest railway line, Yamanote, and a masking technique which exposes 1/30th of a frame 30 times in order to capture an image of spectral apparitions." So... that's Kabuki/Noh meets Tom Tykwer...?

Wavelengths 2 is themed 'Plein Air': "As with painting, natural light and colour are inexhaustible sources of inspiration for film and video artists, whose plein-air shooting radically transforms our scenic views, offering a stirring ephemerality and, in some cases, a poignant intimacy." This program looks so good that I couldn't pick one to feature and so I'm including the whole write-up.
"In Vincent Grenier’s Burning Bush (Canada/U.S.A.), a virtuosic use of video sets a burning bush alight with crimson colour and spiritual flight. Kaleidoscopic colour, parenting and art-making coalesce in John Price’s domestic life frieze Home Movie (домашнее кино) (Canada), an extended portrait of his children captured with an old Russian 35mm camera and a variety of expired film stock. Ouverture (Canada/France) [pictured at top] by Christopher Becks is a serene, yet kinetic in-camera meditation on an old barn in Normandy. Philipp Fleischmann’s Cinematographie (Austria) reinvents the filmstrip by way of an astonishing 360 degree camera obscura construction, which allows for a continuous image to emerge like a scroll. Recently blown-up to 16mm from its original super 8mm, Helga Fanderl’s intimate triptych, Blow-Ups: Portrait, Tea Time, Red Curtain (Germany) is a tender depiction of a love affair. Anne Truitt, Working (U.S.A.) is a portrait of the Minimalist painter and sculptor elegantly observed by Jem Cohen. Madison Brookshire’s Color Films 1 & 2 (U.S.A.) close the programme with winsome wavelength compositions of light."

Wavelengths 3: Ruhr is devoted entirely James Benning's environmental chronicle of the Ruhr Valley in Germany and includes a 1 hour single shot!

Wavelengths 4: Pastourelle will be a must for me, focussing on the gorgeous images of Nathaniel Dorsky. This series has a slightly spiritual bent, featuring the trio Compline, Aubade and Pastourelle. "Compline is the final film Dorsky was able to shoot on Kodachrome, his preferred and longtime-used film stock. Aubade, which is a poem evoking daybreak, signals a new beginning, with his shooting on colour negative. Glimpses of Paris – the abstraction of its flickering neon signs, the elegance of its views - appear in both Aubade and Pastourelle, the latter presented here as a World Premiere." T. Marie's Water Lilies is a perfect way to end this program.

Wavelengths 5 is called Blue Mantle and will speak in a strange way to my acadenic interests, as it is focussed on oceans and seas as a 'mythic source of life' and 'legendary call to death'. Here is a brilliant example of how subtle and sublime Picard's programming is. These three shorts wind up this programme: "Rebecca Meyers’ blue mantle (U.S.A.) is an ode to the ocean, intercutting between the mesmeric sea with its glistening, beckoning waters and various representations of the deep. Meyers crafts an ambitious treatise buoyed by the breadth of its cast. The apocalyptic sublime of J. M. W. Turner’s 1840 masterpiece The Slave Ship, with its fiery conflagration and strewn debris amid wild waters, is the source for T. Marie’s time-based pixel painting-film Slaveship (U.S.A.). A languorous, searing abstraction with a hot palette updates the classic scene in reference to today’s skewed social hierarchy and the selling of human life. Hell Roaring Creek (U.S.A.) is the latest film by experimental anthropologist Lucien Castaign-Taylor, co-director of Sweetgrass. A static camera records the coming of day as a shepherd leads his flock of sheep across the titular stream in a prismatic, painterly pastoral."

Finally, Wavelengths 6: Coming Attractions is perhaps the most exciting and plays into one of the early classes I will be teaching in my new course at Humber this fall. Looking comparatively at early silent era films and contemporary experimental shorts, here again we have an example of sophisticated programming: "Peter Tscherkassky's Coming Attractions (Austria) is a sly, sartorial comedy masterfully mining the relationship between early cinema and the avant-garde, by way of fifties era advertising. With references to Méliès, Lumières, Cocteau, Léger, Chomette, the film playfully explores cinema's subliminal possibilities using an impressive arsenal of techniques like solarization, optical printing and multiple exposures. Completing the evening’s attractions is a selection from EYE Film Institute Netherlands’ Bits and Pieces project (Netherlands), which restores and compiles “anonymous, unidentified or otherwise interesting fragments”, saving them from oblivion for our viewing pleasure. The archival prints will be presented with live piano accompaniment by William O’Meara."

Cannot wait!!!

Meanwhile, in the same day, TIFF announced the bulk of Real to Reel, and as excited as I was by Wavelengths, I am disappointed in this slate. Of these, the only one that caught my eye turned out not to be Real to Reel, but a late announced Masters entry (but still a documentary): Patricio Guzman's Nostalgia for the Light. "In Chile's Atacama Desert, astronomers peer deep into the cosmos in search for answers concerning the origins of life. Nearby, a group of women sift through the sand searching for body parts of loved ones, dumped unceremoniously by Pinochet’s regime. Master filmmaker Patricio Guzmán contemplates the paradox of their quests." I think that sounds fantastic.

I will say that I am intrigued by Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog's look at the Chauvet caves in Southern France, where no one has ever shot. This could be absolutely enchanting, or tedious, depending on which version of Herzog is in play. Naomi Kawase's Genpin, a look at a birthing clinic in Japan and the bond between mother and child with a gynecologist who has been practicing for 40 years, could also be fine.

Otherwise, the R to R line-up is mostly an unappealing fare of stuff including boxers and the man who brought down the Governor of New York in a sex scandal. And who knows what to make of the Indian film The Sound of Mumbai: A Musical (Sarah McCarthy), documenting a production of the Sound of Music among Mumbai street children. This is one of those times when you have to trust the Festival that there will be more going on here than the late-night child sponsorship infomercial spoof that springs to mind. (Is there such a thing? I have no idea. But there could be!)

More to come.... (TIFF also announced one more Gala a profile of Bruce Springsteen with a title too long to copy in here and another Masters add-in, Jorgen Leth's Erotic Man.)

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