Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Almost there: CWC, Wavelengths, Future Projections, Visions and some Galas and Special Presentations

One of my most excited moments in Festival prep comes with the announcement of the Wavelengths line-up, which often includes the smaller masterpieces of the masters of many genres of filmmaking, besides just the experimental genre. The wit of programmer Andréa Picard is part of why she is one of TIFF's best programmers. Consider this example, in the description of Wavelengths Programme 1: "As celluloid threatens to disappear altogether, Wavelengths launches with a celebratory and elegiac programme comprised of doomed desire, vanishing worlds and a love of analogue." Alongside Wavelengths, TIFF made significant programming annoucements including all the Visions and Future Projectons titles, as well as some additional selections in the Galas and Special Presentations. Here is a rundown.

(Films are grouped by TIFF into five screenings)
WL1: Analogue Arcadia (wins the programme title of the year award) As usual, the curating of the Wavelengths programmes brings forward a nuanced sensibility for the ways in which films speak to each other across form and format. I am drawn to all seven shorts in this first night of screenings: Loutra/Baths - Nick Collins' "mesmerizing study" of an ancient Roman bath; Edwin Parker, Tacita Dean's portrait of Cy Twombly, one of my most favourte contemporary aritsts (pictured above). Renowned Vietnamese filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who was discovered and launched at TIFF during this past decade with remarkable feature films, offers Empire, a "beguiling miniature of an enchanted grotto". Also looking forward to Joshua Bonnetta's American Colour about the glories and demise of Kodachrome film stock."Vibrant ecology" is featured in the next of Rose Lowder's bouquet series: Bouquets 11-20. The North African bosphorous is conveyed in Jonathan Schwartz' Preface to Red. T. Marie (whom I always find exciting) is back with Optra Field VII-IX, described by the alliterating Picard as "pixel paintings for perceiving perception, and moiré to the max."

WL2: James Benning's Twenty Cigarettes is about the same pack of ciggies being shared by twenty people from around the world. That's enough smoking to make up its own entire screening night!

WL3: Serial Rhythms
Nine films participate in this series. Of these, highlights include legendary Canadian visual artist Joyce Wieland offering Sailboat, a "vaguely ominous haiku on the high waters." Similarly, John Pride's Sea Series #10 looks like it considers visually the way we perceive oceans after disasters like Fukushima. Alina Rudnitskaya's I Will Forget This Day is a black & white meditation on waiting. This film may be a good example of the crossover values of Wavelengths and Visions, especially as Picard this year takes over the entire Visions programming (including Future Projections, assessed below).

WL4: Space is the Place
Six films participate in this screening slot, including Mark Lewis' Black Mirror at the National Gallery which experiments with Dutch landscape painting and the interacting roles of camera, mirror and artist. Blair Williams' Coorow-Latham Road (pictured) takes on Google Streetview and its ways of conveying perception of space. Austria, Algeria and Japan are the settings of three remaining films by Ute Aurand, Neil Beloufa and Eriko Sonodo.

WL5: The Return/Aberration of Light
This final programme focusses on only two films. A master of the form, Nathaniel Dorsky's The Return meditates on life and memory. In Aberration of Light: Dark Chamber Disclosure, Sandra Gibson, Luis Recoder and composer Olivia Block collaborate on an "improvised live cinema performance." Not sure just yet what that will entail but is worth trying on spec.

Future Projections
As a teacher of film and new media, the Future Projections programme offers a terrific richness of ways to see the increasingly indelible blend of these two forms of expression. This year's slate shows much possibility for provocative critical thinking. Here are some highlights:

Of the 11 programmed events, none will be more controversial than that of Mr. Brainwash, the film documentarian and Banksy sidekick turned modern visual artist. Exit Through the Gift Shop takes a satiric look at MB's opus, often criticized as well by others for its slapdash, unconceptually developed forms. I am not sure what the programmers are up to here, but a first glance at his pervasive presence might suggest that the marketing end of TIFF (increasingly aggressive and in danger of trivializing that which TIFF seeks to preserve, the 'essence' of cinema) may have had some input here. MB is apparently going to assist in the fall curation of the Grace Kelly retrospective in a "unique" way, and his spray cans will be outside RTH. This feels to me like marketing and exploitation of the media presence MB has enjoyed since the film came out. And his installation, which remains untitled (not surprising given how last minute his work is according to ETGS) has been defined so far as only "multiple piece". There's a big "we'll see' next to all this, in my mind. The installation will be at Gallery One, 121 Scollard.

Much more exciting fare awaits in Peter Lynch's Buffalo Days, which looks at how European colonization impacted the Native North American aesthetic sensibility, in a video and environmental sound installation. At the ROM's Institute of Contemporary Culture, 100 Queens Park.

James Franco and Gus Van Sant's Memories of Idaho, is essentially two films presented sequentially that reflect back on the making of My Own Private Idaho as a seminal moment in Van Sant's career and life. The films are entitled My Own Private River and Idaho, one focussing on River Pheonix and the other a Super 8 tribute to his original conception for the film. To be screened at TIFF Lightbox.

Some Canadian artists come into the foreground in these installations with impressive projects.
David Rokeby's Plot Against Time will show, in the words of the press release, "gannets swooping off the coast of Newfoundland. Brilliantly suggesting abstract-expressionist precedents from Whistler to Pollock, Plot Against Time’s interest in kinesis is as sociological and technological as it is philosophical and painterly." I couldn't have said it better myself. At the Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen West. Nicholas and Sheila Pye (whose film The Encounter is also being screened in the Short Cuts Canada programme) will present Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, inspired by the children's game. At Birch Libralato, 129 Tecumseth. Eve Sussman/Rufus Corporation's whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir (2009-2011) takes its cue from 'paranoic sci-fi noir' and particularly Tarkovsky and Godard. At the NFB Mediatheque 150 John.

American photographer Gregory Crewdson's Sanctuary roams the empty ruins of the great Cinecitta studios where Fellini and Scorcese and others have shot films. At CONTACT gallery, 80 Spadina. UK Director Duane Hopkins' Sunday takes us back to the West Midlands of his chldhood in what is promised to "capture the ennui, sadness and beauty of isolated adolescence in painterly tones and colors that recall the British Romantics, while twinning and reconceptualizing his landscapes to evoke the brooding, twitchy surrealism of the ever-encroaching contemporary world." At MOCCA, 952 Queen West. Ben Rivers' Slow Action takes four real locations and imagines them as futuristic communities. At TPW, 56 Ossington. And David Lamelas' Time as Activity (Buenos Aires) meditates on how we conceive time while looking at the landmark Plaza Congreso in Buenos Aires. It is billed as having "tranquil elegance, economy and ostensible simplicity". Programmers are unendingly adept at this kind of prose!

Of all the installations, however, I am most drawn to and excited by Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzky's Road Movie, which looks at Palestinian life in the West Bank in a six-sided installation at O'Born Contemporary, 51 Wolseley. (pictured)

The last of the three programmes grouped under the heading "Visions" is the actual Visions programme itself. Of the 20 titles announced here, here are my picks. Looking very much forward to Joaquim Sapinho's This Side of Resurrection (pictured), which looks at "sibling love and faith" when a young woman discovers that the brother she thought was backpacking around the world has in fact become a monk. Helvecio Marins Jr. Clarissa Campolina's Swirl profiles an 80 year old woman tackling the ultimate questions in life after the death of her husband in the beautiful landscape of northern Brazil. I want to be excited about Jan Zabell's The River Used to be a Man, but the description has a vagueness that worries me, despite my interest in its themes of 'divination, memory and traditional belief'. It is perhaps the 'existential fog' of the main character that sounds like this work may be more puzzling than satisfying. Similarly, Debbie Tucker Green's Random about a Black British woman on a day of family violence, sounds like it has a powerful premise, but its monologue structure has me cautious. The "shot entirely in long shot" is equally a caution about Ruben Östlund's Play, which is "based on an actual incident in Gothenburg where a group of black kids manipulated other teenagers, mostly from "ethnic" backgrounds, into surrendering their valuables", but here I am more willing to take the risk. You see how subjective film selection is!

Matias Mayer's The Last Christeros offers a theme of enduring commitment to Christian faith that appeals to me, even if the story and landscape otherwise don't. Christian themes also lace Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr.'s Fable of the Fish, which examines the mixture of belief systems that constitues the faith life of many Filipinos. Also from the Phillippines and also dealing in part with contemporary Christianity is Lav Diaz's Century of Birthing which follows two stories, one a filmmaker's attempt to complete his work, and the other an Evangelical leader's challenges in a rural region. Christian Petzold, Dominik Graf and Christoph Hochhäusler, all German filmmakers, participate in a three-part film series, each with the preliminary title Dreileben which follows an escaped murderer from three different angles. From the country that gave us Run Lola Run.

To the already much discussed line-up of galas, is added Christophe Honoré's Beloved (pictured) with Chiara Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve. It presents a mother/daughter adventure in love from the 1960s to the present day. I confess I will take this in if I can, at the very least to quietly enjoy the divine loveliness of the two leading ladies. Tanya Wexler's Hysteria starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy about the invention of the vibrator looks like it could either be eccentric and frivolous or funny and pithy - though of course it may also be neither! Page Eight, David Hare's latest film focuses on a British agent who faces down the compromises of the government, with Rachel Weisz in tow. (Is there a film being released in 2011 that does not have Rachel Weisz? She seems to be everywhere, including at least three films at TIFF.) Jennifer Hudson takes the title role in Darrell Roodt's film Winnie which tells the story of Winnie Mandela, with Terrence Howard.

Special Presentations
Emmano Olmi's Cardboard Village is about a deconsecrated church and the new missional purpose it fulfills when immigrants find sanctuary within it. Very much looking forward to this. Nathan Morlando's Edwin Boyd about Canada's notorious bank robber set in post-war Toronto stars Scott Speedman. Gianni Amello's First Man recovers the steps of a French Algerian returning to his childhood home in this adaptation from a work-in-progress of Albert Camus before his death. Much ballyhoo will be made of the new Bollywood romance by Pankaj Kapur, Mausam, starring Sonam Kapoor and Shahid Kapur. Australian novelist Julia Leigh has made an adaptation of Sleeping Beauty which looks like an interesting contemporary adaptation that comments on some of the inherent preconceptions of the well-known fairy tale. And Emanuelle Crialese's Terraferma takes place in that southern part of Sicily that has seen a huge influx of North African immigrants.

However, of all the announced new SPs, most compelling to me is Agnieszka Holland's In Darkness, about holocaust Jews hiding in Polish sewer systems. Though she has made a number of films now about this era, her sharply observed sense of human drama offers always a fresh take. Equally exciting is Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights which looks to be brave and bold as only this Scottish auteur can be. Unknown cast and stark imagery are hallmarks of her work and would seem by the photographic evidence in full effect here.

Finally, in the I Need to Revisit a First Response Department: George Clooney's Ides of March now looks more fun than I thought it would be, with supporting actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei offering likely opportunity for nuanced comedy and all around strong performances.
Coming soon: revised Top 50 film list.

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