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Articles and Reviews: FILM

Toronto Film Festival #1

With 328 films from over 57 countries screening over 10 days, and a record 178 world and North American premieres among them, the Toronto Film Festival is both the biggest yet also the most well-organised industry gathering I’ve ever witnessed. However, without the faculty of trilocation, it is impossible to see more than a tiny fraction of what is on offer, and even this modest aspiration requires juggling press and industry screenings with public ones in eight different (although mostly closely clustered) venues, while also keeping an eye on interviewees available and press conferences scheduled. There are often two public showings of the same film, another variable to be factored into game plans. But while one may begin each day with a well laid out strategy, it invariably becomes an aleatory jazz-improvisation as it wears on.




This is partly because of a feature known as ‘rush lines’ outside public shows. the T.F.F. is incredibly well-supported by the local population, with many screenings selling out well in advance. But as soon as a show sells out, it goes to rush, which means people can queue up outside a theatre for an hour or more before the starting time of the film, in the hope of getting tickets that have been returned. The first twenty or thirty people in line usually get in, but it’s always a gamble.
The devotion and determination (or, to flip the coin, the obsession and compulsion) of patrons can get a little frightening. This was neatly illustrated in a short directed by Don McKellar entitled A Word From The Management - one of ten short films commissioned from established Canadian directors to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Festival of Festivals, under the general title Preludes - which drew on his own experience of working as an usher during festivals in previous years. After enumerating the lengths people will go to to blagg their way in, the final line of voice over cautions the audience to remember that: ‘It’s only a movie. Enjoy the movie.’ That said, the staff and volunteers I encountered were consistently doing a magnificent job, with the right mixture of ‘polite but firm’, and often for no more recompense than a free movie and a party.
Apart from The Beckett Film Project (covered elsewhere in this issue), the were two Irish features premiering here: When Brendan Met Trudy, written by Roddy Doyle and directed by Kieron J Walsh; and The Most Fertile Man in Ireland, written by Jim Keeble and directed by Dudi Appleton.
Kieron J Walsh’s first full-length feature, and Roddy Doyle’s first original screenplay (not counting their television work) is an exuberant romantic comedy, with the opposites of Peter McDonald’s anally retentive art house cinema attending, choir practising secondary school teacher and Flora Montgomery’s extrovert, care-free burglar attracting. It lightly works in lots of classic movie references, and also takes account of the fact that Dublin is now a multicultural centre, or as Doyle put it in conversation, “Dublin has changed a lot in the ten years since I wrote The Van.” Audience reaction at the public screening was adulatory, although there were murmurs at the industry show about ‘Great ideas, but no dramatic tension between the characters.’ This kind of gulf in reception is one reason I preferred viewing with a paying crowd - the queues aside - since industry screenings are full of jaded distributors who walk out after ten or twenty minutes if a movie isn’t telling them what they want to know about a given place or topic - i.e. if it doesn’t have those essential formulaic emotional curves we’re always hearing about, that put bums on seats. However, When Brendan Met Trudy is a hoot from start to finish, and will please discerning cinema-goers everywhere.
Like Walsh, Dudi Appleton’s movie is also his first full-length feature, and is an anarchic spin on the social and sexual politics of his native Belfast. Again an unashamed crowd-pleaser, with hallucinatory bright production design that mocks the standard dour, grey depiction of the city, it went down well with the punters but was too much for many buyers.
With the international fare, I generally plumbed for the smaller independent ventures that have only an outside chance of making it as far as Ireland, rather than the bigger budget Hollywood affairs that will almost certainly get a release here. Of the former, the one which impressed me most were: Bread and Tulips, Silvio Soldini’s heart-warming look at a taken-for-granted housewife breaking free of her claustrophobic family situation; also from Italy, but in a very different vein, Asia Argento’s (daughter of Dario) Scarlet Diva, set in the druggy, casting couch milieu of international film-making, which won’t please the Italian tourist board; Allan Millar’s The Torandot Project, a documentary about the Italian/Chinese collaboration to stage Puccini’s opera in Beijing’s Forbidden City; Chris Marker’s pictorial essay on the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, Une Journee d’ Andrei Arsenevitch; and Marziyeh Meshkini’s richly allegorical The Day I Became A Woman, three closely connected vignettes about women’s lack of self-determination in Iran. On a somewhat larger canvas, Ed Harris’ biopic Pollock is worth a mention, as is Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love.
Biggies that premiered here included Altman’s Dr T and The Women, Michael Kalesniko’s How To Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog, Julian Temple’s Pandemonium, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Weight of Water and Stephen Frears’ Liam. There was a special tribute to Frears, and a season of his work played throughout the festival.
Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a marital arts romance set in ancient China, took the coveted audience prize. In second place for the annual People’s Choice Award was Rob Sitch’s comedy The Dish, an Aussie perspective on the Apollo 11 mission. there was a tie for third place: Paul Cox’s mature love story Innocence, also from Australia, shared with Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliott, the British story of a miner’s son who studies ballet to advance his boxing career.
Like the festival itself, the awards list is expanding every year, despite the fact that Toronto prides itself on being a non-competitive event. The $25,000 Toronto award for best Canadian feature went to Calgary director Gary Burns’ waydowntown, a Survivor-style comedy shot in digital.
Although exhausted, given half a chance, I’ll be heading back to Toronto again, same time, next year.

First published in The Sunday Tribune













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