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Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady Klady@moviecitynews.com

Confessions of a Film Festival Junkie: Toronto 2011 – Day II

Toronto is huger than it’s ever been before.

And naturally that’s bound to create a few glitches. On opening day I trotted down to the Bell Lightbox to pick up my press credentials and was informed that the press office wasn’t handling that duty. I’d have to go to the Park Hyatt just a block down the street.

Of course when I got there the first person I encountered told me to go right back to the Lightbox. Fortunately someone more in the groove stopped her, said that I was in the right place and pointed me in the specific direction of the credentials desk.

In a curious sort of way the current Toronto International Film Festival runs a lot like it did in its nascent years. Back in the early day the organization was feeling its way and didn’t have the resources or manpower to solve myriad problems both minor and significant. But the staff was relentlessly polite and strove to solve whatever dilemmas cropped up.

Today, the event couldn’t possibly employee the number of volunteers and temp staff to accommodate the hordes that descend upon the Ontario metropolis for TIFF. They’re still consistently polite, perhaps even more polite, and once one finds the appropriate person (and that can be daunting) I’ve discovered that mountains are reduced to manholes.

Historically the festival has an almost unerring capacity for choosing the wrong opening night picture. This year was no exception with its selection of the U2 profile From the Sky Down. More rumination than concert film, it focuses on the group’s preparation for the 2011 Glastonbury festival, one of England’s most beloved musical events. They decide to revisit their seminal album Achtung Baby, recorded 20 years earlier in Berlin.

Frankly I’m hard pressed to explain the incomprehensibility of this film without becoming symbiotically disjointed. Suffice it to say the commentary is banal, the progression erratic and the “so what,” what the heck.

Now I do understand the p.r. value of having one of the most venerable and popular rock and roll acts as part of the opening night festivities even if TIFF patrons aren’t their core audience. But culling through the 300 plus titles on view, I have to say that other movies, particular several in the Gala section, would have provided comparable star power and are more entertaining and unquestionably better made.

It should also be pointed out that (and this isn’t particular to Toronto) there’s a literal cost for the great privilege of getting the opening night slot. Namely you get to pay for the opening night party and that ain’t hay.

Coincidently the very first film I saw this year at the fest – The Love We Make – has a lot of parallels with the curtain raiser. Both are slated for premieres on Showtime, aspire to capture the essence of a musical titan and relate to a bygone event. In the case of The Love We Make it’s (Sir) Paul McCartny and the Concert for New York that occurred about six weeks after the tragedy of 9/11. It’s surfaced as a 10th anniversary special.

Directed by documentary titan Al Maysles, IT works as both a personal and professional profile and has sufficient tension to hold one rapt. It also has some excellent concert footage with the likes of The Who, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, James Taylor and the ex-Beatle. We also get to see Mr. McCartney rehearsing and promoting the event and it all works as a piece.

Also on the plus side was the Toronto fest’s decision to cut out opening night speeches that have droned on for as much as an hour in the past. Instead it created a sponsor’s reel that to be honest wasn’t particular well done but we can hope for better next year. TIFF also runs sponsor blurbs particularly produced for the event in front of regular screenings. Last year I counted as many as seven but so far that’s easily been surpassed by 11 in the current edition that range from Dolby and Christie Projectors to Cadillac as well as two specifically for TIFF including one for an upcoming Grace Kelly exhibition and a nod to the festival’s volunteers that features Atom Egoyan in a pickle. Let me assure you that their charms – even the very best efforts – dissipate after 10 exposures.

I also have to confess that I attended my first reception. It was an accident but I’m not complaining. The event was relatively small and honored the 20th anniversary of Sony Classics chiefs Michael Barker and Tom Bernard. It was cordial and relaxed and I admit to stifling a gasp when the speeches began. Thankfully, they were brief, humorous and gracious with kudos to Sir Howard Stringer and the ever present A. Egoyan. Barker’s reply was just about note perfect.

It’s still early days at TIFF and I can’t really say that I’ve been wowed by a movie yet. There’s been very good stuff like the much ballyhooed The Artist and Drive. Both are first rate, the first a literal silent movie set in the milieu of Hollywood in the 1920s and ‘30s and the latter reminiscent of the intelligent crime thrillers of the ‘70s including The Driver and Thief. Still I found The Artist a bit thin and repetitive and Drive bothered me somewhat by its employ of excessive violence.

Just prior to the fest I did see Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia which would have been close to an unqualified rave; and I guess that counts.

Later, gator …

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“To be a critic is to be a workaholic. Workaholism is socially conditioned: viewed favourably by exploiters, it’s generally ruinous to a worker’s mental health. When T.S. Eliot said criticism was as inevitable as breathing, he failed to mention that, respiratory problems notwithstanding, breathing is easy. Criticism is reflexive before reflective: to formalise/industrialise an involuntary instinct requires time, effort and discipline. The reason we seek remuneration, as opposed to the self-hatred of being a scab, is because all labour should be waged…

“Criticism, so the cliché by now goes, is dying. None of the panel discussions on its death agony, however—including those in which I’ve formally participated—come at it from the wider perspective that the problem surely needs. They defend the ways in which criticism functions in relation to the industry and to the public, but they fail to contextualise these relationships as defined by ultimately rotten and self-harming imperatives.

“Criticism was a noble profession so long as only a few could practice it for money; when the field expands, as it has with a so-called ‘democratisation’ of our practice, those few lose their political power. Competition grows and markets are undercut: publications are naturally going to start paying less. Precarity is both cause and effect of a surplus workforce: the reason you’re only as good as your last article is because there are plenty of other folks who can write the next one in your place. The daily grind is: pitch, or perish.

B”ut criticism, so a counter-cliché goes, is not dying. An irony: this is an elite sport that is no longer elite in terms of who is able to practice it, but in economic terms it’s clutching to a perverse and outmoded hierarchical structure. It’s more meritocratic than ever, now: which is to say it isn’t meritocratic at all. That’s a paradox in bad need of a resolution…”

~ Michael Pattison Manifestoes Film Criticism

“It’s easy to forget when you’re reading a critic every single week or multiple times a week, that most of us who do this job, and have been doing it for a long time, understand that this is basically a parasitic profession. I don’t mean in the sense that we’re evil bloodsucking creatures, but we couldn’t exist if we didn’t have something to analyze. And I’m always conscious of that. So whether I like or don’t like a particular thing you do, my point of view is always that of an appreciator. I just like to be in the world that you create.”
~ Matt Zoller Seitz To Sam Esmail

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