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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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“We now have a situation where audiences very often prefer commercial trash to Bergman’s Persona or Bresson’s L’Argent. Professionals find themselves shrugging, and predicting that serious, significant works will have no success with the general public. What is the explanation? Decline of taste or impoverishment of repertoire? Neither and both. It is simply that cinema now exists, and is evolving, under new conditions. That total, enthralling impression which once overwhelmed the audiences of the 1930s was explained by the universal delight of those who were witnessing and rejoicing over the birth of a new art form, which furthermore had recently acquired sound. By the very fact of its existence this new art, which displayed a new kind of wholeness, a new kind of image, and revealed hitherto unexplored areas of reality, could not but astound its audiences and turn them into passionate enthusiasts.

Less than twenty years now separate us from the twenty-first century. In the course of its existence, through its peaks and troughs, cinema has travelled a long and tortuous path. The relationship that has grown up between artistic films and the commercial cinema is not an easy one, and the gulf between the two becomes wider every day. Nonetheless, films are being made all the time that are undoubtedly landmarks in the history of cinema. Audiences have become more discerning in their attitude to films. Cinema as such long ago ceased to amaze them as a new and original phenomenon; and at the same time it is expected to answer a far wider range of individual needs. Audiences have developed their likes and dislikes. That means that the filmmaker in turn has an audience that is constant, his own circle. Divergence of taste on the part of audiences can be extreme, and this is in no way regrettable or alarming; the fact that people have their own aesthetic criteria indicates a growth of self-awareness.

Directors are going deeper into the areas which concern them. There are faithful audiences and favorite directors, so that there is no question of thinking in terms of unqualified success with the public—that is, if one is talking about cinema not as commercial entertainment but as art. Indeed, mass popularity suggests what is known as mass culture, and not art.”
~ Andrei Tarkovsky, “Sculpting In Time”

“People seem to be watching [fewer] movies, which I think is a mistake on people’s parts, and they seem to be making more of them, which I think is okay. Some of these movies are very good. When you look at the quality of Sundance movies right now, they are a lot better than they were when I was a kid. I do think that there have been improvements artistically, but it’s tough. We’ve got a system that’s built for less movies in terms of how many curatorial standard-bearers we have in the states. It’s time for us to expand our ideas of where we find our great films in America, but that said, it’s a real hustle. I’m so happy that Factory 25 exists. If it didn’t exist, there would be so many movies that wouldn’t ever get distributed because Matt Grady is the only person who has seen the commercial potential in them. He’s preserving a very special moment in independent film history that the commercial system is not going to be preserving. He’s figuring out how to make enough money on it to save these films and get them onto people’s shelves.”
~ Homemakers‘ Colin Healey On Indie Distribution