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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

TIFF ’11 Dispatch: So Long, and Thanks for All the Films

This was a pretty fantastic year to be at TIFF. I saw many solid films, a fair number of fair-to-middling films, only one film bad enough to warrant a rare walkout, and even a few that were great.

The area around the Lightbox and Scotiabank felt like a real live festival center this year, complete with a few days of thronging crowds and celebrity gawkers blocking the sidewalk, but more importantly, on the P&I side, a real sense of a fest community, with lots of gathering at Second Cup and the Canteen by day and the bars and restaurants lining King and John streets by night. Nothing yet that quite matches the ambiance of the Petit Majestic bar in Cannes late nights for industry folks drinking and talking films and deal making, but many of the restaurant/bars with patios along John St between the Lightbox and Scotiabank especially, had a bit of that feel this year at TIFF.

Even my travel from Seattle to Toronto didn’t suck this year, thanks to David booking my flights on Southwest out of Seattle to Chicago Midway, avoiding O’Hare (which I believe may actually be one of Dante’s levels of hell, or if not it should be). From Midway I flew on regional Porter Airlines into the cutesy little Toronto City Airport (did you even know that was there? I didn’t), which is just about an eight minute, $10 or so cab ride to the Lightbox. Porter is offically my new favorite airline, and if I can help it, I will never, ever fly into Pearson International when going to Toronto again. The Porter planes are small regional jets, but there’s as much (or more) legroom than most full-size jets, and the seats are comfortable, leather, and feel first class. Your beverage is served to you in a real glass, not a plastic cup, and the flight attendants keep bringing you snacks and checking on you throughout the flight. Customs was a breeze, with customs officers who are actually friendly and welcoming and smiling.

On the return side of things, you get to the airport and check in, and there’s this lovely, cozy lounge where everyone waits to board their flight. At this lounge, they offer free espressos and lattes and teas, which you drink out of adorable little ceramic mugs with accompanying saucer. If you don’t want coffee or tea, there are coolers filled with free sodas, juices, or bottled water. They have an array of snacks also, packets of almonds and cookies and whatnot. You get your coffee, then make your way to one of the many ultra-comfy chairs. There are table lamps everywhere that lend a warm, cozy feel, and abundant power outlets to plug in your electronics, and free wifi. It was all so incredibly nice and easy and civilized.

This was a relatively short stay in Toronto, with six full days of films to watch as many films as possible, so I kept my focus on cramming in as many films as I could and writing as I was able, with the thought in mind that I’ll be able to finish writing up the films that most interested me at the fest from home, while the fest still rolls to its closing days with the remaining press folks holding down the fort. It was a deliberate choice on my part, and very different from how I’ve tended to cover fests in the past, frantically searching for a power outlet and hunching over my keyboard, desperately trying to keep pumping out writing in stolen moments between films.

I took a very free-form approach to my viewing schedule this year, deciding ahead which films on any given day’s schedule most interested me, and then just flowing with the day and seeing where it took me and what I was in the mood to see at any given time. It was wonderfully freeing to be able to enjoy the fest this way, to be able to just immerse myself in the joy of cinema without pressuring myself overly to be constantly spewing out quick reviews or even doing very much in the way of posting quick takes on Twitter or Facebook. This is the way in which I’ve always longed to be able to cover a festival, with the only pressure being my burning desire to see as much as possible in the time I had, and the opportunity to write thoughtfully about those films that I cared most about.

One advantage of this has been that I’ve been able to see 29 films in six days, which allowed me to get the most viewing out of my time on the ground at the fest. Another, at least for where I am right now with how I’m interested in writing about film, is that taking an approach of a less hectic pace to writing allows me to take the time to properly reflect upon a film rather than just spurting out whatever my immediate visceral reaction to it might be.

The other aspect of the fest, of course, is the opportunity to hang out and converse with a great many smart, interesting friends who are also lucky enough to work in the industry. I made sure to make time this year to connect with other people more, to sit and chat over coffee or sushi or late night dinner and drinks. I spent time watching movies and talking about the fest and other stuff — you know, life, the universe, everything — with as many of my wide circle of friends and acquaintances as I could.

Sitting with a table of friends over late night dinners and drinks talking films, looking at all these faces that have grown so familiar to me over the years, these colleagues and friends who are as much a part of the memory of every festival I’ve attended as the films I’ve seen there, I was flooded with gratitude to be able to work in this field, and to have these people to work alongside.

I am incredibly lucky to do what I do, we all are, and I find these days that I have less and less patience for the few surly folks among the critical set who slouch about the fests grousing about how everything they’ve seen sucks, and the fest is too crowded, and whatever else they can find to bitch about. We get paid to go to a fest like Toronto and watch a ton of great movies. There are way worse jobs to have in this world, so quit your bitching, be grateful you get to do this insanely awesome job, and try to enjoy some movies, will you?

Thursday I took some much needed downtime to recuperate and deal with a sick girlie at home, but I’ll be posting some more review roundups today and over the weekend. In the meantime, thanks, Toronto, for once again being a great festival to discover many films that challenged me and delighted me and made me feel excited and passionate about film. And thanks to my friends, for sharing it all with me. See you at the next fest.

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas