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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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“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