By Leonard Klady Klady@moviecitynews.com

Confessions of A Film Festival Junkie: Opening Toronto

Not that anyone can suitably prepare for ten days of the Toronto International Film Festival, but circumstances kept me from doing much pre-planning.

So far, so good with my on-the-fly approach. My flight was painless, credentials went smoothly and I got to the pre-fest reception for the first time ever held by the Toronto Film Critics Association. I have a solid guest on Monday for the radio show I do for the BBC.

It feels like every shop, every local regardless of age, ethnicity or political bent, knows the film festival is in town. I saw a shop on Queen Street named “Fest-tool,” and thought it was a gag but it was very real if not related in any way to TIFF.

Still all that bonhomie threatened to come undone as I entered the Scotiabank Theatre multiplex for my first screening. Last year, its up escalator broke down opening day and was out of commission for four days after. It broke again and a volunteer chirped, “It was working fine yesterday.” And by the time I’d finished watching a double header, it seemed to be working just fine. I barreled through a handful of movies to stay out of trouble. It turned out to be an auteur day with Aki Kaurismäki, Fatih Akin and Ruben Östlund’s Cannes Palme d’or winner, The Square. There’s no denying that Thursday’s films were worthy, serious cinema. The Square, revolving around the head curator of an avant-garde Swedish art museum, felt long and disjointed and esoteric in an often-hilarious examination of how art and commerce don’t coalesce.

The most personally satisfying was In the Fade, Akin’s harrowing story of a marriage disrupted when members of a hate group set off a bomb that kills the husband and the couple’s young child. Akin grapple with issues of justice and revenge, not unlike the recent Danish film, The Hunt. Diane Kruger won the acting prize at Cannes for her performance and anchors complex and subtle issues in an elegant production.

The festival itself took a haircut this year. The decision was made to trim the number of features by 60, and in the end the organizers whittled it by 55. There also won’t be a closing night party. Few attending international press and industry folk will notice as many leave after opening weekend. Closing night costs are the responsibility of the distributor and production company of the film that gets that slot apparently no one took the bait for a costly finale its target audience wasn’t going to see.

Day Two

Downsizing is a work of extraordinary imagination.

The difficult plot spins out of a scientific discovery that allows people to be physically reduced to eight percent of their size. The benefit, according to the inventors, is that it confronts the planet’s overpopulation challenge.

But it’s actually about a midwestern couple, in Alexander Payne’s Omaha, naturally, who can’t make ends meet and are spurred on by a high school pal who took the plunge to “start a new life.” The result is revelatory, unexpected, emotional, jarring and wholly consuming.

It’s also a meticulously crafted movie. The special effects demand scenes that contrast normal-sized folk with the “downsizers.” These sequences are executed without calling undue attention to themselves. It may be the most un-science-fiction science-fiction movie ever made. The brunt of the tale unfolds in one world or another where size is not a factor, but a way of life.

There are colonies of downsizers and they operate—at least initially—like any affluent community: think Orange County or Tempe or Fort Lauderdale. It’s easy to imagine why it took Payne and his screenwriter Jim Taylor a decade to get this project greenlit. Downsizing was supposed to be his followup to Sideways. Studios and production companies came and went; some uneasy that the price of a “social satire sci-fi” was not commensurate with its potential commercial appeal The wait proved beneficial. The science seems more plausible and accurate. And the material seems on target with the zeitgeist.

Toronto weather has run the gamut from warm and sunny to torrential downpours , shifting from one extreme to another several times a day. But it’s mostly been on the plus side during daylight hours, with locals and visitors enjoying the kiosks, exhibits and food trucks lined up along King Street, again been turned into a pedestrian mall.

Last year I quoted a City Hall insider who claimed King Street would not be closed in 2017 and the festival would be offered other spaces for outdoor events. He said the calamity for downtown traffic was too great to offset the Friday-Sunday shutdown. Today, I asked him what changed the city’s mind and he turned red and became upset. He essentially said that the mayor caved and would face the political consequences.

Historical biopics are common in this year’s TIFF selection. I saw Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin as well as Mark Felt, portryaing the senior FBI official better known as Deep Throat. Even though the former is more satiric and antic and the latter formal and conventional, they reminded me of my general uneasiness with efforts to grapple with the past via iconic figures of their time. As a history buff, I find myself anticipating scenes that follow chronological events. The imagined personal asides, generally relating to family life, usually make me cringe. In the case of Mark Felt, I knew there had to be that scene in the parking garage with Bob Woodward. In the film it was kept short and thankfully omitted the famous, totally fictional line: “Follow the money.”

Nonetheless one has a degree of impatience when one believes (sometimes incorrectly) they know the story. Unquestionably one has to present sufficient fact-based material for credibility but recent biopics tend to get mired down in suffocating history and lose sight of the contemporary resonances that would truly engage a generation largely unschooled in the lore that is their heritage.

 

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“TIFF doesn’t make attendance numbers for its Lightbox screenings publicly available, so it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many filmgoers the Lightbox is attracting (or how much money it’s bringing in). But the King Street West venue hasn’t become a significant draw for film enthusiasts. The Lightbox’s attendance has plunged – 49,000 fewer visitors last year, a drop of 27 per cent, according to figures recently reported in the Toronto Star. Its gallery space – designed to showcase the visions of cinema’s most iconic filmmakers – saw most of its exhibitions staff quietly axed this past fall. And its marketing barely escapes the Lightbox’s walls. Unless you are a TIFF member or one of the city’s most avid filmgoers, you could walk by the Lightbox and remain blissfully unaware of a single thing that goes on inside. TIFF “still has a world-class brand,” said Barry Avrich, a filmmaker and former board member, “but it’s going to take some fresh vision from retail, consumer programming and marketing experts, given how the lines have become intensely blurred when it comes to how people watch film. They will have to experiment with programming to find the right blend of function and relevance.”
~ Globe & Mail Epic On State of Toronto Int’l (paywalled)

“I’m 87 years old… I only eat so I can smoke and stay alive… The only fear I have is how long consciousness is gonna hang on after my body goes. I just hope there’s nothing. Like there was before I was born. I’m not really into religion, they’re all macrocosms of the ego. When man began to think he was a separate person with a separate soul, it created a violent situation.

“The void, the concept of nothingness, is terrifying to most people on the planet. And I get anxiety attacks myself. I know the fear of that void. You have to learn to die before you die. You give up, surrender to the void, to nothingness.

“Anybody else you’ve interviewed bring these things up? Hang on, I gotta take this call… Hey, brother. That’s great, man. Yeah, I’m being interviewed… We’re talking about nothing. I’ve got him well-steeped in nothing right now. He’s stopped asking questions.”
~ Harry Dean Stanton