TIFF preview

I’m hoping to try something new for Filmjourney‘s coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival this year. Last year, my friend J. Robert Parks, film critic for Paste magazine and Chicago’s Hyde Park Herald, sent in ongoing updates. This year, not only am I attending myself, but several more friends will be there as well. Thus, I hope to blog summaries linked to various write-ups.

I won’t be arriving in Toronto until tomorrow, so J. Robert sets the stage with his festival preview. –Doug

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by J. Robert Parks

My friend Mike Hertenstein describes it as the equivalent of Christmas morning. He’s referring to the day the schedule comes out for the Chicago International Film Festival, but it holds true for Toronto’s festival as well. I’m not embarrassed to say that I had trouble sleeping the night before the Toronto program arrived at my door, and I woke up before 7 a.m. that morning for the first time in several months because I was so excited. When I was nine, Christmas held the promise of new toys. Now that I’m 37, the last Wednesday in August holds the promise of new movies, movies that no one else has seen before, movies that I may never have a chance to see again. That’s no exaggeration. Naomi Kawase’s Shara, my favorite film from last year’s festival, hasn’t played anywhere else since, and my hopes that it’ll receive even a small distribution deal have faded away.

But with over 300 movies to choose from and only nine days to see them, how do I whittle down the possibilities to just 40? How do I decide to see a mystical film from Thailand instead of an earthy, Russian movie? Why do I choose a dusty movie from Afghanistan instead of an acclaimed documentary on wine? And why is almost everyone in Toronto scrambling to get a ticket for a film about female genital mutilation in Africa?

You ask any festival goer, especially the hardcore cineastes, and he’ll be able to describe in excessive detail how he arranges his schedule. For me, I have a complicated system that takes into account various factors: the country where the film was made, if the movie has played at other festivals and won any prizes, whether people I respect are hoping to see it. I upgrade shorter movies and downgrade three-hour epics (the festival experience is tiring enough without a 200-minute epic). I check out reviews from the European festivals and what they say about movies playing in Toronto. The most important factor though, is the director. I’m not a hardcore auteur theorist, but I do believe that good directors usually make good films, and the filmmaker’s track record is the best indicator of future quality. So if AgnËs Varda has a movie in the fest, I’m probably lining up for that one. Same with Lukas Moodysson, Zhang Yimou, and Michael Winterbottom. And when Toronto brings not one but two Kiarostamis, well I’d sell my prized Dire Straits bootleg for tickets to those.

Other things that play a part are if I know and like the actors involved. I’m a sucker for anything Zhang Ziyi is in, so that makes House of Flying Daggers an easy choice. Judy Marte was impressive in her debut, Raising Victor Vargas, so I’m willing to give On the Outs a chance. I also look for movies that handle themes I’m interested in: issues of faith and truth, poverty and class, adolescence and growing-up. And finally, there’s just gut feel. Sometimes, I see a picture in the program, and I want to see it. Last year, the photo for the Russian film The Return was startlingly beautiful, so I bought a ticket, and I was thrilled I did.

So, having said all that, what films made my cut this year? Well, first the bad news. Though I desperately wanted to see Notre musique, Godard’s most-acclaimed feature in years, the two public screenings were scheduled for Thursday and Friday morning, and I’m not arriving in Toronto until early Friday afternoon. Ditto on a movie from Hungary called After the Day Before, which sounded exceedingly interesting. Three movies I was hoping to see sold out before I could get tickets: Ousmane Sembene’s MoolaadÈ (the aforementioned female genital mutilation movie), Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education, and an anthology movie called Eros, with contributions from Wong Kar-wai, Steven Soderbergh, and Michaelangelo Antonioni. But that still leaves me with 38 movies.

And now the list. The movie title comes first, then the director in parentheses, and then a short description of why I chose this one.

Fri., Sept. 10

4:45 — Oyster Farmer (Anna Reeves): There weren’t a lot of choices for my first film, so I went with this Australian tale of a “fetching young man” trying to adjust to the sleepy farming community of New South Wales.

7:15 — Touch the Sound (Thomas Riedelsheimer): Riedelsheimer directed the gorgeous documentary Rivers and Tides, so this new documentary about a percussionist and sound design sounded inviting.

9:45 — Turtles Can Fly (Bahman Ghobadi): Ghobadi directed the beautifully provocative A Time for Drunken Horses. Plus this film is about the lead-up to the war in Iraq, but from a very different perspective than we’ve received in the U.S.

Sat., Sept. 11

9:30am — Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul): this young Thai director made Blissfully Yours, one of the best films I’ve seen this year, so I’m anxious to see what he does next

12:15 — Clean (Olivier Assayas): Assayas isn’t always my cup of tea, but the film stars the luminous Maggie Cheung as well as Nick Nolte, who has done some very impressive work in the last few years. The reviews from Cannes were also strong.

6:00 — Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Kore-eda): another movie that drew great praise at Cannes, it spotlights the theme of teenagers and children growing up.

9:00 — My Summer of Love (Pawel Pawlikowski): another coming-of-age tale, this one has great buzz about it after its premiere in Edinburgh.

Sun., Sept. 12

9:30am — House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou): Zhang Yimou, Zhang Ziyi, and lots of martial arts and pageantry. Enough said.

12:15 — 3-Iron (Kim Ki-duk): from the director of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring, this relationship drama sounds strong.

3:00 — Hole in My Heart (Lukas Moodysson): though I’m a little nervous about the buzz on this one (apparently it’s tough stuff), I love Moodysson’s work and his willingness to think about contemporary morality.

6:00 — Earth and Ashes (Atiq Rahimi): I love Iranian cinema. Though this film is Afghani, the description makes it sound like a film Makhmalbaf might’ve made.

8:30 — Wavelengths program #3 (various directors): Last year, I took a chance on a program of avant-garde works, and I was thrilled I did. In the middle of a festival, there’s something useful about seeing something completely different. It’s like a cleansing of the palette, a reminder of the various ways in which we can watch a moving image. So I emailed my good friend Neil Robinson, who knows a lot more about experimental cinema than I do, for his recommendation. Fortunately, his suggestion didn’t conflict with anything else I wanted to see.

Mon., Sept. 13

9:15am — Darwin’s Nightmare (Hubert Sauper): I admit that sleep might get in the way of this screening, but I wanted to see at least a few documentaries this festival. And this one about the effects of globalization on African fisherman sounded compelling.

11:45am — Schizo (Guka Omarova): I’ve been greatly impressed with the films I’ve seen from central Asia in the last couple years, so I thought I’d take a chance on this movie from Kazakhstan.

4:45 — Cinevardaphoto (Agnes Varda): Agnes Varda directed the absolutely delightful and insightful The Gleaners and I. This new personal documentary about photography sounds just as good.

7:00 — On the Outs (Lori Silverbush and Michael Skolnik): the movie starring Judy Marte, but the theme of lower-class Latino teenagers was a draw, too.

9:30 — Be Here to Love Me (Margaret Brown): One thing I haven’t mentioned is what a social festival Toronto is. You’d think that spending all your time in dark rooms would be an isolating experience (and I guess it could be), but I have so many friends that I get to see over these days. We watch movies together, and then we grab a bite to eat and talk about what we’ve seen. This documentary about Townes van Zandt doesn’t hold great appeal for me, but my friend Darren Hughes wanted to see it, and I didn’t have anything else I wanted to see that night. So off I go.

Tues., Sept. 14

9:45am — Lila Dit Ca (Ziad Doueiri): another potential casualty, depending on how tired I am. But Doueiri directed West Beirut, a small gem of a movie, so I’m curious what his next step is

noon — 10e Chambre, Instants (Raymond Depardon): a documentary about the French judicial system, this got rave notices at Cannes.

3:00 — Shake Hands with the Devil (Peter Raymont): another documentary, this one about the U.N. commander in Rwanda during the genocide ten years ago.

6:30 — 9 Songs (Michael Winterbottom): Winterbottom is one of the more fascinating directors working today. Furthermore, the sexually explicit content of this one means that it might not make it to Chicago.

9:15 — Buffalo Boy (Minh Nguyen-Vo): my love of East Asian film comes to the fore, and I can’t pass up a quiet Vietnamese coming-of-age tale.

Wed., Sept. 15

noon — Palindromes (Todd Solondz): after a nice morning to sleep in, I wake up to Todd Solondz. I’m still not sure what I think of this director, but I am interested to see what he does next. Besides, there wasn’t anything at this time I wanted to see more.

4:00 — The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel): another huge hit at Cannes, it’s also a nice representation of the explosion in Argentinean cinema.

6:00 — CafÈ LumiËre (Hou Hsiao-hsien): Hou with an homage to Ozu. What more could I ask for?

9:00 — Old Boy (Park Chan-wook): more East Asian cinema, this one’s from Korea and comes highly recommended.

midn. — Kontroll (Nimrod Antal): it feels like I should see at least one midnight movie in Toronto, and this one sounded the most accessible.

Thurs., Sept. 16

9:30am — Yesterday (Darrell James Roodt): a fictional film dealing with African AIDS crisis sounds powerful, but I’m not sure I’ll be out of bed for this one. But I’ll try.

2:00 — L’Intrus (Claire Denis): Denis attempting to tell a story in “purely visual and aural terms.” I’m there.

6:00 — Stray Dogs (Marziyeh Meshkini): more Iranian cinema, and Meshkini has already proven herself with the surreal The Day I Became a Woman.

9:00 — A Tout de Suite (Benoit Jacquot): One last factor I haven’t mentioned is that I like to see at least a few films that will play in next month’s Chicago International Film Festival. That way I can expand my coverage of that fest. Jacquot’s latest is playing in Chicago, and it sounded like it’d be worthwhile.

Fri., Sept. 17

9:00am — Boats Out of Watermelon Rinds (Ahmet Ulucay): a Turkish movie about teenage boys trying to break into movies. Now that’s a festival film.

11:15am — Low Life (Im Kwon-taek): Im’s 2001 feature Chunhyang was my favorite movie of that year. I didn’t like Chiwaeson as much, but I’m still excited to see what he comes up with.

4:00 — 5 x 2 (Francois Ozon): another director’s choice.

6:30 — Duck Season (Fernando Eimbcke): a laid-back comedy about Mexican teenagers might be just what I need at this point in the festival.

Sat., Sept. 18

9:00am — 10 on Ten / Five (Abbas Kiarostami): Kiarostami! Kiarostami! Kiarostami!

12:30 — Diary of a Country Priest (Robert Bresson): I really wish this movie was closer to the beginning of the festival. Even with Chantal Akerman providing an introduction, the rigor of Bresson might be hard to take on day 9. But I’m going to give it a try.

3:45 — Whisky (Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll): another movie with great buzz at Cannes. Besides, I’ve never seen a movie from Uruguay before.

7:00 — Eros (various directors): I don’t have a ticket to this, but I’m hoping that somehow the rush line will be kind to me.

9:30 — Brodueses (Eleonore Faucher): a prize-winner at Cannes provides the send-off for Toronto

Well, that’s the lineup. Judging from last year, though, I suspect at least a few of these will change. I’ll hear something good about something else, something bad about a movie I have scheduled. I’ve learned to trust the advice of friends on these matters.

I’ll try to post every day. Thanks for reading.