Monday September 8, 2014
Monday was clearly going to be the best day of my TIFF, because it was the day I got to see Ned Rifle. Though by the end of the fest it may be tied for best day with Friday, the day on which I’ll get to sit next to John Paizs and watch the restored print of Crime Wave (swoon times ten).
I eased into the day with breakfast and a bit of work on that Hal Hartley interview (it can be found here), which I fiddled with for probably longer than was necessary. Then off to Ned Rifle, which was a lovely, pleasant surprise. Funny, smart, and all the other things I have come to expect from Hartley, and it was a really great conclusion to the trilogy – definitely his best work since Henry Fool, and definitely “for the fans”. Every actor from the Hartley stable makes an appearance, even ones who have no business in this trilogy. Of course Martin Donovan is perfect (always perfect) but I especially liked Bill Sage’s cameo (who is also perfect, by the way).
Just watch the trailer and feel the Hartley vibes just radiating straight out of your laptop.
In the afternoon, I went up to the REEL CANADA office to do a bit of work, then to the Royal to give a few out of towners a tour of the facility (mostly friends who are in town for TIFF and run cinemas in other parts of the world). The brief taste of post-TIFF life was intoxicating. I love this festival, but I can’t wait to get back to a normal routine for a while after it’s over. I don’t want to travel or do anything exciting this fall. I just want to live in Toronto, hang out with my actual, non-festival-life friends, cook my own meals, and be at home. It will be wonderful.
In the meantime, hilarious TIFF moments are also wonderful. I had dinner with Norbert and Nadino at Yuzu, a top-notch Japanese place near the festival centre, and then joined Colin for a drink at the fancy place where the TIFF directors’ dinner was being held. A couple of times during the festival, TIFF organizes giant dinners for all the directors. Just think! Your first movie gets selected for TIFF, and you find yourself munching on a kale salad while you’re seated next to … I don’t know, Jean-Luc Godard or someone. I mean, I’m pretty sure he’s not here, but you get my point.
While we were enjoying our drinks, a jovial older man and his small-ish entourage joined us on the rooftop patio, and the bartender quietly informed us that it was “some German director who had just won a prize.” Turns out it was (totally Swedish) Roy fucking Andersson, who’d just found out he won the Golden Lion in Venice. Holy!
We didn’t want to intrude on his private celebration on the patio for very long, so we packed it in after one round and cabbed up to the Ryerson.
At Midnight I battled the sleep-veil that was descending upon me to watch Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. It’s a fun documentary of the sort Mark Hartley always makes. The kind of doc that I can watch at midnight and not fall asleep. I’m already making a mental list of films to watch post-TIFF. Top contender? Ninja 3: The Domination, in which the spirit of an evil ninja possesses an aerobics instructor. It’s Flashdance meets The Exorcist meets … y’know, ninjas. Sounds perfect.
Sunday September 7, 2014
I almost didn’t write about Sunday, because it was somewhat of a “day off” from movies (and when I say “somewhat” I mean “entirely” – I saw nothing on Sunday).
Still, no-movie days are a more-frequent-than-I’d-like reality of my festival life these days, and it was nonetheless a chock-full day of adventures and activities, so I won’t skip over it just because I am too ashamed to admit that I’ve already miserably failed to achieve my “minimum three, maximum five” goal and it’s not even the end of the opening weekend.
I started the day with a fantastic appointment – interviewing Peter Strickland, whose film, The Duke of Burgundy, is shaping up to be one of my absolute faves of the festival. It’s always a pleasure to speak to a smart, articulate, eloquent person about interesting things like relationship dynamics, sado-masochism, and gender politics. But it’s especially pleasant when that person has just made a film that wraps all of those subjects up in a pair of silk stockings and hands it all to you like a sumptuous gift. What a film! And what a charming and intelligent director. I’ll be writing it up for Toronto Film Scene and posting soon.
Meanwhile, the Hal Hartley interview I conducted last week has been posted, and I spent a goodly amount of time on Sunday trying to finish writing it up. The transcription was the easy part. Mr. Hartley speaks clearly and slowly enough that I typed up the 30 minute interview pretty much in real time. But choosing what to keep and how to wrap it up in my own prose was the tough part, since I hadn’t yet, at that point, seen his film. Spoiler alert: I saw it on Monday and loved it beyond measure, but that’s for a blog-post-to-come.
After the interview with Mr. Strickland, at which he gave me a vinyl recording of some cricket sounds (swoon)(except, the gift was actually for Colin!)(he gets all the coolest gifts during this festival), I went to CBC’s Canada House at the corner of Peter and King to watch the REEL CANADA team talk about the importance of Canadian film, and of getting it out there into the world, for the Canadian public to enjoy. It’s always a pleasure to watch people talk about how great we are, but hearing the genuine appreciation from Charles Officer (who took his doc, Mighty Jerome, to five cities across the country with REEL CANADA’s help last Feb as part of a Black History Month) was really touching.
I had lunch at Paese (my favourite of the “across from Lightbox” lunch options, in case you’re asking) with the RC team and then jetted off to meet with a sales agent who’s interested in Rite of the Witch Goddess. After the quickie meeting, I managed to zip back to the hotel for a change of clothes before the Midnight Madness cocktail, where I caught up with an infinite number of people and drank many gin & tonics. People occasionally disbelieve this fact about me, but I’m not naturally great at parties. It can sometimes take me a while to build up to full-schmooze mode, and I find it incredibly draining. I am certainly not one of those lucky extroverts who actually feels energized by interacting with lots of people.
Post-party I had intended to have dinner with the lovely Norbert (director of Replace) and his equally lovely wife Nadine, but after a quick meeting I went to the hotel, crashed, and woke up hours later completely confused and with a phone full of missed calls and texts. C’est la festival vie, eh?
I ordered spicy Thai soup to the hotel room and stayed the hell in for the rest of the night. I’d seen It Follows in Cannes, and while it would have been fantastic to see it on a much bigger screen with a much wilder crowd … going to bed early(ish, my body clock is all screwed up so I didn’t really get to sleep before 2am) was better.
Saturday September 6, 2014
As I sit in my TIFF hotel room writing this, it is Monday morning, and I’m already having trouble remembering what I did on Saturday. Colin gets a hotel room, as part of his job, which is why I am in one. His “workday” ends at 3am every night, and the ability to stroll to and from the Lightbox over the course of a day to change clothes, take a quick nap, and so on, really makes a big difference.
So, Saturday? I started the day with The Duke of Burgundy, which may well end up being one of my TIFF faves. I’m interviewing the director, Peter Strickland (who you may remember from last year’s Berberian Sound Studio) for Toronto Film Scene, and had to make sure I saw the film beforehand. I’m doing two interviews this year, because my editor at TFS is a lovely woman, with two filmmakers I’m so excited about – Strickland, and all-time-lifelong-fave Hal Hartley. That interview’s already in the can. I did it over the phone a few days ago, and was all nerves, but he was charming and eloquent and smart and all the things I wanted and needed him to be. Writing up the interview (and whittling it down to a manageable thousand words or so) will be its own challenge, but I’m ready for it.
I had to tell Hal Hartley, in the interest of honesty, full disclosure, and a smooth interview, that I hadn’t actually seen his film yet – not because the publicist didn’t send me a link, but because I was so looking forward to it that I had to leave myself at least half a film’s worth of surprises for the big screen experience. He seemed okay with this. I’ve written before about how Hartley influenced me, so you might understand just how excited I am about Ned Rifle, a film that stars every member of the ’90s Hartley stable and concludes a trilogy that practically marked the beginning of my own love affair with TIFF in 1997. It’s a big deal, is what I’m saying.
But back to Saturday. The Duke of Burgundy is the kind of movie that I don’t like to spend much time explaining, because it’s better experienced than heard about, the visual and aural beauty of it impossible to describe anyway, and the subtle story difficult to explain without giving too much away.
After the film, I joined Colin for a meeting with a company that might like to hire us to do some consulting. I can’t talk about it yet, but all my fingers are crossed that something works out, because the past year of “producing” has been a lean one for me, and the cost of business development, international travel and so on has all taken its toll. I’m tired. And kind of broke. And looking forward to an autumn spent in Toronto, and not anywhere else.
In the evening I went to see Dave McKean’s Luna, which I was so happy to have made time for on the big screen, because it’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in a long time. I went with my parents, and with Carl, a friend I don’t see enough of and miss all the time and was happy to catch up with for five minutes, though post-TIFF catching up with all my Toronto friends is a big goal.
I joined Colin at the reception for Tusk, the new Kevin Smith film that was playing Midnight on Saturday, where I drank several actually very good cocktails and ate a supremely odd “jalapeño popsicle” before jetting off to the Canadian party while everyone else went off to watch Tusk. I vote #walrusyes, for the record.
The Canadian party was at the Arcadian Court, on the eighth floor of the building at Queen and Yonge that houses The Bay, and it happens to be where my high school held its prom, at least on the year that I graduated. I’m not sure if I’ve been there since, but I can certainly confirm that there wasn’t a gigantic ice sculpture stuffed with mini-champagne bottles at my prom.
I stole a very soft Canada Goose toque from the party. It was on this weird life-sized husky-&-sled diorama that I couldn’t stop myself from hopping onto. I’m sorry, Canada.
Friday September 5, 2014
This year, I’m trying a new approach to film-watching-at-TIFF. I want to see as much as I can, but I don’t want to be overly rigid about my schedule. It’s hard to choose from among the hundreds of films, but stacking everything too neatly into a spreadsheet means missing out on the opportunity to see something that I might not have noticed in the programme book, but comes highly recommended by a friend, or a friendly stranger in a coffee shop lineup.
My new motto is “minimum three, maximum five”. I’ll aim to see a minimum of three films each day, though I know even that will be too ambitious on certain days. I’m planning to see most of the Midnights and many of the Vanguards as well, but for the rest of it, I’m going to keep things relatively loose. I have the luxury of an industry pass that gets me into the parallel shadow-world of press & industry screenings, most of which don’t “sell out” completely, and most of which don’t involve lengthy line-ups (though lineups are a large part of what I enjoy about the public festival experience at TIFF).
P&I access means I can afford to be slightly more cavalier about my schedule, though it’s a strategy I used to employ when I relied exclusively on public tickets as well. I’d get a package (10 tickets, say) and only select six films, leaving myself four unassigned vouchers to trade in for tickets over the course of the festival. That way, I could go to a film that I overheard strangers discussing in line, or walk into a film I knew nothing about, just because it happened not to be sold out. Those were – and still are – some of my best experiences at festivals. Going in with no expectations, open to the possibility of experiencing something beautiful and surprising, is a real joy.
On Friday I managed three films. I had a non-TIFF meeting to attend in the morning (how dare real life still continue to exist outside this bubble!?) so my first screening was in the afternoon. 1001 Grams, a charming Norwegian film about a scientist in charge of taking Norway’s prototype of the kilogram to an international kilo conference run by an international institute of weights and measures. As you can well imagine, hi jinx do ensue, but they’re of a quiet, relationship-y type, and the film is touching and funny and uplifting in all the right ways. More than anything, I was amused at the brief glimpse into a world – that of weights and measures – that undoubtedly does exist (someone’s got to be ensuring that the kilo weighs the same amount here as it does in Japan, surely?!), and feels as alien as can be without actually being exotic (though esoteric scientific worlds are alluring, in their own highly un-exotic way). A perfect backdrop for a sweet relationship story.
Later, the World Premiere of Spring, by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead, the adorable duo who brought the world Resolution a couple of years ago. This one’s a Vanguard pick of Colin’s, so even though I’d seen the screener with him a few months ago, I was very excited to see it on the big screen and share it with friends. It’s a beautiful, smartly written, gorgeously shot film. I brought my parents to it, and after the screening my father called it “meta-horror” and my mother called it “touching and romantic”, so it’s clearly a film for everyone! Post-Spring, in the sudden downpour, I scurried across the way to Paupers for some drinks with the filmmakers and assorted pals, and yelled over the house band (why on earth does Paupers have a house band?) about movies and felt good to be in the middle of the TIFF maelstrom.
When Team Spring left for dinner, I left for the Big Game party, Friday’s Midnight film, where I downed a couple of sliders and some potato chips with slices of steak on them (don’t question the TIFF party hors d’oeuvres, just be thankful they exist).
TIFF dinners. They are not actual “dinners” 70% of the time. They are burritos eaten while standing in line, elaborate canapés inhaled at receptions, mints found at the bottoms of bags and hungrily sucked on during movies.
By the time midnight actually rolled around, I was incredibly sleepy. The kind of droopy-eyed sleepy that feels as if it’s already a barely-lucid dream. I lost some chunks of the first 20 minutes, but Big Game won me over. The action, the comic timing, that adorable Finnish kid, Samuel Jackson as a somewhat bumbling and refreshingly un-badass US President, it all came together into exactly the kind of kid-power film I truly love and wish was made more often these days.
And then another cab ride home, during which Colin scrolls through tweeted responses to the film and I read Matt Brown’s impossibly-quickly-posted blog entry for the day, and think to myself, “I love that Matt Brown, I wish he was in my life more.”
Thursday September 4, 2014
After a late-but-not-too-late and boozy-but-not-too-boozy night at Cold Tea on the eve of TIFF, I managed to start my festival with a bang. Four movies on the first day feels like a victory and it also feels like a return to what it’s really all about. I got into film because I love watching films. I started going to festivals so that I could watch as many great films from around the world as possible in a short span of time, with the heightened atmosphere of an international community of cinephiles surrounding me in a cocoon of giddy enthusiasm.
And yet, and yet. These days, when I go to Cannes or Berlin, I don’t see much. There are meetings, dinners, receptions. There is rushing around and trying to find people and frantic texting. But there is not a lot of time left for films, and that makes me sad. At TIFF, I am not only on my home turf, but I’m also not at a film market – not an official one, anyway, though my sales agent friends might disagree. I feel protective of my own TIFF experience because it’s my hometown festival, the first one I fell in love with, the one I started going to as soon as I graduated from high school. I still want to experience it as a festival, not just as an opportunity to do business. I want to be swept away by the actual power of film. Old fashioned, I know.
This year, I started with a bit of Cannes catch-up, with the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night, an uplifting downer starring Marion Cotillard as a depressed factory worker who’s fighting not to be laid off. Next, Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, a bleak film whose premise seems to be that Hollywood is a place for depraved monsters to paint their cruelty upon each other until there’s nothing left. Someone gets bludgeoned with a Genie Award though, and that might be the best use of one of those ever committed to film.
In the evening, I go to the premiere of Sunshine Superman, a doc about the delightfully nerdy dude who invented base jumping. It was beautiful, but it did not make me want to jump out of planes, or off cliffs, or antenna towers, or bridges, or skyscrapers. My commitment to terra firma remains, well, firm. My date is the effervescent Sam Horley, an exec producer on the film and England’s most charming film sales person (sorry, everyone else). I hit up a falafel joint with her and some friends post-film and pre-party, then headed to the Sunshine Superman reception, where mac & cheese croquettes are served. I met a couple of Torontonians who aren’t in the film biz, but happen to be friends with someone affiliated with the film. Always refreshing to chat with people at film parties who aren’t schmoozing or hustling, or even necessarily interested in only talking about movies.
Around 11ish I jetted off to the Ryerson for the Midnight Madness opener, the Japanese hip hop musical Tokyo Tribe, a film that’s not exactly my cup of tea, but is undeniably entertaining and a fine addition to the cannon of films that make Japan seem like the batshit-insanest place on earth.
And then bed, sweet bed, for too few hours before we do it all again.
Remember these TIFF 2009 bumpers for the RBC Emerging Filmmakers talent lab thingy? I think this was my favourite campaign they ever did. Although Uncle Marv was also pretty good. These three are in descending order of my love for them.
First and foremost, I cannot and will not forget the Cheetah Prince:
After Party was also funny, with maybe slightly less staying power:
I enjoyed Chic Chicken, but it paled in comparison with the other two.