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.
Too few days till TIFF, that’s the answer. Too few days and too many movies to wade through!
I have barely looked at the announcements this year. I’ve been busy with things like prepping for and attending Frontières @ Fantasia, and moving my office, and trying to keep up with Royal-related tasks, and submitting 100 funding applications for Birdland, and tackling the post-Fantasia rewrite of the script for Rite of the Witch Goddess, and trying to spend a bit of time with family at the cottage.
The cottage is a wonderful joy in my life and the pictures I post on Facebook make it seem like it’s nothing but barbecues and lake swims, and while that is mostly true, this year I was so exhausted by the time we got here that all I could do was sleep and stare off into space, at least for a few days.
It’s been a great chance to recharge, and spend time with both sets of parents, and my sister-in-law and niece (the cutest cutie in cutesville), and try to step away from social media (not entirely, but I check my phone approximately 200 times less per day up here than I do in Toronto and I feel like it’s helping me regrow brain cells).
And now I’m finally doing something that usually takes up a huge and pleasurable chunk of my summer, and that is: checking the TIFF lists and making some dream-lists. I know there are announcements yet to come, but I gotta get started.
Here’s my initial list, based on a quick glance at the TIFF website. I’ll delve more deeply when the book comes out. Here they are in order of programmes:
I’ll probably just wait for most of these to come out in theatres, because they surely will. But there is one I might try to catch at TIFF: The Connection. It stars Jean Dujardin, the sexiest actor alive, so it’s worth it, right? Plus, I saw the promo in Cannes and it looked really fun.
The other two Galas I’d like to catch are Maps to the Stars and Foxcatcher, both of which I missed in Cannes but really wanted to see. And I’m curious about The Judge, because Robert Downey Jr is second only to Jean Dujardin in my heart. Realistically though, I won’t bother with most of these at the Festival.
One highly anticipated film and one that I’ll see for the experience. First, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. Guys! A new Roy Andersson film! If you haven’t seen Songs from the Second Floor, do yourself a favour and seek it out immediately. This one’s my most anticipated Swedish joint of the year! Exclamation marks!
And yes, I am curious to see the Godard, Goodbye to Language 3D, in actual 3D.
Usually the least-frequented-by-me TIFF section this year it features several titles I’m excited about. A few Canadians, like Denys Arcand’s An Eye for Beauty and Xavier Dolan’s Mommy (I’m not a huge fan, but lots of trusted pals loved this one at Cannes so I’m willing to give him another chance).
There’s also a few by filmmakers who are on my “usually worth it” list, like Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden and Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini (it’s not about Ferrara, it’s that I’m actually too big a Pasolini fan not to see this one).
And of course, my absolute most anticipated film of the festival, Hal Hartley’s Ned Rifle. I want to re-watch Henry Fool and Fay Grim before TIFF just to get in the mood but I doubt I’ll have the time. I’ve written before about the profound impact of Hartley’s work on my life (and the way he is eternally connected to TIFF, for me). I remember the powerful, visceral reaction I had to Trust when I first saw it, accidentally, on TV, nearly 25 years ago. I was thrilled to be able to support both his most recent films on Kickstarter and I am totally elated that this one is playing at TIFF. Feels like a weirdly personal homecoming (maybe more for me than for Hartley, but let’s not quibble).
Perhaps because other titles haven’t been announced yet or perhaps because Discovery has become the de facto replacement for the Canada First programme, everything in this section that I’m excited about is Canadian.
There’s the delightfully weird-sounding Bang Bang Baby, by Jeffrey St Jules (whose short, The Tragic Story of Nling, charmed me ages ago). This one’s also produced by a friend so I’m excited to support his success as well. There’s Corbo, about a Quebec teen and the founding of the FLQ. There’s Songs she Wrote about People she Knows, by the director of Doppelgänger Paul, a film I really enjoyed a few TIFFs ago. There’s Wet Bum, winner of the best title award and also produced by a couple of rad women I know who I would like to cheer on.
I love documentaries. I might love them more than I even love features, but I don’t make as much time for them in my life. Lots of great ones coming to TIFF, as usual. Of course, Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence, is on my list and everyone else’s. I’m also curious to catch Sturla Gunnarsson’s Monsoon, and Nick Broomfield’s The Grim Sleeper.
Contemporary World Cinema
This catch-all hodgepodge category is always a chore to wade through. At least with Wavelengths or Vanguard or even Special Presentations you have some basic sense of the curatorial voice of the section. CWC is “everything from everywhere”, and it’s usually full of amazing films, so it’s not like you can just skip over it.
Here’s a few that sound intriguing. Behavior, from Cuba. Bird People, from France. Cut Snake, from Australia. The Grump, from Finland. I’ll watch anything from Finland, just about. Canadian Stéphane Lafleur’s Tu Dors Nicole, which I wanted to catch in Cannes. Partners in Crime, from Taiwan. The Reaper, from Croatia. Two Shots Fired, from Argentina.
And then there’s Li’l Quinquin, from Bruno Dumont. I thought La vie de Jesus was one of the best films of the decade. I was lukewarm on L’humanité and hated Twentynine Palms with a fiery passion I usually reserve for … I dunno, Julie Taymor.
I’ll go on the “why that movie is sexist and dumb and hateful and pretentious” rant some other time. The point is, I’ve been on a Dumont hiatus and this new oddity seems like it might be worth returning for.
After Ned Rifle, my most anticipated TIFF screening will be the restored version of John Paizs’ Crime Wave. I’ve written elsewhere about my love of the film, so I don’t need to repeat myself, but I will say this. I’m going to go to this screening, and I’m going to sit next to John Paizs, and maybe squeeze his arm out of un-containable excitement, and I’m going to have the best 90 minutes of my festival.
I might also try to catch Atom Egoyan’s Speaking Parts, because it’s a good film and because I know one of the actors who starred in it and I always enjoy the rare chance to see a pal on the big screen. Especially a pal as the fresh-faced youngster he was a whopping 25 years ago, a long-ass time before I met him!
I’ve seen a few of these already (because I live with the programmer) but I still heartily recommend them: Alleluia (a fave of mine from Cannes), Goodnight Mommy, Luna (Dave McKean! All those Sandman covers! Arkham Asylum!) and Spring.
And there are several others that are very high on my list. Peter “Berberian Sound Studio” Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy, for example. Or Takashi Miike’s Over Your Dead Body. Or Tetsuya Nakashima’s The World of Kanako.
Let’s face it. Vanguard looks like pretty much all hits and no misses this year.
What’s the point of even writing about this section? I’m married to it. I’m biased in its favour. And I’m excited about them all, obviously. Especially the ones I haven’t seen yet, but also the ones I have.
Tell me pals, what must-sees have I missed so far?
On the opening day of TIFF 2013, I find myself reminiscing about my history with the festival, which I’ve been attending fairly regularly (with a few gap years here and there) since the mid ’90s.
The first time I was supposed to attend a TIFF screening, I was in my last year of high school and my friend Peter scored tickets to whatever Hal Hartley film was premiering that year. It was probably Flirt, because ’95-96 was my grade 13 year (or OAC, as we used to call it in the olden days of the Ontario Academic Credit system), and that’s when Flirt came out.
I don’t really remember what film it was, and it doesn’t matter anyway, because I never made it to the screening. I got caught shoplifting instead. I was stealing Gravol, and I can’t even begin to tell you the nightmare chain reaction that began when my parents were called by store security and started to fear that maybe my friends and I were getting high off over-the-counter anti nausea meds. We weren’t (I’m not even sure it’s possible). We were just doing the completely idiotic things that teenage girls do, which apparently often involves shoplifting. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve compared this experience with those of my female friends, and apparently almost all of them have some history with stealing, even if it was just penny candies when they were eight years old. I don’t know what that’s about but it sounds like a fascinating research paper waiting to be written.
Anyway, back to TIFF. I was far more heartbroken to have missed a Hal Hartley film that day than to have so embarrassingly ended my short lived career as a thief.
To backtrack a little: When I was 16, I came home one day and turned the TV on, as I almost always did after school. I watched a lot of TV in those days. We were still fairly fresh immigrants, and my parents worked long hours at multiple jobs. It was lonely and quiet at the apartment when they weren’t there, so I watched old sitcoms in syndication (Welcome Back Kotter and Cheers, most especially), reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and an endless parade of movies on the Movie Network, or whatever the still relatively new “all movies” channel was called back then.
On that day, 16 year old me sat down and started watching a film that had begun a few minutes before. I didn’t miss much, plot-wise. But I did miss the title, so I had no idea what the film was. Remember, this was pre-Google. It was even pre- there being a channel on the TV that listed what was playing. I had no way of finding out what this film was unless by some miracle one of my friends had also seen it at the same time. Spoiler alert: they didn’t, and it took me a damn year to find out what the film was.
I was completely mesmerized by the steely-eyed, trench-coat wearing, grenade toting male lead, the beautifully written dialogue and the strangely flat delivery that all the actors seemed committed to. I wasn’t a completely ignorant 16 year old. I’d been to the Cinematheque, I’d seen “art films”. They were usually foreign, and almost always a few decades old. But I had never seen a contemporary film – clearly American, too – that didn’t fit the mainstream Hollywood mould. And even though I was listening to bands like Pavement and Beat Happening, it never really occurred to me that “American indie” was a term that could apply to film too.
I was completely obsessed with this film. I memorized lines from it and recited them to other people in the hopes that they’d recognize them and tell me what it was. I checked the movie channel regularly, hoping to catch it again. Like I said, it took about a year. The film was Trust by Hal Hartley (this is the scene that made me fall in love). You can argue with me all you want that Simple Men or Surviving Desire is better, but for me, Trust will always be The One. It literally (and I do not mean figuratively) changed my life.
I still get weak in the knees when I see Martin Donovan’s face, and I can still recite lines from the film.
But back to TIFF. In 1995, I was heartbroken that my incredibly stupid decision to steal a drug I wasn’t even interested in taking prevented me from seeing one of his films on the big screen. I graduated from high school, never shoplifted again, and started attending TIFF on my own. I loved the whole process – yes, even getting up at 3am in order to line up to hand in my tickets. I bought tickets in advance but I especially savoured my time in rush lines, where I would meet other movie buffs, swap stories, and take (often fantastic) recommendations on what to see. One of my favourite rush line experiences goes back to – you guessed it – Hal Hartley. It was 1998, and my friend Eddy and I were hellbent on seeing Book of Life. Hartley had premiered Henry Fool the previous year, and was still on a pretty hot streak of great movies. I was out of my mind excited. We arrived four hours early in the rush line at the Cumberland. We sat in that cold alley next to the cinema and waited as other people were let into earlier films until we were at the front of the line. Even in 2013, four hours is excessive. In 1998, it was downright insane.
About three hours before the feature was scheduled to screen, another couple got in line behind us. “What film are you here for?” they asked, clearly puzzled. Turns out, they were also Hartley mega-fans who thought that arriving in the rush line three hours early would assure at they’d be first in line.
We spent our time in the line chatting like old friends, and of course, all four of us got in. We sat in the first or maybe second row, close enough that I had to crane my neck, anyway. Book of Life isn’t my favourite Hartley film but it’s pretty good, and that experience was totally fantastic.
Not that I’m a jaded oldster with a fancypants industry pass to TIFF, I really miss those early days, in the lineups with the actual fans. These days, I contribute to Hal Hartley’s films on Kickstarter and don’t get to see them on the big screen, and that breaks my heart a little bit as well. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make here. Attending TIFF while I was in university was as valuable to me as the formal education I was getting. It changed the course of my life.
What was my point? Oh yeah: don’t fucking shoplift. Do go to TIFF.