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City Cinema owner reports on the Toronto International Film Festival

by Derek Martin

 Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie in Away From HerI imagine a minister would need, from time to time, to get away from his responsibilities and re-experience the pleasures of simply taking in a service in a church not his own. That's how I felt on my break from City Cinema to attend this year's Toronto International Film Festival in September. I saw 25 movies in 9 days. A lot, but I was a slacker compared to many of the people I met—a 40-film festival was not unusual. It was a strange temporary life. I got up at 7:00 in the morning to watch movies all day, isolated from the rest of the world. Of course, the movies took me back, often into a more intense reality. But I was in a comfortable chair.

I attended the Press & Industry screenings, spread between the upscale Varsity Cinemas and the homier Cumberland just a few blocks away. With 352 movies to choose from, some planning was required. I had mapped out the first few days like a student planning courses, allowing for travel time, line-ups, and even an occasional sandwich. I planned most of my “must-sees” for the early days, and left time for word-of-mouth movies and random discoveries.

This was the 38th Festival, and it showed in the organization. The screenings relied heavily on volunteers, and they were amazing. They should run Air Canada. With hundreds of people queuing up for shows in eight different theatres (at the Varsity), lines snaked all over the place, sometimes cut into two and three pieces, but it never felt disorganized. Someone was always there to answer my questions, and all the industry screenings I went to started exactly on time.

I can't cover all the movies I saw here, but I will mention a few I'm looking forward to screening at City Cinema. In the Canadian film department Congorama and Away From Her were both outstanding. Congorama tells the story of a Belgian engineer who travels to Quebec after learning he was adopted there. The story, involving the design for an electric car, a town full of families named LeGros, the Congo, Expo 67, and an emu, has a lot of twists but is never hard to follow. A solid mix of humour and substance. Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie lead a strong cast in Sarah Polley's Away From Her, an adaptation of Alice Munro's short story “The Bear Came Over The Mountain.” They play a couple dealing with her move into a home and the losses they face. Moving but never depressing, with some deliciously funny moments you wouldn't expect in a drama about Alzheimer's.

There were several war films, each with its own merits. They all looked amazing, from the high gloss of Black Book's World War II Holland, through the stony fields and lanes of rural Ireland in The Wind That Shakes the Barley and the lush but deadly Laotian jungle of Rescue Dawn, to the mix of the fantastic and the real in the civil war Spain of Pan's Labyrinth. This last was one of the best of my festival, combining a young girl's mythic quest with the harsh realities of fascist oppression to create a gripping, multi-layered story.

I liked almost all of what I saw, but some were outstanding. For Your Consideration, from Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman) kept the improvisational style of his earlier films, but not the documentary frame. The result was a sharp, relentlessly funny look at the Hollywood awards season. In 10 Items or Less director Brad Silberling took a step back from the big studio polish of Lemony Snicket to deliver an immensely pleasing low budget flick about an actor (Morgan Freeman) researching a role in a supermarket, who winds up on a series of small adventures with a Spanish cashier. Stranger Than Fiction was just quirky enough. Will Ferrel gave an effectively subdued performance as a man who starts hearing a voice narrating his life, while Maggie Gyllenhall and Emma Thompson were pitch-perfect in supporting roles. Anyone curious about what exactly John Waters' limits are will have to watch This Filthy World, his candid one man show that answers that and many other disturbing questions with twisted wit and decadent charm.

With so many films to choose from I created my own “festival within a festival.” Anyone can. While I was fortunate enough to have an industry pass, the Toronto Film festival is one of the most publicly accessible in the world. It's a religious experience for movie lovers.

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