Report from 2008 Toronto Film Festival
by Randy Burrows
In September, 312 films screened as part of the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival. So it’s pretty easy to avoid the red-carpet, Ben Mulroney-side of the festival during the ten days. And, as a fan of cinema, it’s wiser to avoid that side of TIFF and concentrate on the smorgasbord of cinema. Not only is tracking down Brad Pitt a colossal time-waster, it’s cost-ineffective to spend money on TIFF’s increasingly pricey $22 tickets to see studio films that are scheduled for multiplex release next month anyway (Burn After Reading, for instance, was released nationally before TIFF ended). Besides, Joe-Blow-filmgoer is slowly being bullied out of the Hollywood-y stuff anyway. This year, TIFF priced one venue’s tickets at $30, making the venue unavailable to folks with festival passes and ticket packages. So the 45 movies in my TIFF ’08 lineup featured gambles on smaller unknown indies and foreign flicks.
Film screenings at TIFF are pretty cool events. Not only do crowds consist of relatively smart people, but also relatively old people. The arcades in the lobbies were eerily silent. Huge cinemas are full at 9 am for obscure little foreign films. This year it seemed that festival-goers were a little less social than others and a little more caught up in the worlds of their iPhones and Samsung Instincts. To my disbelief, several boorish filmgoers routinely checked and sent texts during screenings causing glowing phones to luminate everywhere. I suppose, though, that wasn’t as bad as the behaviour of the critic who turned around and hit Roger Ebert during a screening. Violence and texting aside though, TIFF audiences are a knowledgeable, friendly, and film-loving crowd, and it’s exciting to be in their midst for a few days.
When you go to the festival and take chances on films you know little about, you really hope that you guess well. You don’t always. For instance, I learned that films about family-run X-rated cinemas involving people chasing goats are not a wise investment of time (Serbis). Neither are experimental films with no scripts and involving three characters loitering (Three Wise Men, and Birdsong). However, there were a number of gems that I came across, some of which have North American release schedules. If you have a chance, check them out.
Best of My Fest: 1. Wendy and Lucy (USA)—an affecting drama about the decay of the economy and its intrinsic link to struggling families. 2. The Wrestler (USA)—a brilliant performance by Mickey Rourke as a washed up “Macho” man. 3. Il Divo (Italy)—a biopic about an Italian politician handled with the energy of Tarantino and the style of Ritchie. 4. Revanche (Austria)—Gotz Spielmann’s gritty new crime/love drama. Brilliant (his last masterpiece Antares is available on DVD). 5. JCVD (Belgium)—Jean Claude Van Damme plays himself in the hilarious drama/comedy/action film about Van Damme’s dwindling career. 6. Waltz with Bashir (Israel)—Shocking and emotional animated documentary about a military massacre. 7. Four Nights with Anna (Poland)—Funny and creepy. A Mr. Bean-like character takes to stalking his neighbor. 8. Martyrs (France/Canada)—starts as a nasty revenge-thriller, turns nasty, then turns surprisingly thoughtful. 9. Not Quite Hollywood (Australia)—energetic documentary about Aussie exploitation films. 10. Hunger (UK)—an intense story of the IRA-Britain tensions and ensuing hungers strike of Irish prisoners.