The Toronto International Film Festival, one of the world’s premier cinematic showcases, returns to set the city ablaze this month. The 29th edition of this highly anticipated and much buzzed about 10-day tribute to the best short- and feature-length films from around the world kicks off in grand style on September 9 with the gala presentation of Hungarian filmmaker István Szabó’s romantic drama Being Julia starring Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons.
This year’s films (see www.e.bell.ca/filmfest/2004/ for a full schedule) cover a lot of cinematic ground, offering everything from innovative shorts and provocative features to ornate Hollywood confections.
The National Cinema showcase South Africa: Ten Years Later represents TIFF’s commitment to international programming and provides that country’s vibrant film industry with a deserved platform. Features appearing include Zola Maseko’s drama Drum based on the life of political reporter Henry Nxumalo (played by Taye Diggs) in the dangerous climate of 1950s Johannesburg; and Tony Strasborg’s documentary A South African Love Story: Walter & Albertina Sisulu profiles one of South Africa’s foremost political couples. Sisulu, along with Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, formed the African National Congress’ Youth League in 1944; in 1964, Sisulu, along with Mandela, was imprisoned for his active resistance to apartheid and held until 1989. His wife, Albertina, was leader of the now defunct coalition party, the United Democratic Front. The political history of South Africa gets the Hollywood treatment with the world gala première of Red Dust. Marking the directorial debut of Tom Hooper, the film, starring Academy Award–winner Hilary Swank and Chiwetel Ejifor (Dirty Pretty Things), dramatizes the repercussions of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Set up in 1995, the commission addresses abuses committed during apartheid.The North American première of iconic French auteur Jean-Luc Godard’s Notre Musique represents a coup for the highly touted Masters Program, which also includes A Tout de Suite from Benoît Jacquot, the documentary Salvador Allende from Patricio Guzáman and Chantal Akerman’s Demain on Déménage.
Fans of edgy filmmaking will be well satisfied by the lineup included in the Special Presentations category, a designation that culls films “destined for critical acclaim and end of year awards.” So far the list includes provocative writer-director Todd Solondz’s latest film Palindromes (Solondz’s previous films include Happiness and Welcome to the Dollhouse). Focusing on the attempts of its 12-year-old protagonist Aviva to get pregnant, the sure-to-be-discussed Palindromes stars Chris Penn, Ellen Barkin and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Dylan Kidd (Rodger Dodger) unveils his sophomore feature P.S. Based on Helen Schulman’s novel about an unconventional May-December romance, P.S. stars Laura Linney and Topher Grace. Director John Sayles returns with the political drama Silver City, starring Chris Cooper and Richard Dreyfus. Enduring Love, director Roger Michell’s treatment of Ian McEwan’s bestselling novel of the same name, also makes its debut. Starring Samantha Morton and Rhys Ifans, Enduring Love examines the thin line between love and pathology.
Documentary filmmaking is covered by TIFF’s Real to Reel programme and so far 24 docs have been selected for presentation. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns (best known for his series about the Civil War, jazz and baseball) investigates the life of boxer Jack Johnson in Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. The first African-American heavyweight boxing champion, Johnson’s landmark victory in 1908 incited a heated racist response. His subsequent relationships with white women made him a controversial figure and the object of malicious prosecution. Peter Raymont offers up Shake Hands With The Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire. Echoing the title of Dallaire’s own memoir Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, the documentary follows the former commander of the UN’s peacekeeping mission back to Rwanda nearly a decade after witnessing the horrifying genocide that rocked the African nation.Replacing the Perspective Canada showcase are two new tributes to homegrown goods: Short Cuts Canada and Canada First! Short Cuts Canada offers a survey of short flicks and Canada First! presents the work of emerging Canadian filmmakers. Selections were unavailable at press time. Check the Web site for details.
Festival fever is fed by celebrity appearances and flashbulb-popping premières. In this regard, TIFF’s Gala Presentations—sumptuously decked out red carpet affairs held at Roy Thomson Hall—are shaping up nicely. Galas scheduled include the world première of the biopic Ray, starring Jamie Foxx as the legendary bluesman Ray Charles, and the North American debut of Zhang Yimou’s action-packed House of Flying Daggers. The computer-animated film Shark Tale, featuring the voices of Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Angelina Jolie, Jack Black and Martin Scorsese marks TIFF’s first matinée gala presentation.
With more than 300 films from 50 countries to choose from, TIFF’s programme can be daunting. For an insider’s guide into the festival, see film critic Geoff Pevere’s recommendations above.HOT TICKET
The who, what, when, where and how of ticket buying during the film festival.
The Festival Experience Pass (pass to three select films; $60), the Globetrotter Pass (pass to six select international films; $100). Keep in mind that both these packages are for pre-selected films.
Festival Pass (pass to up to 50 films; $450)
Daytime Pass (see any 25 films before 5 p.m.; $175)
30-Coupon book ($360)
10-Coupon book ($140)
Sorry, Gala screening passes are sold out.
Advance single tickets ($16.75) are also available for purchase the night before the screening you wish to attend. Or try your luck with a same-day purchase (also $16.75).
Tickets, passes and coupons can be purchased at the festival’s year-round box office, located in the Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor St. W., main floor, or at College Park, 444 Yonge St., market level. To book tickets by phone, call 416-968-FILM or go online at www.e.bell.ca/filmfest/2004.SCREEN TEST
Film critic Geoff Pevere shares his thoughts on the best of TIFF 2004.
Be Here to Love Me: “Because it’s a documentary about a little-known but brilliant outlaw singer/songwriter named Townes Van Zandt, and I love musical documentaries about cult figures.”
Childstar: “It’s directed by and stars Don McKellar, and it’s about a megabrat superstar kid actor who goes AWOL while shooting a mindless action-comedy blockbuster in Toronto. Who could resist?”
Enduring Love: “Because it’s adapted from one of the most beautifully creepy novels of the past decade, Enduring Love by Ian McEwan. Please, please, don’t screw it up.”
Final Cut: The Making and Making of Heaven’s Gate (documentary): “It’s about movies, the ’70s and the monumental hubris of Hollywood. Like a dirty polyester shirt, I’m there.”
Going Upriver—The Long War of John Kerry: “Can it get more timely? Also, it’s directed by the same guy who first turned a camera on Arnold Schwarzenegger—George Butler—and might indicate the guy knows how to pick a winner.”
Gunner Palace (documentary): “Sounds fascinating, if politically volatile and potentially unnerving. This is a movie made by a man following American troops around in Iraq.”
Palindromes: “It’s written and directed by Todd Solondz, one of the most aggressively and uncompromisingly eccentric people making movies in the US today. If you’ve seen Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness or Storytelling, you’re probably with me here. Or you’re running in the other direction.”
Whale of a Tale (documentary): “Two reasons: it’s written and directed by Peter Lynch, who made the masterful mondo Canadian nonfiction odyssey Project Grizzly, and it’s about the most irresistible local subject I’ve heard of: a whalebone discovered beneath the city of Toronto during construction for a subway extension in the 1980s. As you’ll no doubt note, Toronto isn’t anywhere near an ocean.”
Geoff Pevere is a movie critic from the Toronto Star and the co-host of Rogers Television’s Reel to Real. Once upon a time, in a previous century, he was also a programmer with the Toronto International Film Festival.—Flannery Dean