“What are you seeing today?” It’s a ubiquitous question at every film festival, and at most of the big competitive events – Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, Venice – the answer, however it’s phrased, generally amounts to “The same damn movies you are, and everybody else is.” Not so at the Toronto International Film Festival, which sprawls across the annual cinematic landscape like nothing else. With a mammoth program – 271 features this year, plus 64 shorts – that runs the gamut from star-studded Oscar bait to the most difficult and abstruse art fare, TIFF allows you to customize whatever festival experience you like from most of a given year’s notable work; it’s entirely possible to watch five pictures a day for over a week and still have little to no overlap with another attendee who’s putting in just as much legwork. So I can’t tell you about Toronto per se. I can only tell you about the Toronto I’ll be constructing.
First and foremost on my list are the big titles coming out of Venice, which falls immediately before TIFF on the calendar every year. (Often they overlap.) This year’s slate looks a tad underwhelming from a distance, but I’m still gung-ho to see White Material, the latest effort by world-class French auteur Claire Denis, whose 35 Shots of Rum was a highlight of TIFF ‘08. Todd Solondz isn’t a personal favorite, but Happiness remains his best film to date, so I feel compelled to take a look at Life During Wartime, which has been described as a quasi-sequel despite featuring a completely different cast. George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead has to be better than its shockingly lame predecessor, Diary of the Dead. (Right?) Best of all, the ever-nutty Werner Herzog has not one but two new pictures, both of which sound delectably insane; I’m dying to find out whether My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? can possibly out-wtf his ostensible remake of an Abel Ferrara classic, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
Toronto also means Cannes clean-up for me, since my low-tier press badge at that festival rarely allows me to venture much beyond the Competition slate. I was shut out of a market screening of Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu’s universally admired cops ‘n’ linguistics number, Police, Adjective, which took second prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section; TIFF affords me another shot at it. (I’ll also likely be taking a second look at the bizarro Un Certain Regard winner, Dogtooth, which ranks high among the year’s best films.) Raya Martin’s Independencia and João Pedro Rodrigues’ To Die Like a Man have both been selected by the ultra-exclusive New York Film Festival, which makes them automatic must-sees, even if I’ve heard daunting word about Martin’s earlier work (one of his films reportedly opens with a mundane shot of someone walking that lasts at least half an hour) and couldn’t abide Rodrigues’ O Fantasma.
Other than that – and a handful of soon-to-open films from big guns like Steven Soderbergh (The Informant!) and the Coen brothers (A Serious Man) – I’ll just be scampering about, always ready to chuck my pre-arranged schedule in order to fit in whatever unheralded picture has various friends and colleagues buzzing. Part of the fun and excitement of TIFF is the prospect of discovery – indeed, the festival has a section specifically called Discovery, dedicated to new talent – and many’s the time that a lone adventurer at a film’s first screening has inspired myself and everyone I know to fight our way into its second. The key question at Toronto isn’t “What are you seeing?” but “What have you seen?” I’ll be answering it here daily.
The 2009 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 10th to 19th. Please refer to this page for reviews of select festival films.
|A Serious Man||12 September|
|Soul Kitchen||14 September|
|The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans||15 September|
|The Art of the Steal||17 September|
|The Ape||17 September|
|Trash Humpers||18 September|
|My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done||19 September|
|L’Enfer de Henri-Georges Clouzot||21 September|
|Father of My Children||23 September|
|Police, Adjective||23 September|
|The Disappearance of Alice Creed||29 September|
|Life During Wartime||05 October|
A Serious Man2009
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans2009
The Art of the Steal2009
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done2009
L’Enfer de Henri-Georges Clouzot2009
Father of My Children2009
The Disappearance of Alice Creed2009
Life During Wartime2009