When it comes to film festivals, I’m not exactly well traveled. Way back in 1993, my wife and I were honeymooning in London, and due to happy coincidence the London Film Festival was up and running at the same time. So we got a copy of the schedule and managed to make it one screening, of a strange Spanish comedy bearing the influence of David Lynch entitled La Ardilla roja (The Red Squirrel), directed by Julio Medem, who would go on to direct Sex and Lucia. Oh, and we bought a souvenir T-shirt which my wife still sports now and again.
Time shift straight ahead from 1993 to 2006, when I attended my first, and so far only, actual film festival, meaning I traveled a short distance in order to see a bunch of films with like-minded filmgoers, and that’s essentially all I did for an entire weekend. It was the 2006 Lone Pine Film Festival—granted, not exactly Cannes or Venice, but for someone who likes his oaters the way I do, it was exhilarating to see these grand (and some not so grand) western movies screened just a couple of miles from where they were actually shot, under blue skies blooming with clouds and just a hint of the oncoming winter in the air. (I anticipated the festival here and followed up that post with a diary of the festival itself, as least as I saw it.)
It was nice to have Lone Pine to call my own, but around this time of year the one film festival that has beckoned to me many years before I ever had a serious thought/hope of actually attending has been the Toronto International Film Festival. I’ve always wanted to see Toronto, of course, and to be able to experience it while devoting a week or so to seeking out new films, writing about them, and enjoying the company of others who share my enthusiasm for the setting. Sounds like a pretty wonderful way to spend some time. And I’ve always appreciated the TIFF because, unlike a media circus like Cannes, Toronto is still accessible to the public as well as celebrities, critics and other cognoscenti. I dream of one day getting my own press pass, of course, but even without one you can still get to a lot of great cinema in Toronto without ever varying from your own agenda. I still haven’t made it there, and I still pine to, but I’ll tell you, getting to know some writers over the past few years that do go regularly hasn’t eased those pangs of envy! Fortunately, there are lots of sources for good reportage about the prestigious festival. And my favorite is the work being turned in by favored film critic, journalist and all-around good guy Jim Emerson of Scanners, who is posting wildly enthusiastic reports from the Canadian epicenter of cinema all this week. The best thing about Jim’s schedule of posts is that he’s nowhere near finished, and already, since September 4, he’s given us the following firsthand accounts of what he’s deeming (so far) an unusually good crop of films:
A personal note in preparation for leaving for Toronto
A hilarious account of what it took to get there
The first actual report, on the Mexican suspense thriller The Orphanage
A Coen Brothers update
A first look at George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson in Michael Crowley
The latest from octogenarian director Eric Rohmer
Sean Penn’s honorable rendering of a tragic true story
From Ramin Bahrani, the director of Man Push Cart, comes Chop Shop
Cronenberg returns to Toronto
Does what played in Cannes play in Canada? A look at Palme D’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Finally, Jim unlocks his thoughts on No Country for Old Men
And this just in tonight: a timely report on the element of surprise and the value of blissful ignorance at a festival like Toronto.
(Jim also has been filing all his Toronto 2007 reports in this handy filing cabinet for your easy reference.)
Jim’s reports make the festival and the festival scene come alive to me because they’re about what I care about—the films—and not what studio bigwig is floating on a yacht just off shore, or what insane publicity stunt Movie Star X pulled to draw attention to a movie that won’t even be in competition. That kind of action isn’t what Toronto is about anyway, but I get the feeling that if Jim did file from Cannes it might be a little about the madness, but a whole lot more about movies and why he’s excited about them, or why he’s not. Jim’s voice is a valuable one to have coming back from this festival, even if you’re trying to maintain a measure of that blissful ignorance he talks about, because he has a knack for conveying enthusiasm, and disappointment, without making you feel like there’s no point in seeing the movie for yourself after reading the piece because he’s regurgitated the whole experience for you and wrapped it up in a nice, neat package. No, what’s most enticing about Jim’s reports is how they get you more excited to see the movie than to satisfy your basic instinct toward instant gratification by reading more. This is why I’m going to see No Country for Old Men as soon as possible. Because if Jim Emerson, who holds Cormac McCarthy and Miller’s Crossing in as high regard as I do, loves it (no, he lurrrrrvvvvs it!), then I don’t want to know more. I want to see it for myself so the correspondence can begin.
Related: Here's a look at the red-band trailer for No Country for Old Men. You'll have to sign in to verify that you're old enough to see it (...), but it is worth the annoyance.
And some keen pics I found on the TIFF web site that to me convey the excitement and joy that must be the Toronto International Film Festival. Enjoy with me vicariously for now. But I hereby vow that I will make it to the TIFF before I'm 50! I will! I will!
Jim, hurry back safely, but not before seeing many more great movies!