Tuesday, September 11, 2007


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!



Anonymous said...

Although I'm no way near the film intellect as you are my friend, I to have also desired to attend the TIFF myself, strangely enough. The other festival that is slowly gaining attention is the Palm Springs Film Festival. Every year the films become more interesting and eclectic.

One question, you said: "..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."

Whom were you referring to?

Ted Pigeon said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dennis. I was thinking about voicing some kind of appreciation like this to Jim Emerson and Roger Ebert regarding their great festival updates, but you've done such a great job of it. As someone who is also something of a "film festival outsider", I relate to your position of appreciation when it comes to bloggers like Jim sharing their film experiences at one of the best and most accesible film festivals. I, too, hope to make it there someday. Interestingly, I recently touched on some of things you mention in a post I wrote on TIFF before it started (II'm not sure how to link something in comments, so I'll just direct you to my blog).

Ted Pigeon said...

Turns out that posting links in discussion sections is much easier than I originally thought. Here's the post I mentioned: Autumn In Cinephila, Or How I Learned to Stop Envying Those In Toronto and Love My Computer.

Anonymous said...

Allow me to join in the Toronto-envy.

I have attended precisely three film fests with a press pass. I had fun working too near where I lived at the time, AFI and the Silverlake Film Festival, which the year I went was actually a very cool little event with several worthwhile films and lots of fun parties. (It's also where I discovered that the press badge at a small festival gives you instant popularity with filmmakers and their friends, with all the attendant ethical qualms.)

Sundance, on the other hand, was an unfriendly zoo, and most of the screenings I attended were separate critics-only affairs. No worries about filmmakers getting too cozy with me there. I was never within a thousand feet of one.

Also, Sundance films tend to fit a certain pattern. (One of the other critics in my group found himself using the term "unlikely friendship" over and over again.) Haven't been able to do any film fests since.

While I'm sure Toronto's crowded, I also feel sure the crowds are both more friendly and more polite...it's Canada. Also, I love Toronto's freewheeling selections with its lovely mix of arthouse and international pop at Tortonto each year. It strikes me as the least prentious, most sincerely cinephiliac, of the major fests.

So, Dennis, may I paraphrase the Sedar and end with what will become my yearly chant: "Next year in Toronto."

Lone Pine sounds pretty cool, though.

Bob Turnbull said...

I'm attending my first ever TIFF this year - and I live in Toronto. I always assumed it was just too difficult and too time consuming to go (you always hear about the hours and hours of waiting in rush lines, etc.). But as it turns out - it wasn't difficult at all. I pre-booked a 10 film pass (no vacation time available to book more than that), picked up my catalog when it became available, filled out my picks (with second choices) and then dropped it off. I even decided to get 4 additional tickets when they went on sale to the public - also easy.

Granted, it's harder if you live outside of the city and have to wait for the catalog to be couriered and then rush through making your picks.

But I'm loving it so far (I have 2 more films tonight, 2 Friday and the last one - by Takeshi Kitano - Saturday night).

The volunteers have been terrific, knowledgeable and very friendly. It's not surprising that before each screening when a short thank you to the volunteers appears on screen, the audience applauds very appreciatively.

Jim's reports are great...I'm always impressed by those that can bang out great reviews and reports that quickly and consistently.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Yeah, the sense I get is that despite its growing popularity, Toronto is still a very viewer-friendly atmosphere, and those volunteers I'm sure have a lot to do with that. Nice that you're in there this year, Bob T. I'd really appreciate more information, if you have it, on how to obtain all the materials one needs to get set up to go. Realistically, I probably won't be able to make it for another couple of years, but I'm one who likes to plan ahead!

And you're absolutely right-- it's amazing how folks like Jim and others manage to write such concise, thoughtful pieces under such demanding conditions, and so fresh after seeing the movies.

As for Lone Pine, Bob (no initial), it is kinda cool. I'd go back there again just for the atmosphere of celebrating these old films and actors and stuntpeople. Unfortunately, as a film festival, most everything is projected from DVD, so there's not the kind of excitement about the screening of a Panavision image on a big screen that there might be. But again, this is a film festival geared less toward cinephiles that older fans who approach westerns and other Lone Pine-oriented films more from a nostalgic point of view. So, if you know that going in, and you like a good excuse to go camping (forget trying to get a hotel room), Lone Pine is a pretty good time!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I'll get those pictures back up as soon as I can too. Damn Blogger.

Anonymous said...

Wow -- thanks for the too-kind post, Dennis! I'm exhausted, but I can't believe how many good movies I saw. I only walked out of ONE -- and not because it was so terrible, but because it was awfully predictable and the third of four that day, so I just wanted to rest my eyes between Chabrol and "Secret Sunshine."