Saturday, September 16, 2006

2006 Festival Wrap-up

Well, another festival done for the year. 26 movies, 46 hours and 7 minutes worth of film, and too many hot dogs from the street.

Things that were done well:

  • The festival trailer. Short and to the point, along with all the other trailers (Motorola, Cineplex). The Motorola trailer had a nice variety too (Veronica Tennant, the guy with his nephew Keon, the girl who fled Trans-Carpathia, the intimate visual artist, and the girl who has to go the airport). Hopefully next year will be like this too.
  • The volunteers did their usual excellent job of putting up with all the festival-goers, press, and industry.
  • The pick up/drop off coupon system was good. There was no question as to how many order forms you needed, and you only had to deal with vouchers if you didn't get all your films.
  • The festival recognizing blogs this year was a good step forward.
  • While not related to the festival group, the TIFF Reviews site did a great job of putting up descriptions and links to trailers for all the films at the fest, even before the official schedule came out. They also aggregated content from this and a lot of other festival blogs so there was one place to go to read the latest festival news and reviews.

Things that could be improved:

  • From the sounds of it, the ticketing system had even more problems this year than last year. It wasn't just the website this year, even the box office was having issues.
  • While I got my e-mail confirmations, a number of other people didn't. Not sure if it was a festival or a festival-goer issue or both, but it sounds like even some festival veterans didn't get confirmations.

Other than that, my festival went pretty smoothly. A lot of the things that I thought could have been improved last year were addressed this year.

Of the 26 films I watched this year, below are the ones I liked the best. Note these are only from among the films I actually watched; there was a lot of other good stuff that I didn't get the chance to see.

  • Film I liked the best: A toss up between Paris, je t'aime and Everything's Gone Green. Paris, je t'aime makes me want to go to Paris, and the sheer variety of stories, even as short as they were, and the amount of directing and acting talent packed into two hours made it all worthwhile. Everything's Gone Green was a funny, quirky, definitely Canadian film. An honourable mention should go to Pan's Labyrinth.
  • Best Japanese film: Hana, although I liked Hula Girls too, but for different reasons. Hana was a bit of different take on the samurai genre, and Hula Girls may have been predictable, but it pulled all the right strings (and apparently, Hula Girls will be Japan's official selection for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film).
  • Best Canadian film: Everything's Gone Green.
  • Best Romantic Movie: Paris, je t'aime, although Griffin and Phoenix, as well as Venus, are up there.
  • Best Documentary: Office Tigers. It's going to make me very conscious of how I behave at work with my team.
  • "WTF?!" Award: The Pervert's Guide to Cinema. I won't be able to look at Chaplin or Hitchcock the same way again.
  • Best Looking Film: Renaissance had a very distinct visual style.
  • Best Period Piece: Have to give this one to Starter for Ten, if only for its soundtrack.
  • Best Film About an Angst-ridden Young Man Who Has a Setback that Teaches Him What's Really Important in Life: Cashback.
  • Best Epic Where the Cast Looks Like They Really Need a Bath: Alatriste.
  • Best Fusion of Two Things You Would Never Associate in a Million Years: Jade Warrior for combining modern-day Finland with Chinese martial arts.

I still have some more reviews to post up before I completely close off my festival for this year. Note that most of my reviews from past years (I haven't gotten around to this year's yet) are also available on the Internet Movie Database ( in the entry for each movie. Hopefully people found this blog useful, and I hope to be back next year with more festival stuff, from advanced ticketing info to actual reviews.

Festival Awards

With the close of the festival, the various awards were announced. The Swarovski Cultural Innovation Award, given to a film in the Visions program for "artistry, innovation and audacity" as recognized by a jury of visual artists, went to Takva - A Man's Fear of God from Özer Kýzýltan. Honorable mention went to Khadak from Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth.

The People's Choice Award, as voted on by festivalgoers when they leave a film, went to Bella from Alejandro Gomez Monteverde. Honorable mentions went to Mon Meilleur Ami from Patrice Leconte, and Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing from Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck.

The Diesel Discovery Award, given to a film in the Discovery program and voted on by the international media, went to Joachim Trier's Reprise.

The Prize of the International Critics, or FIPRESCI Prize, voted on by an international jury from the Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique (the International Federation of Film Critics), went to Death of a President by Gabriel Range.

The CityTv Award for Best Canadian First Feature went to Sur La Trace d'Igor Rizzi from Noël Mitrani.

The Toronto-City Award for Best Canadian Feature Film went to Manufactured Landscapes from Jennifer Baichwal. Honorable mention went to Monkey Warfare from Reg Harkema.

The Short Cuts Canada Award went to Les Jours from Maxime Giroux.

The festival press release can be found here:

Friday, September 15, 2006

Griffin and Phoenix

Griffin and Phoenix is a remake of a 1976 TV movie that starred Peter Falk and Jill Clayburgh. In the 2006 version, Dermot Mulroney and Amanda Peet take over the roles. Mulroney plays Griffin, a divorced father of two sons who learns that he has an inoperable disease and only has a year or two left to live. This news prompts him to take a university psychology course on death, where he runs into Sarah Phoenix (Amanda Peet). Realizing he has nothing left to lose, he confidently asks her out to dinner, and they embark on a relationship. As Griffin gets the chance to do some of the things he's always wanted to do, he and Phoenix grow ever closer, knowing that there's a definite end to things in sight.

While I've always liked Amanda Peet, going back to her series Jack & Jill, I've never been entirely enamored with Dermot Mulroney. But I really liked him here as Griffin, and he did well creating a likeable character without resorting to maudlin sentiment to generate sympathy. On the surface, this could have been an extremely sad and depressing movie, but the script and the actors keep it upbeat all the way to its surprisingly uplifting ending.

Director Ed Stone did a Q&A after the film:

  • Photography started September 13, 2005.
  • He is currently finishing work on two new scripts for studios.
  • On why he chose to do this film: once he passed 40, he started having conversations about all the stuff he said he'd do someday and doing it now, and the film appealed to that because of the limited time the characters have.
  • Someone asked if there was more of Sarah Paulson left on the cutting room floor, since she only appears in two scenes in the movie and doesn't have a lot of dialogue. Stone said there are five Sarah Paulson scenes, but when Stone and editor Plummy Tucker got in the editing room, they found that every time the film moved away from Griffin and Phoenix, they kept wanting to get back to them.
  • On the chemistry between Mulroney and Peet, Stone said that they only met a week before the start of filming, they had one day of rehearsal and they immediately started teasing and joking with each other, and helping each other out with scenes.

Falkenberg Farewell (Farväl Falkenberg)

This film follows a collection of childhood friends, now adults, spending the summer in their hometown of Falkenberg, a sleepy little Swedish town on the sea. All of them seem fairly bored by life in a town with nothing to do, but none of them possess the drive to change anything. The thought of moving to the city is not interesting at best, earth-shattering at worst, because they can't or won't imagine a life without their friends, and the nostalgia of their childhood is difficult to overcome. One of the friends' solution to preserving that feeling of the perfect summer day leads to an unexpected decision.

Falkenberg Farewell is a very quiet, introspective film where nothing really happens until about 3/4 of the way through. It is filled with tight handheld shots, giving it an intimate, personal feel. The dialog almost feels improvised, like you're voyeuristically observing people in real life. The images played with the film's credits suggest that the one event in the film does shake the characters out of their ennui. It's not a bad film, although of festival films I've seen that are more observational in nature, I tend to prefer Ana and the Others or Cafe Lumiere a little more.

Peter Mettler

Peter Mettler, who was the cinematographer on the documentary Manufactured Landscapes, showing this year at the festival, is conducting an experimental multimedia presentation on Friday, September 15, from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM, at The Berkeley Church, 315 Queen Street East. From the Manufactured Landscapes Q&A, which I still have to write up, Mettler mentioned this type of thing is something he's been experimenting with over the last number of years.

From the festival:

Experience Peter Mettler, live and in-person, along with a diverse group of local and European artists during this 8 hour unique fusion of live manipulated image and sound. The majestic Berkeley Church is the perfect venue for this transformative experience, were you will experience blends of classical, jazz, and electronica music climaxing in full-on dance beats, all set to a wide palette of collected moving pictures.

Tickets are $25 in advance, $35 at the door (subject to availability) and can be purchased online, by phone at 416-968-FILM or at either Festival Box Office location.

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema

Slovenian Philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek, who was the subject of a biographical documentary at last year's festival, brings this interpretation of the underlying themes and meanings of contemporary film and our relationship to cinema. He encompasses everything from Charlie Chaplin to the Marx Brothers, to Alfred Hitchcock, to David Lynch, and even movies like Alien, Star Wars, and the Matrix.

Zizek subscribes to the Freudian school of psychoanalysis as he puts a distinct spin on the films. For example, he views the three floors of Norman Bates' house in Psycho as representations of the super ego (the top floor), the ego (the ground floor), and the fruit cellar (the id). He talks of the cinema screen as a canvas on which we project our own fantasies, those things we use to escape from the real world, and that if they ever truly manifested themselves in real life would shatter us.

It helps to have watched the films in question to know if Zizek's interpretations are on the mark or if the film clips have been taken wildly out of context. There were a number of walkouts during the screening, possibly because of disagreements with his theories and Freudian interpretations, possibly because of expectations going in, or possibly because of the length. Broken into three parts, the film spans 2-1/2 hours; it probably would sit better on TV. I personally found his observations interesting and thought-provoking, even if I thought some points seemed to stretch quite a bit.

Because of the amount of academic discussion, this film would probably appeal more to film students (or psychology students) and the like, rather than a more populist audience that might be drawn in by references to the Matrix or Star Wars.


Renaissance is a futuristic film noir set in mid-21st century Pairs by way of Blade Runner. Karas (Daniel Craig) is a cop assigned to track down Ilona Tasuiev (Romola Garai), a missing researcher who works for a huge corporation called Avalon. Ilona's medical research may be the key to her disappearance. Along the way, Karas continually runs into roadblocks, while mysterious cloaked figures always seem to be close on his heels.

The story is typical sci-fi dystopian fare, but the visuals make it especially appealing to watch. The whole movie is in black and white, with motion-captured actors animated and rendered on the screen. That style, from director Christian Volckmann, gives the whole movie a hard-boiled noir feel but one firmly entrenched in a near-future world just around the corner from ours; you could almost call it a European anime.

Renaissance is well worth seeing for those into sci-fi or animation.

Starter for Ten

Here's your starter question for ten points; what movie at the festival is a fond look back at those days when you were just starting university or college, and everything was new and awkward and different and exciting? The answer? Starter for Ten, based on the novel of the same name by David Nicholls, who also wrote the screenplay.

It's the 80's in Margaret Thatcher's Britain, and Brian Jackson (James McAvoy) comes from a modest working class background, living with his widowed mum by the seaside, and hanging out with his two best mates, Spencer and Tone. But Brian leaves all the behind when he is accepted into the University of Bristol to study English literature.

At a party his first night there, he meets the intriguing Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), who is out to save the world by protesting for various causes. However, Brian's eye is soon diverted by Alice (Alice Eve), whom he meets at a sign up for "University Challenge". University Challenge is a real-life quiz show, similar to Reach for the Top as some Canadians might remember, and one of Brian's fondest memories is of watching the show with his dad, who tells him that knowledge is power and that knowing the answers to things will take him far. But Brian will soon find that sometimes knowing what questions to ask is just as important.

Set to a great 80's soundtrack, Starter for Ten is a well put-together film that made me nostalgic for my university days, although the 80's in the film looked a lot more retro than I remember. It's a fun, entertaining movie with a bit of drama thrown in for good measure, and McAvoy, Hall, and Eve all play well off of each other.

Director Tom Vaughan and actors James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall, and Dominic Cooper were in attendance and did a Q&A after the film:

  • Toronto is the world premiere of the movie.
  • Vaughan pointed out that "starter for ten" is a catch phrase in University Challenge that refers to a team's starting question for ten points.
  • On getting the rights for the soundtrack; Vaughan said that when editing the film, he just put his favourite songs against it, expecting he'd have to take them out later and replace them with some fake 80's music. After the film was finished, everyone wanted to keep the soundtrack as is. Robert Smith from The Cure had loved the book and had seen an early cut of the film, so he helped to get The Cure tracks cleared, which then made it easier for everything else. He helped to get a really good deal, but it was still very expensive to clear all the music.
  • When asked about what scene he found most difficult, James McAvoy initially said that there wasn't one because the whole script flowed well. On reflection, however, he did say the scene with himself and Alice Eve in the restaurant, where he tells her about his father, was hard, because he had to remember that the scene was sad, and that his character was sad because it was a sad scene, and not that his character was personally sad.
  • Vaughan added that a scene with actor Charles Dance being naked was the most difficult for him, joking that it was because he had a great body that made everyone else feel inadequate. It was added that actress Lindsay Duncan covered up, but Dance went the whole hog and was in no hurry to cover up even after calling cut.
  • On why the film was set in the 80's: Vaughan agreed that the story was pretty universal and could be set in a different time or place, but one reason was that author David Nicholls lived through the 80's and based the book on his experiences, and both Nicholls and Vaughan were students in the 80's, and it was a world they knew. Vaughan added that the 80's are just long enough ago to have some perspective on it, giving a little bit of distance but still being close enough in time to still be relevant and seem like a modern movie.
  • Someone asked how difficult it was for McAvoy to move between filming the three movies he has showing at this year's festival: Starter for Ten, Penelope, and The Last King of Scotland. He joked they were the collective work of his life; he did The Last King first, then Starter for Ten, and finally Penelope. Each took about 2 to 2-1/2 months to shoot, about 6 or 7 months total, and the longest gap between any of them was about a week. It was intense, but an incredibly rewarding time. He felt he came along as an actor because of being on the set that long and the different type of roles.
  • Someone asked Rebecca Hall why her character forgives McAvoy in the film, and would she do so in real life? Her answer to both was yes, mainly because he's so charming.
  • Bamber Gascogine, the original host of University Challenge who is portrayed in the film, hasn't seen the film yet, but he was a fan of the book and knew of the script. Vaughan hopes he'll be supportive.
  • A woman in the audience asked Vaughan why he featured Cambridge over Oxford in the film. Vaughan replied that it was that way in the book.
  • Someone remarked that Alice Eve looks remarkably like a young Joanna Lumley. Vaughan said that there is no relation, that she is the daughter of veteran British film and TV actor Trevor Eve.
  • On the questions in the film, Vaughan replied that David must have written them and they were typical University Challenge type questions, but then someone added in the Vaughan had to come up with them by plowing through encyclopedias before shooting.
  • On the transition from stage to screen for Dominic Cooper. He mentioned it wasn't a big change other than he doesn't have to project as much. He added that Starter for Ten was a great film and a great cast to do that transition on.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Press Conferences

The festival has made available footage of the press conferences for some of the movies showing this year, such as A Good Year, All the Kings Men, Babel, The Fountain, The Last Kiss, Shortbus, and Volver. They can be viewed at QuickTime is required to view the conferences.

Press conferences are also available in standard (channel 307) and high-def (channel 835) if you have Bell ExpressVu.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)

Director Guillermo del Toro creates a dark, surreal fairy tale with Pan's Labyrinth, set in the midst of World War II in fascist-controlled Spain. The film finds a young girl, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), traveling with her pregnant mother to an old mill deep in the woods. There they meet Ofelia's stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi López), a military officer charged with rooting out the resistance fighters hiding in the surrounding forest. Out exploring, Ofelia soon comes across the remnants of a labyrinth made of stone, which the housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) tells her has been there forever.

One night, Ofelia is lured into the labyrinth by a fairy, and at the centre of the maze she meets a faun (Doug Jones) who tells Ofelia that she is actually the reincarnation of a princess, and charges her with three tasks, each more threatening than the last, before she can claim her rightful place as a princess of the underworld.

del Toro balances this fanciful but dark fairy tale world against the cruel and vicious real world, where Captain Vidal brutally tortures and kills in his quest to hunt down the rebels. All this gives Ofelia even more of an impetus to escape to the fantasy world to remove herself from the sadness around her.

The film does not shy away from the brutality of war and death and destruction; even the fairy tale world is full of dangers. The dual threads of the film help to elevate it above what could have been a simple children's story and allow it to comment on themes such as the loss of innocence, sacrifice, life, death, and love. This is a masterful, well executed film that seamlessly blends the fantastic with the real and tells a touching and tragic story.

Director Guillermo del Toro was present and did a Q&A after the film. He was warmly received by the audience, and he was very eager to talk:

  • Toronto is his favourite festival, and the award for this festival is the audience.
  • He said the movie was a terrible endeavour, but worth it. He lost about 80 lbs. over the 2-1/2 years it took to make.
  • The film is a sister to the boy's movie of The Devil's Backbone.
  • del Toro was asked about his inspiration for all his fantastical films; when he was young, he said he always saw fauns and monsters at night. He lived in his grandmother's house, and slept in his aunt's old room. At midnight, the church bells would ring out, and then a hand, followed by a faun's face, and then a goat's leg would appear from behind the armoire, and del Toro would let out a scream, waking everyone in the house. His Catholic upbringing and its religious demons also shaped him.
  • Every two or three weeks, he and other students would go to the catacombs beneath this great Gothic church in the middle of Guadalajara, which he likened to having a pyramid in the middle of Toronto, to rehearse the oratories for the Virgin Mary. When the priest would leave, they would immediately try to see the corpses in the catacombs.
  • He also saw his first corpse at the age of 4 in an auto accident.
  • He volunteered in a mental hospital, where he met a serial killer, and every day on the way out, he would occasionally have lunch with the morgue attendant.
  • He was also exorcised by his grandmother at the age of 6.
  • All of the above contributes to his inspiration for films.
  • On similarities to or inspirations from the works of C.S. Lewis (e.g. The Chronicles of Narnia), del Toro said the questioner probably made the connection because of the faun; but in del Toro's words, the faun in Narnia "was a pussy".
  • He's collected fables, art, fairy tales, first editions.
  • He also likes C.S. Lewis; but in his teenage years, his Catholic faith lapsed and Christian mythology became less personally fulfilling for him.
  • With Narnia, he couldn't get over the fact that Aslan knows he won't die; he would've liked it more had Aslan not come back.
  • del Toro likes fantasy books, but usually they are too light for his taste; darkness is a huge part of fairy tales; the tendency today is to Disney-fy everything.
  • On the children in his films; in The Devil's Backbone, the boy had originally come to read for a background part, but del Toro liked him too much to use him in that capacity. The boy had done some film work before. The boy playing the bully had done a number of films, including Secrets of the Heart, which del Toro recommends as a very beautiful movie.
  • Ivana Baquero had done some other movies in small parts, and Romasanta, which has a "bitchin'" werewolf transformation scene.
  • Baquero was a bit too old for the part as written, so del Toro rewrote the screenplay to accommodate her.
  • He looks for children who can act, as opposed to child actors, which are a "mutant species" because of their parents.
  • He looks for kids that can listen and react; he does workshops with them to teach them how to react emotionally; he learns their biographies so he can sort of blackmail them into reacting (emotional "cattle-prodding" as he calls it).
  • Baquero was great and that the film wouldn't have worked if she was too light; she couldn't have been an effective foil for Captain Vidal in that case.
  • del Toro often takes people who e-mail him into the movies with varying experiences; some of them are Play Misty for Me (referring to the woman stalking Clint Eastwood in the movie of that name), and some are pretty good.
  • He randomly selects from e-mails he gets and gives opportunities to a few who are willing and able to travel.
  • del Toro believes that if you explain a metaphor too much, it becomes a cipher and a boring part of an equation. The film does not have a closed meaning; he is open to other meanings and analyses. He doesn't know all the answers, just the ones to write the screenplay over the course of a year.
  • He layers two or three layers deep; but any deeper and they'd find him in a corner biting away at his fingernails.
  • The movie is intended as a "fallopian" fantasy, i.e. going back to the belly of the mother. The real world consists of straight lines, gold colours; the fantasy world has curved lines, blood red and "amniotic" gold colours.

Small potential spoiler below:




  • For del Toro, the metaphor of the film is that the princess is Spain, that she forgot who she was and where she came from.
  • At the end, the young generation is not going to know the name of the guy who represents the facist state.

Everything's Gone Green

With a screenplay by Canadian writer Douglas Coupland, Everything's Gone Green revolves around Ryan (Paulo Costanzo), who in the opening minutes of the film is kicked out by his girlfriend because of his laid-back attitude, and loses his job because of the suicidal poetry he left on the company computers.

Ryan's misfortune doesn't last long, as he soon is hired by Alan (Aidan Devine in a great role) to work at the British Columbia lottery commission, writing for Winners Magazine, which features stories about all the big lottery winners. And then Ryan meets Ming (Steph Song) one day on the shore next to a beached whale. But soon. troubled by thoughts of being in a dead-end job for the rest of his life, he falls in with Ming's sleazy boyfriend Bryce (JR Bourne) and his money laundering scheme.

Running in the background is a theme of reality, what's real and what isn't. Steph's job is to disguise Vancouver for films and TV shows so that it looks like anything but. Ryan's brother sets him up in an empty condo tower that's just an investment vehicle for wealthy Hong Kong Chinese. Bryce designs golf courses that nobody plays on. Even Ryan's parents and friend have their own secrets.

I really liked this film. The dialogue, the characters, and the Vancouver setting were very Douglas Coupland. Even the set design was reminiscent of him, from Ryan's Expo 86 shirt, his killer whale phone, his souvenir totem poles, or the wrapped stack of patio chairs sitting in his living room.

Paulo Costanzo's character wasn't too different from other roles he's played in A Problem With Fear, or heck, even Joey, but he was still an engaging character who you could root for even as he goes off the rails. Steph Song was also great as Ming, who accepts Bryce's underhanded schemes even as she hopes that Ryan is something different.

Director Paul Fox and actors Paulo Costanzo and JR Bourne did a Q&A after the film:

  • Someone jokingly asked Paulo Costanzo if he ever slept with any of his co-stars, to which he simply replied, "Yes". Then JR Bourne added, "it wasn't very good".
  • Producer Chris Nanos approached Douglas Coupland, as he liked approaching artists that we already well-known in other mediums, like painters, sculptors, musicians, etc. Coupland had already written a screenplay, but it was languishing in a drawer. Of all the scripts Nanos had, only Coupland's really worked as a film. After that, Nanos brought Fox on-board.
  • Coupland wasn't heavily involved in the film. He had never worked on a film before, so once he handed in the script, he was content to step back and see how it went. Coupland showed up on the first day of filming, when they were shooting in Ryan's apartment, and Coupland quipped that it was "freaky, it was like stepping inside his own brain", and Fox took that to be his seal of approval on the project.
  • There was very little improvisation in the film.
  • On the music in the film: in the editing room, editor Gareth Scales, who is the same age as Ryan in the film, has a good handle on the Canadian independent music scene, would bring music in, and then they would piece it together with the film. Then David Hayman from Vapor Music (the music supervisor on the film) came in and added to it.
  • The soundtrack will be released by Lakeshore Records, and will be the first Canadian film so released by them.
  • Fox commented on the Douglas Coupland obsessions that made it into the film, like Pocky and detergent bottles.
  • It was a long process to get made, and was on-again-off-again for a while. Fox actually went off to shoot The Dark Hours, then came back and started shooting almost immediately.
  • JR Bourne commented that shooting on US TV shows is more of a job, US movies are pretty good, but that Canadian movies seem more like a complete collaborative effort amongst the entire crew. Paulo Costanzo said he didn't find much difference between US and Canadian movies. He was surprised that everyone on the crew was so into the film; even Teamsters were coming up to him telling him that they loved his character.
  • The shot on Grouse Mountain was supposed to be on a sunny day, but on the day of shooting, it was completely socked in by fog. So they had to wait for the gondola to break through the clouds and then they had to get the scene exactly right, since they'd have to wait another 30 minutes for the gondola to show up again.
  • Shooting took only 19 days.
  • On any difficulties for Paul Fox, a Torontonian, shooting a movie about Vancouver, Fox said that Coupland and David Frazee, the cinematographer, both had a great eye about Vancouver, but that as an outsider, he could see things the others had long since taken for granted.


Directed by Agustín Díaz Yanes and based on the novels by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, the film follows the exploits of Diego Alatriste, a Spanish solider, over the course of many years in the 17th century, at the tail end of Spain's golden era. Alatriste fights in many wars and serves as a soldier-of-fortune in between. Along the way he takes the son of a fallen compatriot as his page.

The movie featured some fine acting including Viggo Mortensen playing the world-weary Alatriste. The direction, composition, and lighting of several scenes were very artistic, bringing to mind paintings of the era, such as the scene where the morning light streams through the window to awaken a sleeping Alatriste on the floor.

Alatriste is epic in scope, but suffers a bit for it. It would seem to crowd a lot of material from multiple novels, and as a result, there are many plot lines that are introduced that are never resolved or that have to compete for screen time amongst the relationships between Alatriste and his page, their women, the wars they fight, and the jobs they undertake, never mind the Byzantine politics of the Spanish court and the Inquisition.

I would probably have enjoyed the movie more had it only focused on a few of these stories. Still, fans of Mortensen will appreciate him in this role that has some of the physicality of Aragon from Lord of the Rings as well as some of the inner moral turmoil of Tom from A History of Violence.

There was no Q&A, but apparently there will be one following the second showing of the film. The director and some of the cast showed up, including Mortensen. After the screening, there was much applause for the cast, and Mortensen also waded into the audience to hug David Cronenberg, Mortensen's director from A History of Violence, who had attended the screening in support of his friend.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bunny Chow

Bunny Chow made its world premiere in Toronto. Don't expect something along the lines of Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show, which is also playing at the festival. Bunny Chow is not about standup comedy, but about three friends and their relationships and their challenges in the world that is modern South Africa. The title of the movie refers to a loaf of bread, hollowed out, and filled with a mix of meat and vegetables. It is a metaphor for Johannesburg today, and its mix of cultures, religions, races and sexes.

Bunny Chow follows Dave (David Kibuuka, who was also a co-writer), a dishwasher trying to become a standup comic, and not succeeding. There are his friends Joey (Joey Rasdien, also another co-writer) and Kags (Kagiso Lediga), both of whom are brutally honest about what they think of Dave's comedy, even in front of girls Dave is trying to date.

But Kags has his own problems, with his girlfriend Kim (Kim Engelbrecht) tired of his constant flirting and sleeping around, and his unwillingness to commit to something more. Joey is no better, what with his girlfriend Angela (Angela Chow) seemingly more interested in the new couch he got her than in Joey himself.

The three guys head off to a music festival at Oppi Koppi and have some adventures on the way and after they arrive.

The film is shot in black-and-white, and it has a slightly voyeuristic feel, which is kind of funny as MTV Europe has picked it up, as you could well be reminded of watching an MTV reality show. It's often painful to watch Dave's trials, especially, as he bombs on stage and with the ladies. The movie has an edgy feel to it, and gives a different view from what you typically see and think of Africa.

Pretty much everyone involved in the film was at the screening, including director/producer/co-writer John Barker, Kagiso Lediga, David Kibuuka, Joey Rasdien, Keren Neumann (who plays one of Dave's love interests), the editor Sakkie Bergh, the cinematographer Zeno Peterson who was shooting a video of the Q&A, and many others.

  • The film was two years in the making.
  • Barker met the three guys about three years ago on a sketch comedy show in South Africa, and after that they started working together.
  • They couldn't get any funding, so they just decided to go out to the festival at Oppi Koppi, shoot a couple of scenes, and then make a story. They shot the first and second acts leading up to the festival afterward.
  • They actually had 70 pages of scripted dialogue, so any improv was done between those lines; they had situations and scenes and relationships they wanted to portray.
  • One audience member commented on how the races in the film intermix so freely, even on a sexual level. They were trying to be positive; today they have all these cultures living in one city, and while there's still division, there is a lot of curiosity.
  • The music in the film is mainly by one South African guy who David Kibuuka is in a band with, although they've never released an album.
  • The guys in the movie will be at Yuk-Yuk's on Wednesday night (September 13) in Toronto. Check
  • The South African consul-generals from Toronto and Los Angeles were in the audience.


Diggers follows four lifelong friends in the 1970's who make their livelihood by digging for clams in the waters around Long Island, just as their fathers did, and their fathers' fathers before them. But a series of events and the arrival of a large company snapping up exclusive rights to the clam beds forces the four to consider their futures.

There's Hunt (Paul Rudd), who would rather take photographs than dig for clams; Jack (Ron Eldard) who seems to hit on anything female that moves; Cons (Josh Hamilton) who drifts off into all sorts of metaphysical philosophizing, usually while under the influences of drugs; and Lozo (Ken Marino), who is a constant fount of profanity when he isn't yelling at his screaming brood of five kids. Rounding out the cast are Maura Tierney as Hunt's sister, who's getting over a divorce from a cheating husband; Sarah Paulson as Lozo's long-suffering wife; and Lauren Ambrose as the city girl who takes a shine to Hunt.

Written by co-star Ken Marino, Diggers looks at a group of close friends, who've known each other their entire lives, and who find a certain comfort in the niches they've carved for themselves in their small town. It's not until outside forces intrude, like the girl from New York City, the big faceless company that comes to town, or life and death, that the guys even consider doing something beyond their comfort zones. You can believe the guys have been friends forever, even when they're beating the crap out of each other. Paul Rudd is great as he usually is, and he and Maura Tierney play well off each other. Josh Hamilton is priceless when he goes off on one of his philosophical rants, usually after taking a hit off a bong or taking some acid. And Ken Marino delivers a fine performance as a guy, who despite all his flaws, will swallow his pride to do what's needed for his family.

Director Katherine Dieckmann and writer and co-star Ken Marino stuck around for a Q&A:

  • Ken Marino's grew up on the south shore of Long Island, and his father, grandfather, and uncles were all clamdiggers, so he wanted to set a project in that world since about 5 or 6 years ago.
  • Paul Rudd is an old friend (from when he and Marino worked together on Wet Hot American Summer), and was already attached to the picture when they first started shopping it around. Marino had asked if he would do the script, and Rudd happily agreed.
  • Peter Dinklage was originally supposed to play Cons, but had to drop out about three to four weeks before the start of shooting because of TV series commitments (Threshold?).
  • Maura Tierney was a favourite actress of Dieckmann's, and they discussed working together in the past. Dieckmann thought that Tierney and Rudd were an organic match as brother and sister in the film.
  • Sarah Paulson had worked with Marino before. Marino called her up and asked if she wanted to play his wife, and she responded "absolutely!"
  • Dieckmann had also met Lauren Ambrose before, and Ambrose was looking to do an indie film coming off of Six Feet Under.
  • Marino was also friends with Ron Eldard. Dieckmann nicknamed his character the "bl**job king", and loved that he could show the lighter side to his personality after having played a lot of heavy roles.
  • There was very little improv in the film, but because Marino the writer was always on set as an actor, Dieckmann could collaborate with him if she needed to make changes because of staging or dialogue.
  • Marino commented he was the least faithful to the script, and Dieckmann added that he threw in a lot more "f*cks".
  • When asked about the (verbal) abuse suffered by the kids in the film, Dieckmann said Marino spent a lot of time with the kids to explaining what he was going to do in the scene, and how loud he was going to be, so they kids were fine when shooting rolled around. Dieckmann's own daughter played one of Lozo's kids in the movie.
  • The movie will have US distribution through Magnolia Pictures.
  • The shoot took four weeks (21 days), which was short considering the fact that many of the shots were on water, with old boats, and Dieckmann needed to worry about continuity in the sense of staying true to the period (1976).
  • The male characters are all versions of people Marino knows, with changes.
  • Dieckmann originally started as a journalist, but made the transition to filmmaking after Michael Stipe of REM asked her to make a video for the group (Stand), then she did an eccentric kids show called The Adventures of Pete and Pete for Nickelodeon, then her first film A Good Baby which she workshopped at the Sundance Institute.
  • When asked if there was an involvement from Billy Joel, considering the Long Island setting of the film, Marino replied that he did manage to get the script on to his nightstand through friends of friends, but this was around the time Joel went into rehab, so Marino doesn't know if he actually got the chance to see the script or not.
  • It was difficult to get funding since it was such a small, slice-of-life movie, but HDNet funded it based on the involvement of Rudd and (originally) Dinklage.
  • When asked about regrets about scenes dropped in the editing process, Dieckmann mentioned an improvised scene between Hamilton and Marino at the bar when Cons goes on a rant about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, but she felt that the scene with Hamilton smoking the clam bong while watching the iconic commercial with the Indian crying as someone throws litter out a car at his feet was gratuitous enough. Marino mentioned as a writer it was hard for him to let go of dialogue; he did reference some scenes like the guy with the gigantic afro, and the hossenfeffer thing between the guys which was supposed to be a signal they used to get each other's attention.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hula Girls (Hula Gâru)

You could call Hula Girls a cross between The Full Monty (without the male strippers) and Coal Miner's Daughter (with less singing). The film is set in a small coal mining town in northern Japan in the 1960's. Coal is on its way out, and the mine is starting to lay workers off. The mining company decides the best way to save the town is to open a Hawaiian cultural centre to attract tourists, and the centerpoint of it all will be hula dancers.

A professional dancer, Madoka Hirayama, comes from Tokyo to teach the local girls how to hula, but only four girls show up; young Sanae, who sees dance as a way out of a dreary life; her friend Kimiko, who comes along if only to support her friend; a mother; and Sayuri, a tall, big boned girl with the grace to match. It is an uphill struggle for the girls to learn to dance, win over the reluctant and hostile townspeople who think the whole idea is a waste of good money and an affront to tradition, and overcome personal challenges and tragedies, all to realize their dreams of a better future for themselves and their town.

While the film is somewhat formulaic, it is still touching and sentimental. A tear-jerker, but one balanced by funny scenes and a sense of optimism that you know will overcome all obstacles. I really enjoyed the film; the lead characters played by Yasuko Matsuyuki as the dance teacher, and Yû Aoi as Kimiko, were particularly engaging, and the requisite climactic dance scene is as amazing as you'd expect.

Director Sang-il Lee was at the screening and did a Q&A after the film:

  • The film is based on real-life events, but Lee developed characters out of the story, and fiction and non-fiction are mixed.
  • The film will be released in Japan on September 23.
  • There have been many screenings in both Japan and Canada, and Lee said that audiences in both countries laugh and cry and are moved by the same scenes, at the same points. But in Canada the laughter is louder, while in Japan the crying is louder.
  • The real-life Joban Hawaiian Center has thrived, even though the mines in the town were completely closed 10 years after the centre opened. It has about 1.5 million visitors per year. In 2001, the last coal mine in Japan was closed.
  • None of the actresses had any dance training prior to the film, so they trained for three months. Shizuyo Yamazaki, who plays Sayuri, is a popular comedian in Japan, and her schedule is always tight; Lee worried that she didn't have enough time to practice, especially since she was the worst dancer.
  • Lee is Korean and lives in Japan, so he tends to be interested in minorities, even in this movie.
  • When time goes by, people don't usually remember the dark side of events; he wants to express it, which is why there are some dark scenes in the film.

Celebrity Sighting

In addition to seeing Ed Harris and Diane Kruger at the premiere of Copying Beethoven, I think I saw Peter Dinklage walking south on Bay Street today.

Copying Beethoven

This film follows young Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger, who was in Toronto last year for the film Frankie) who is sent to the home of Ludwig van Beethoven (Ed Harris) to be his copyist. Beethoven is attempting to finish the Ninth Symphony in time for its premiere a few days away. Anna quick proves herself to Beethoven by correcting some notes, changing them to what Beethoven really meant. Through her he finds the strength and inspiration to finish, and she finds a mentor for her own musical talents in a world that would just as soon see her in a convent.

Ed Harris plays another troubled, volatile creative genius, this time Beethoven instead of Jackson Pollock. While not necessarily on par with that film, Copying Beethoven does afford Harris the chance to portray the intense creative process behind Beethoven's music, and one of the most powerful moments in the film is when the chorus is heard from for the first time during the premiere of the Ninth Symphony.

While the story is largely fictional, it does serve as a vehicle to display Beethoven's musical genius as he attempts to guide Anna and advance past his works to new, unexplored musical depths. Probably the only thing that didn't completely work for me was the occasional anachronistic dialogue, but that is a small quibble in a good film.

Director Agnieszka Holland (Europa, Europa, The Secret Garden, Julie Walking Home), Ed Harris, Diane Kruger, and co-screenwriter Christopher Wilkinson (Nixon, Ali) were at the screening and stayed for a Q&A after the film:

  • When asked about the story, Christopher Wilkinson said his hero is Jimi Hendrix, while co-writer Stephen J. Rivele's is Tolstoy, so they met at Beethoven. The story was something they always wanted to write.
  • Holland read the script and liked it, and took it to Ed Harris. He liked the script, and then Diane Kruger came to see Holland, and they liked her. But no one wanted to give them the money at the time; it probably took one to two years to get the funding.
  • For Holland, the hook was the Ninth Symphony sequence; it is the key to the story, and the music is the main character.
  • Holland's daughter, Kasia Adamik, was the second unit director on the film.
  • Harris said the similarity between Pollock and Beethoven is their need to create, and their compulsion to do it and get it out before they die. Doing Pollock gave him the confidence to be able to tackle an iconic figure like Beethoven. When Holland first sent him the script and told him if he wanted to do it she thought they could get it done, Harris replied he didn't know how the hell they were going to pull this one off. He added that he was glad Holland was the one to bring the script to him because of the trust he has in her.
  • Kruger said she never played the piano prior to this film, and that she still doesn't really. She added Harris excelled and he picked up the violin.
  • Harris said before the film he knew how to read music and had a sense of rhythm, but when he picked the actual score for the Ninth, he was overwhelmed. They started by breaking it down and he tried to understand as much as possible.
  • The performance of the Ninth had about 600 takes over three days.
  • Holland and Adamik worked together on the Ninth performance, starting with a rough cut of the music, then Adamik did storyboards, then they put it in the computer and animated it, so they knew exactly what shots they needed to do. The actual shoot involved three cameras.
  • The actors were so well prepared that Holland never had to do an additional take because of musical errors.
  • Towards the end, Holland had placed the cinematographer in the middle and had him spin around to get a shot; when she noticed he was dizzy, she stopped playback, but Harris continued to conduct the orchestra for several minutes until the end of the movement. One musician commented he had never experienced anything like that before.
  • Commenting on differences with an earlier copy of the script, Kruger mentioned that there were limits on the story and the character of Anna since she was fictional, that they couldn't portray her as some great composer when she didn't exist in real life.
  • When asked, Holland said she identified more with Beethoven than with the character of Anna.

Hana (Hana Yori Mo Naho)

Hana is the latest work from director and screenwriter Hirokazu Kore-eda. Kore-eda has previously been at the festival with such films as After Life and Nobody Knows. Hana is his first period piece, set at the beginning of the 18th century, when the power of the samurai was waning, gradually being supplanted by a rising merchant class.

The film focuses on a small slum in Edo, where a motley collection of characters lives. The main character in this group is a young samurai, Sozaemon Aoki, played by Junichi Okada, who was formerly a pop singer with the group V6, and reminded me of a Japanese Ioan Gruffudd. Aoki is in Edo to find his father's killer and avenge his death. But Aoki is an ineffectual samurai at best, and he cannot reconcile himself to the vengeful, honour-bound code he is supposed to follow. Adding to his distraction is Osae, a pretty widow (played by Rie Miyazawa) and her son, both of whom help him to discover a different course in life.

Hana subverts the usual conventions of the samurai drama and in some way condemns the endless cycle of vengeance and retribution as self-destructive and even absurd; it instead posits a more forgiving attitude and outlook on life. Occurring at a time of social upheaval and change, this different take on the genre is refreshing and has reverberations into today. Okada acquits himself well in the role of Aoki, and the drama of the film is lightened by the comic characters that surround him.

Directory Hirokazu Kore-eda was in attendance and did a Q&A after the film:

  • When asked if there were any difficulties in shooting a period film, Kore-eda replied that he had to get used to the time required to fit all the wigs. Also, most of his previous films were shot on 16 mm film using available light, whereas here he had to wait for lighting crews to set the lighting. He joked that with all the waiting time he ate candy and gained weight as a result.
  • The portrayal of the 47 ronin in the film is satirical; why did he go in that direction? He replied that people of his generation have grown up watching the Chushingura in one form or another and it is played every year in mid-December when the actual events are said to have taken place. It is always portrayed as heroic, embodying the bushido or warrior spirit. Hana is his take on the story with some comedic points of view thrown in.
  • The title 'Hana' doesn't refer to anything (although it seemed like a bird in the film was named Hana). The full name of the film in Japanese is a line from the death poem that the lord who was forced to kill himself, in the story of the 47 ronin, writes before his death, regretting that he had not been able to avenge his enemy before his death.
  • Hana also means 'flower' in Japanese. Historically, the cherry blossom has been a metaphor for the bravery of a warrior, seeking his own death. Kore-eda wanted to revise or update the metaphor to have a different take on it.
  • Kore-eda was asked if he was influenced by Akira Kurosawa, especially Dodesukaden. He said he loved that film, as well as The Lower Depths, that portrays a group of people who live in abject poverty. He told his actors to portray the people from The Lower Depths, but in a Dodesukaden kind of more upbeat way.
  • Akira Kurosawa's daughter actually designed the costumes for Hana.


Confetti is a mockumentary that follows three couples as they compete for a house in Confetti Magazine's Most Original Wedding of the Year contest. There are Matt and Sam (Martin Freeman, from The Office, and Jessica Stevenson, from Shaun of the Dead), who want their wedding to be like a Busby Berkeley musical number, despite that fact that Sam is tone-deaf and suffers from 'physical dyslexia', i.e. she's clumsy. Then there are Michael and Joanna (Robert Webb and Olivia Colman), naturalists who want to have a wedding in the nude. And finally, there are Josef and Isabelle (Stephen Mangan and Meredith MacNeill, who were both in Festival, shown in Toronto last year), the intensely competitive couple who want a tennis-themed ceremony.

In the middle of it all are Archie and Gregory (Vincent Franklin and Jason Watkins), the wedding planners hired by the magazine to make the three couples' dreams come true. They must struggle with the outlandish themes and pressure from the couples, their families and the magazine's editors, all building to a climax with all three ceremonies taking place in one night while the judges look on.

Reminiscent of such films as Best in Show, or something closer to home, Festival, Confetti is a genuinely funny film with some touching moments thrown in for good measure. While the film pokes a bit of fun at the couples and their over-the-top concepts, the core message of the film is a belief in love and marriage (in whatever form that may take). Overall, a nice, entertaining film that will probably have wide appeal.

Director and screenwriter Debbie Isitt attended the screening and did a humorous Q&A, although half of what she wasn't serious:

  • Casting took approximately six months, while shooting took six weeks, the exact timeframe portrayed in the film.
  • Isitt gave the actors the themes for their weddings, and their relationship histories, but otherwise, the movie was completely improvised. They had to actually define and plan their weddings, especially the wedding planners Archie and Gregory.
  • Because of the full-frontal male nudity in the film, the question was raised if the movie would even be released in the US. Isitt replied that it is coming out September 15, with an R rating.
  • All the naturalist scenes were filmed in an actual naturalist colony in England, and Isitt herself shed her clothes while directing.
  • The dancers in the musical wedding were not professionals; they were actors who had only six weeks to learn how to dance, just like the characters in the film.
  • Isitt joked that Franklin and Watkins were so good at planning all the weddings that they decided to do it professionally and that she was having them plan her own wedding.
  • Isitt said that the inspiration for the movie came from her own sister's somewhat disastrous wedding; her sister said she couldn't make a film about it, so Isitt did this one instead.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Office Tigers

Office Tigers is the latest documentary from director Liz Mermin; her previous work includes the docs On Hostile Ground and The Beauty Academy of Kabul. Office Tigers focuses on a company called, naturally enough, OfficeTiger, founded in 1999 by Joseph Sigelman and Randy Altschuler. OfficeTiger performs back-office functions for corporations around the world, everything from document processing to print layouts.

Mermin managed to gain an amazing level of access to the company, its workers, and their personal lives. Through formal and candid interviews in and around the centre of operations in Chennai, India, she shows the drive that made OfficeTiger into a 100-million dollar company. At the same time, she subtly exposes the personal cost that the managers and employees pay, both consciously and unconsciously, to keep the company moving forward and ahead of newer, lower cost competitors in other countries.

The employees all show an incredible amount of dedication, constantly on the phone handling client issues even during the boss' birthday party or while at home, and thinking nothing of continually working weekends or 20-hour days. While the work ethic may seem insane to North Americans, there's no denying it helped drive the company from nothing to $100 million in revenue in only five years.

As the camera moves throughout the offices, voyeuristically taking in project teams rushing to meet deadlines, management meetings, client calls, and training sessions, the occasionally surreal and humorous situations that arose reminded me more than once of The Office.

Mermin juxtaposes the OfficeTiger management speak and party line, which is common to companies around the world, with candid footage and interviews that often belie the point. We see managers talking about the importance of personal life next to scenes of managers telling their staff to tell their loved ones not to see much of them over the upcoming weeks. There are scenes of an instructor telling a training class to be proud of their Indian heritage, yet there is an underlying drive to make the employees more western in their dress, motivations, and attitude in order to suit their customers.

Nevertheless, Mermin is never heavy-handed in trying to make a point, especially as no one is dumb enough to jeopardize their job by saying anything overtly negative. Everyone is obviously proud of how their work has built the company up from nothing, and many remain dedicated to the company and the goal of moving it further. Still, some will eventually seek new opportunities outside the company and gain more of a balance with the rest of their lives.

Liz Mermin was in attendance at the screening and stayed for a Q&A after the film:

  • She got the idea for the film after reading a New York article on OfficeTiger. She thought it would make for an amazing film, but that the company would never agree to do it. She had friends who knew the two founders and connected them up with her, and they agreed to do the film.
  • Mermin felt that the founders never really took the film seriously until they heard it was going to screen in Toronto.
  • Shooting lasted three months; at first people were very tight-lipped and they were often shut out of meetings. But six weeks in, they gained the confidence of the employees.
  • The company has seen the film, although not the people back in India, and they liked it, which scared Mermin a bit. But she always tries to ask herself in the editing room, is she representing these people in a way they would think is an accurate representation of what they meant to say or how they think of themselves, and then the audience can make their own conclusions about what they think of these people.
  • She hopes that the subtle erosion of faith comes across in the film; in act one, there's the company propaganda, then come cracks as a result of the exhaustion and lack of trust. But she says the problem about making documentaries about empowered, intelligent people is that they don't say anything to get themselves in trouble.

Mermin added an entry to the festival's Doc Blog, explaining the film and her vision a little more:

Personal note: ironically enough, I ran into a co-worker at the screening and we ended up talking shop before the movie started. :-)


Venus had its world premiere at the festival, and is the latest collaboration between director Roger Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi. Both worked together on The Buddha of Suburbia and The Mother (which played at the festival a few years ago). Kureishi, of course, is known for such other works as Intimacy, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, and My Beautiful Laundrette. Michell has also directed Enduring Love (another festival showing a couple of years ago), Changing Lanes, and Notting Hill.

Venus is a funny and touching film starring Peter O'Toole as Maurice, an aging actor and lothario, who in some ways is an exaggerated, larger-than-life version of Toole's real-life self, always ready with the charm and a witty turn of phrase. Maurice's friend Ian, played by veteran actor Leslie Phillips, mentions one day that his niece's daughter is moving in with him to serve as his caregiver. But Jessie, played by newcomer Jodie Whittaker in her first feature film role, is nothing like Ian expects.

Maurice, however, manages to connect with her, and the two of them form a relationship of sorts. But, as is wont to happen in a May-September romance, Maurice wants more than Jessie is emotionally equipped to give, leading to complications. Eventually, the two of them each gain something from the other, Maurice getting one more chance to experience life as he comes to the end of his own, and Jessie getting to grow and mature beyond her moody, sullen, rebellious self.

Rounding out the cast are Vanessa Redgrave as Maurice's ex-wife, and Richard Griffiths as another of Maurice's friends.

I thoroughly enjoyed Venus; the film has a great little heart in the interplay between Maurice and Jessie. And O'Toole and Phillips constantly had the audience in stitches, and together with the script elevated the characters beyond what you might normally expect, showing that there was still some spark of life and vitality there even as they realized their own mortality.

Director Roger Michell, screenwriter Hanif Kureishi, and actress Jodie Whittaker (along with her proud parents) were all in attendance. Unfortunately, Peter O'Toole could not attend due to a case of the "gastric nasties", as explained in a note read by Michell. O'Toole wrote that he had a special affection for Toronto having worked and lived in the city in the past, thanked the cast and the crew, especially his co-star Whittaker whom he called a genuine talent, and ended on "may the maple leaf forever flutter", to which the audience showed its appreciation. As is usual for the Elgin, where the movie was screening, there was no Q&A after the film.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Festival So Far

I found it interesting waiting for my films to start this year. The festival trailer was mercifully short. Rather than a minute long art house film set to an operatic score, there was a simple title screen with minimal graphics that only lasted about 10 seconds, enough to get the festival logo up and some of the major sponsors.

And surprisingly there was no short on turning off cameras, cell phones, etc. like last year. Instead, Motorola had a short spot on the TIFF Talent Lab they are helping with, where a number of filmmakers were given video-enabled cell phones to create short films. Some people were complaining that the clips in the trailer were a little too short.

A lot of people have written about the technical problems with the Borat screening on Thursday night. My friend was there, and despite not being able to see the film, it sounds like the evening was interesting anyway, with Michael Moore and Larry Charles entertaining the crowd, along with Borat (Sasha Baron Cohen) himself! Some people seemed quite desperate to get into the rescheduled screening for Friday night; my friend got an offer of $150 for his ticket (which he declined).

Jade Warrior (Jade Soturi)

Jade Warrior is an interesting first feature film from director Antti-Jussi Annila that melds Finnish cinema with Chinese martial arts, and Finnish and Chinese mythology. The film contains two parallel storylines; one in the past in China revolving around a hero who is destined to both battle a demon and be betrayed by the woman he loves; the second storyline finds a blacksmith in present-day Finland in the midst of a breakup with his girlfriend. She dumps some of his iron works off at a mysterious store run by a couple of archeologists, who have found a body buried in Finland clutching an ornate metal box with Chinese inscriptions. This act sets off a chain of events that connects the past to the present day, and leads to a final conflict between the reincarnated souls of the original heroes and villains.

Jade Warrior creatively manages to link two cultures and two mythos. The film jumps back and forth between the past in China and the present in Finland, and gradually more and more is revealed about what happened and how it connects to the present. The scenes in China are reminiscent of films such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers in terms of mood and setting, and the martial arts here are quite well done.

Lead actor Tommi Eronen does a commendable job acting in the contemporary Finnish scenes and the historic Chinese scenes, even to the extent of delivering his lines in Chinese. The film was an intriguing and different take on what could have been just another martial arts epic; the connection to the present, and more surprisingly, to Finland, offers a new perspective.

Director Antti-Jussi Annila was in attendance and did a Q&A after the showing:

  • The movie is based on the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, an epic poem compiled from Finnish poems and folklore.
  • Annila grew up watching Wuxia films, and had a dream to film one.
  • The film doesn't really follow Kalevala, but rather comes mainly from the head of main screenwriter Iiro Küttner.
  • The story takes from Kalevala the main element that makes it unique from other epics; while the Kalevala tells stories of heroes, sorcery, and heroic deeds, it is always a story of man seeking woman and her love; in Kalevala the hero never gets the girl.
  • The process of making the movie started in film school 6 years ago (at the end of 1999). He couldn't sell just the idea, so he did an independent project in school, basically 10 minutes of the film's opening sequence, taking over a year to make. By the end of 2001 he started getting producers.
  • The Finnish actors did not have martial arts training; the leads trained for 1.5 months before filming.
  • The action choreographer was a Chinese man living in Sweden, but Annila didn't speak Swedish, and the choreographer didn't speak Finnish or English. Through a translator, the choreographer asked Annila if he liked the action to be pa-pa-pa-pow, or woosh-woosh-woosh; Annila replied he wanted pa-pa-pa-woosh.
  • Both Finnish and Chinese mythologies refer to sampo; in Kalevala, a smith forges the sampo to get the woman he loves, and bring happiness to world. The man who collected the poems making up Kalevala also collected poems from the east, which included one fellow in Finland who traveled farther than anyone else; this man met an old monk who told him of temple in China called sangfu, which translates to something like the secret source of all happiness, and the Mongols used to pronounce it sampo.
  • The budget for the film was approximately 2.7 million euros.
  • All the exteriors of modern day Finland were shot in Estonia.
  • All the Chinese scenes were filmed 4 hours outside of Shanghai.
  • The Finnish ambassador to Canada was in the audience.
  • The movie is slated to be released in mid-October, and was finished only a week before the festival started.

The Silence

The Silence is the latest work from Cate Shortland, who was previously at the festival in 2004 with her film Somersault. The Silence stars Richard Roxburgh, who may be more familiar to North American audiences from his roles in Mission: Impossible II, Moulin Rouge, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In this film Roxburgh plays Richard Treloar, a detective in Sydney, Australia who is transferred to work in a police museum while he is under investigation for his part in a fatal shooting incident.

While preparing photographs for an exhibition, Treloar is intrigued by a woman he spies in a crime scene photo from the 60's. He combs through the archives, finding her in several other photos before ultimately making the discovery that she comes to an untimely end. Consumed by thoughts of her, he launches into his own investigation, dredging up a past that may have best been left buried, and one that may be closer to him personally than he realizes.

The film is more than just a police procedural, instead focusing on Treloar's obsession with the woman in the photo, which may be a result of his repressed feelings about both the incident which got him suspended and his own childhood.

Roxburgh is good as the troubled Treloar, and the role affords him a more interesting challenge than some of the villainous characters he has played in big-budget Hollywood films. Emily Barclay injects a bit of humour and emotion as Treloar's co-worker in the museum, who helps dig up material for him in his quest for the truth.

While the central concept behind the story is not necessarily new, screenwriters Mary Walsh and Alice Addison have put together an interesting story. Some may not like how all the storylines and characters, and past and present, intersect with one another, but on balance, everything generally worked for me in the end.

Co-writer Mary Walsh, actress Emily Barclay, and producer Jan Chapman were in attendance and did a Q&A after the film:

  • When asked about the difference between Barclay's roles in The Silence and another film at the festival, Suburban Mayhem, Chapman (who produced both movies) said the character in Suburban Mayhem was one of the wildest she's ever seen on screen, with no morals whatsoever, while in The Silence, Barclay is sweeter and softer, and she loves the interplay between Barclay and Roxburgh in the movie.
  • Mary Walsh said it wasn't one thing behind the movie, but rather a number of intersecting ideas. The genesis of the film came when she was working at the state library on a story on horse racing and discovered that there was a police and justice museum. Prior to that, Walsh had been given a copy of a book called Evidence, by Luc Sante, which contains a collection of old crime scene photos from New York around the turn of the 19th century. Walsh said she was not so much fascinated by the photos themselves, but more the "stories that happened just outside the frame." On talking to the curator of the police museum, he mentioned they had an exhibition a few years before on Sydney crime scene photos. He made a copy of the catalog for Walsh, which at the front had a note from the researcher who said after looking at the photos for months on end, the streets of Sydney came to life with these ghosts and stories from the past. That night Walsh met up with her co-writer, Alice Addison, and they began collaborating on ideas.
  • The Silence was actually filmed for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for airing on TV. It was originally shown in two parts, with the first part ending when Treloar comes across a body. They also did a telemovie cut, which is what was shown at the festival.
  • Jan said everyone was thrilled when Cate Shortland came on board, especially as she is incredible with atmosphere. Jan was interested in something that used photography, like Blow Up, or British director Stephen Poliakov. She was also interested in this "portrait of a male psyche", the inability to talk, the silence, and the melding of the character and the crime scene.
  • Only about 3 or 4 photographs in the movie are real photos, the rest were recreated for the film.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Online Ticketing

If you've seen this:

then you've probably been online trying to order this morning. My friend managed to get through once to get some tickets, but the above error pops up quite frequently. It is possible to get through eventually. I imagine the phone lines are pretty busy right now, too.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

General Ticket Sales Begin

For anyone who hasn't bought tickets up to now, or anyone who wants additional tickets, general sales begin Wednesday, September 6 at 7:00 AM, and run through until the end of the festival. Anyone can purchase tickets online from the festival website (, by phone at (416) 968-FILM, at the Festival Box Office at College Park, 444 Yonge St. (south entrance, Market Level), or at the Year-round Box Office at the Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor Street West (main floor, north entrance). Note you must pay by cash or Visa. In addition, the festival announced that additional tickets will be available to the gala screenings.

Expect all the above options to be extremely busy Wednesday morning.

If you didn't buy a pass or coupons to participate in the advanced ticketing, now is your opportunity to purchase tickets to see films during the festival. While all the really popular films will sell out relatively early, there is usually something available during all the timeslots. And you can always use the Rush Line if you're really desperate to see a particular film. Sanjay explains the mechanics of the rush line at his festival blog:

The Fountain

One movie I didn't get that I originally wanted was The Fountain. But maybe that's for the best given the response it has gotten in Venice:

Monday, September 04, 2006

Sold Out Films

Here's a list of all the films that were marked as sold out this morning, at least as far as passes and coupons go. There may have been additional ones added after I left the box office today.

Note that the festival will most likely release additional tickets once ticketing opens to the general public on Wednesday.

Thursday, September 7

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, 5:00 PM
Deliver Us From Evil, 8:00 PM
La tourneuse de pages, 8:30 PM
The Bothersome Man, 9:00 PM
Ten Canoes, 9:15 PM
Borat, 11:59 PM

Friday, September 8

The Italian, 9:45 AM
Time, 12:15 PM
2:37, 2:30 PM
These Girls, 5:15 PM
Brand Upon the Brain!, 6:00 PM
Palimpsest, 6:00 PM
Confetti, 6:15 PM
Candy, 8:30 PM
London to Brighton, 8:45 PM
An Evening With Michael Moore, 9:00 PM

Saturday, September 9

Hana, 9:00 AM
La tourneuse de pages, 9:15 AM
These Girls, 9:15 AM
Volver, 9:30 AM
The Way I Spent the End of the World, 2:30 PM
Manufactured Landscapes, 3:00 PM
Stranger than Fiction, 6:00 PM
Indigenes, 6:15 PM
Diggers, 6:30 PM
Half Moon, 6:30 PM
Sweet Mud, 7:30 PM
Reprise, 8:15 PM
Shame, 9:00 PM
Venus, 9:00 PM

Sunday, September 10

Confetti, 10:30 AM
Babel, 11:30 AM
The Sugar Curtain, 12:30 PM
Paris, je t'aime, 3:00 PM
Opera Jawa, 4:30 PM
Catch a Fire, 6:00 PM
The Last Kiss, 6:00 PM
Waiter, 7:00 PM
The Italian, 7:30 PM
Copying Beethoven, 8:00 PM
D.O.A.P., 8:30 PM
Cashback, 8:45 PM
The Last King of Scotland, 9:00 PM

Monday, September 11

Never Say Goodbye, 9:00 AM
EMPz 4 Life, 5:45 PM
The Bubble, 6:00 PM
The Namesake, 6:00 PM
The U.S. vs. John Lenno, 8:00 PM
Office Tigers, 8:45 PM
The White Planet, 9:00 PM

Tuesday, September 12

Kurt Cobain About a Son, 9:00 AM
Shortbus, 2:15 PM
D.O.A.P., 4:15 PM
Copying Beethoven, 4:30 PM
The Fountain, 6:00 PM
Prague, 6:45 PM
10 Items or Less, 7:00 PM
Renaissance, 7:00 PM
The Fall, 8:30 PM
Vanguard Cinema: John Waters in Conversation with John Cameron Mitchell, 8:30 PM
El Cantante, 9:00 PM
The Half Life of Timofey Berezin, 9:00 PM

Wednesday, September 13

Vanaja, 12:00 PM
Little Children, 2:30 PM
Zidane: Un portrait du XXIeme siecle, 8:00 PM
Seraphim Falls, 9:00 PM
The Hottest State, 9:30 PM

Thursday, September 14

Kurt Cobain About a Son, 6:00 PM
Snow Cake, 6:00 PM
The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, 8:30 PM
Jade Warrior, 8:45 PM

Friday, September 15

Suburban Mayhem, 11:45 AM
Hana, 5:30 PM
The Sugar Curtain, 7:00 PM
D.O.A.P., 7:45 PM

Saturday, September 16

I Am the Other Woman, 11:45 AM
The Bubble, 5:15 PM
Outsourced, 7:30 PM
Beauty in Trouble, 7:45 PM
Fay Grim, 7:45 PM
London to Brighton, 8:00 PM

My Final Film Schedule

So, my final schedule for the film festival looks like this:

Friday, September 8:

The Silence, 5:45 PM
Jade Warrior, 9:30 PM

Saturday, September 9:

Hana, 9:00 AM
Office Tigers, 12:00 PM
Manufactured Landscapes, 3:00 PM
Venus, 9:00 PM

Sunday, September 10:

Confetti, 10:30 AM
The Making of a Bollywood Blockbuster, 5:00 PM

Monday, September 11:

Hula Girls, 9:15 AM
Diggers, 12:30 PM
Bunny Chow, 6:00 PM

Tuesday, September 12:

Everything's Gone Green, 11:30 AM
Coeurs, 3:00 PM
Quelques jours en septembre, 6:00 PM
Alatriste, 9:00 PM

Wednesday, September 13:

Pan's Labyrinth, 11:45 AM
Starter for Ten, 6:00 PM

Thursday, September 14:

Renaissance, 12:45 PM
Griffin and Phoenix, 3:15 PM
The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, 8:30 PM

Friday, September 15:

Falkenberg Farewell, 10:00 AM
Bugmaster, 2:45 PM

Saturday, September 16:

Exiled, 9:30 AM
Cashback, 12:45 PM
Paris, je t'aime, 6:00 PM

Check back for capsule reviews and notes from any Q&A sessions.

Picking Up Tickets

Got up early today and joined the line at the Festival Box Office at College Park to pick up my tickets, plus select new films with the leftover coupons. Here's a couple of photos of the line this morning:

The above photo shows the line snaking around the edges of the photo in a counter-clockwise fashion. At the head of the line are the tables where you pick up your completed order forms.

This shot isn't very clear, but the line goes up the stairs and around a fountain.

Once the office opened at 10:00 AM, it probably took us 15 to 20 minutes to get to the head of the line to pick up our orders. And since we had four coupons left as some of our first and second choices were sold out, we got into the line to redeem coupons for new films:

This line took about 45 to 60 minutes to get through. However, when I left downtown at 2:00 PM today, there was still a substantial line up at the box office.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Box 12 Confirmations

So, my set of tickets ended up in Box 12, and I received my e-mail confirmations around 12:40 or so. Unlike my friend, I had several movies I didn't get tickets for, so they're probably sold out at this point if you're in boxes 13 to 21.

The Bothersome Man, Tuesday, September 7
La Tourneuse de Pages, Tuesday, September 7
Copying Beethoven, Sunsay, September 10
D.O.A.P., Sunday, September 10

We only got 1 out of 2 tickets for Borat on Thursday, September 7.
We got tickets for Venus instead of Indigenes, on Saturday, September 9.
We got tickets for Quelques jours en septembre instead of The Fountain, on Tuesday, September 12.

So that means Borat, Indigenes, and The Fountain are most likely sold out at this point as well.

Confirmations Going Out

E-mail confirmations are going out as the festival processes the advanced ticket orders this weekend. My friend was in box #7, and he received a confirmation this morning (Sunday, September 3) around 9:00 AM. That means they've already processed over 25 boxes.

Interestingly, we got all the first choices, including movies such as: Alatriste, Bugmaster, Paris, je t'aime, Pan's Labrynth, and Renaissance.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Box Statistics

Out of curiosity, I thought I'd graph how the boxes for the lottery fill up, based on when people on the net said they submitted their forms and what box they ended up in:

Looks like the majority of people submit their forms within the last 3 hours or so.

This Year's Controversial Movie

Every year there's usually one film that generates controversy at the festival. Back in 2004, "Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat" generated protests outside the cinema. This year, it seems that "D.O.A.P." will be that film. Peter Howell of the Toronto Star wrote this article today:

The festival's official statement on the matter can be found here:

Lucky Box #22

Thanks to the anonymous commenter who reported the following:

"I just called the office and BOX #22 out of 40 was picked!"

Not sure what that means for me personally, since my picks are in box 7 and 12, but I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed. If you wrote your e-mail address on your order form, you should receive a confirmation on Sunday on what films you will receive tickets for. Note that if you received all your picks, there's really no point in showing up at the box office first thing Monday morning to get your tickets.

Deadline for Advanced Ordering

Don't forget, if you're participating in the advanced ticket ordering process, your forms must be submitted to the Festival Box Office at College Park before 1:00 PM, today, Friday, September 1. If you turn your forms in after that time, you will not be able to participate in the lottery process.

The festival should be announcing the box number from which processing will start sometime after 1:00 PM today. Check back here later, as I'll post once I hear what it is.

My friend is in box #7, and I'm in box #12 (and that was as of about 6:00 PM on August 31). Since there were 48 boxes worth of forms last year, it looks like most people will be returning their forms this morning.

My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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