Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Film Orgy 

An abundance of the best international cinema at the 2006 Telluride and Toronto film festivals

Wednesday, Oct 4 2006
Comments
It may seem ridiculous (not to say gluttonous) to travel directly from the densely scheduled Telluride Film Festival to the even more densely scheduled Toronto International Film Festival. But despite their proximity on the calendar (the 33-year-old Telluride always takes place on Labor Day weekend, and the 31-year-old Toronto traditionally begins on the Thursday after it) — and the fact that many of the movies seen at Telluride will also show up at Toronto — the two events aren't clones. It's an annual film orgy I look forward to all year; the festivals fulfill different needs and expectations, but share enthusiastic audiences and impeccable presentation.

The intimate, four-day program in Colorado never announces any of its movies (or its guest director, or the designer of its poster) in advance. Yet it regularly sells out all its passes to an eager, not to say fanatical, group of film buffs, who travel to its somewhat difficult to reach, picturesque location year after year. (They affectionately call the festival the Show.) They're secure in the knowledge that they'll be thrilled, titillated, amused, moved, even challenged by the eclectic program put together by directors Tom Luddy and Bill Pence, their guest director (this year it was Jean-Pierre Gorin, a French filmmaker and educator famous for his collaboration with Jean-Luc Godard and for his own quirky documentaries), and such curators as international film rep Pierre Rissient, theater luminary Peter Sellars, and Bay Area exhibitor Gary Meyer.

Famously intimate and inclusive, the festival starts with a party called the Feed, a dinner to which all are invited, and the festival also invites all pass-holders to a Labor Day picnic in the park. Filmmakers are accessible to one and all, happy to talk about the movies they've seen as well as the ones they've made.

The movies range from prestigious to obscure. Last year's audiences got the first-ever public looks at such popular Oscar-winning films as Brokeback Mountain and Walk the Line, and this year's were prognosticating Oscar hopes for, among others, Todd Field's Little Children, Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu's Babel, and Pedro AlmodÓvar's Volver (since announced as Spain's entry for the foreign film Oscar). Offerings that didn't yet have distributors, much less Oscar hopes, included Day Night Day Night, a Bressonian study of a female suicide bomber, and a documentary about Haiti, Ghosts of Cite Soleil, with a Wyclef Jean soundtrack.

Telluride also features thoughtfully staged tributes to film figures — this year's included famed Oscar-winning editor and sound designer Walter Murch (The Godfather, The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Spanish actress Penelope Cruz (star of three AlmodÓvar films as well as such American movies as Vanilla Sky and All the Pretty Horses). A Silver Medallion — a Telluride honor given each year to noted film figures — was also awarded onstage to the visibly moved David Thomson, San Francisco-based author of, among many other books, the indispensable The Biographical Dictionary of Film. Nicole Kidman, the subject of his latest book, also appeared at Telluride in Fur, a fantastic telling of the life of photographer Diane Arbus, by director Steven Shainberg (Secretary).

The revivals, which influence as well as honor archival film programming all over the world, included the delightful 1919 Australian feature The Sentimental Bloke, accompanied by an equally delightful country-music score by fellow Aussies Jen Anderson and the Larrikins; Gorin's three-film tribute to French director Jean Gremillon; and a rare encore performance at Telluride, Paul Fejos' 1928 Lonesome, with score performed by the Alloy Orchestra — cited as a personal favorite and inspiration by Telluride co-founder Bill Pence, who shocked the audience when he announced his retirement, along with his wife Stella, the fest's managing director. Gary Meyer, operator of our very own Balboa Theater, was announced as the new co-director.

My favorite moments at Telluride, always unexpected, included such stunning and previously off-the-radar movies as the British documentary Deep Water, a stranger-than-fiction story of a 1969 race to be the first man to complete a nonstop solo sailing trip around the world; 20,000 Streets Under the Sky, a BBC miniseries based on Gaslight and Rope author Patrick Hamilton's 1930s autobiographical trilogy; and performances by Peter O'Toole as an aging but still lusty actor in Venus and Toby Jones as Truman Capote in Infamous, that other movie covering essentially the same ground as last year's Capote (and, surprisingly, equally effective, if different in style). I loved watching noted editor and author Michael Korda crack up at his own oft-told anecdotes about his famed British filmmaker relatives, uncles Alexander and Zoltan Korda and his father Vincent. I was also so moved by the revelatory "Made-on-a-Mac" presentations that this longtime Mac girl now lusts not only for a G5 with a mighty screen, but also for a laptop, both equipped with Final Cut Pro (who could ask for anything more?).

But my single most treasured memory comes from the Cisco SystemsÐsponsored panel called "The New Media: The Impact of Broadband on the Creative Process and Content Distribution," at which director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) wondered aloud, after rosy prognostications about the future by techies such as Chris Anderson (editor-in-chief of Wired and author of The Long Tail), whether somebody was going to invent more hours in the day to watch all this stuff.

My sentiments exactly. If I can't see more than half of the 40 or so Telluride programs in four days, what hope do I have to wade through Toronto's more than 350 offerings in 10 days? Unlike Telluride, Toronto busily announces its movies in carefully orchestrated waves of year-round publicity, culminating in a whirlwind of press releases for each program (ranging from "Galas," big-name international movies shown with stars arriving on a red carpet at the massive Roy Thomson Hall, to "Wavelength," experimental films shown this year in an auditorium in the Jewish Community Center). Flipping through the heavy catalogue, I always find at least a hundred must-see movies; this year I managed to see about 50 of them all the way through, plus another half-dozen sampled in part.

If you attend the press and industry screenings, you see a lot more sampling. Unlike Telluride, which is predicated on the sheer love of movies, Toronto also functions as a market: Distributors looking to pick up a picture often shoot out of a screening after 10 minutes when they're not grabbed by the film. (This technique leads to a certain kind of festival offering that opens with a stunning sequence unsupported by the rest of the film.) Inevitably, the massive Toronto selection features a number of the movies also programmed at Telluride, this year covering nearly all of them (not, I point out, Fur, nor, among my favorites, Deep Water and 20,000 Streets Under the Sky). Almost everything that will show up over the next two weeks at the New York Film Festival, which stretches 20 films over 17 days, is also in Toronto (notable exceptions: the opening night movie The Queen, by Stephen Frears; Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, which opens in S.F. theaters on Oct. 20, and Michael Apted's 49 Up, which opens here on Oct. 6). With typical New York narcissism, a recent article in the New York Times referred to the New York Film Festival as "prestigious" and Toronto, slightingly, as "inclusive."

This inclusiveness led to such satisfying and eclectic days as one that began with Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley, set during the Irish uprising of the '20s, and disappointing despite (or perhaps because of) its having won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May; and moved on to an unheralded, moving Australian film about teen suicide, 2:37, by a talented first-time director, Murali K. Thalluri; Kenneth Branagh's flabby The Magic Flute, set during WWI; a credulous 2 1/2-hour documentary about gasbag Slavoj Zizek's movie theories, alluringly titled The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, by Sophie Fiennes, sister to Ralph and Joseph; and an unexpected treat, a small documentary about Italian justice called The Session Is Over. Screenings take place all over downtown Toronto (facilitated by an excellent subway system); the press and industry folks spend most of their time in an eight-screen multiplex atop the Manulife Centre, a shopping mall/office/residential complex. Filmmakers here are less accessible than at the tiny, one-horse Telluride, though they're happy to chat after Q&As at their screenings.

Toronto, always a party-happy festival, thrives on star sightings (the three daily newspapers — the Globe and Mail, the Star, and the National Post — devote special sections and reams of full-color ink to the fest and its festivities). It's also become a popular launch for big fall movies and Oscar hopefuls, with varying success. This year both All the King's Men (starring Sean Penn and Jude Law, among many others) and A Good Year (something of a vehicle for Russell Crowe, attempting light romantic comedy under the ministrations of his Gladiator director, Sir Ridley Scott) suffered the tortures of the damned: bad buzz that relegated their Oscar expectations, much less their good press, to pipe dreams.

Conversely, low expectations for Paul Verhoeven (after Showgirls, not to mention Hollow Man) led some auteurists to acclaim the WWII Black Book as a return to form. (Cynical others, including me, said, "If you want tits and ass in a Holocaust drama, send for Verhoeven.") Emilio Estevez garnered such praise for his '60s-set Bobby — about the assassination of presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, presented as a work-in-progress — that he broke down in tears at his press conference. Distributors acquired the rights to the Marc Anthony/Jennifer Lopez starrer El Cantante, a biopic about self-destructive salsa singer Hector Lavoe; Barbara Kopple's documentary Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing by the Weinstein Company, which also bought Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show (rather more low-key acquisitions than in the past).

My own key experiences included seeing Jie Zhang-ke's Still Life, set on the Yangtze River during the changes wrought by the Three Gorges Dam (a single screening was hastily added after Still Life unexpectedly won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, which overlaps date-wise with Toronto); Jie Zhang-ke's documentary Dong, about a contemporary Chinese artist, which also featured scenes set on the Yangtze; a return to form by Tsai Ming-Liang, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, after the intermittently brilliant and distressing The Wayward Cloud; and Syndromes and a Century by Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (who always tells audiences, "You can call me Joe").

Lest it be thought that I created my own Asian film festival within Toronto, I was also unpredictably knocked out by the charming contemporary fairy tale Penelope, produced by the plucky Reese Witherspoon and starring Christina Ricci and new Scottish heartthrob James McAvoy (also seen in The Last King of Scotland); the extraordinary presentation of Guy Maddin's new silent, Brand on the Brain (complete with live orchestra, foley artists, falsetto singer, and narrator); Macky Alston's chilling documentary The Killer Within; and the multiple-director Paris Je T'Aime, five-minute films set in Paris' 20 arrondissements, which qualifies as a guilty pleasure. Occasional dips into mainstream films yielded another delight, Marc Forster's Stranger Than Fiction, clearly influenced by Charlie Kaufman, in which Will Ferrell senses that he's a character in writer Emma Thompson's novel (a similar tack to the disappointing Dutch movie Waiter; it's in the air). Anthony Minghella's starry Breaking and Entering (Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright Penn) was more guilty than pleasure.

But it did help me recognize the blond head glimpsed as I passed a red carpet outside the Chanel store on Bloor late one night, as the photographers shouted, "Here, Robin! Over here!" I barely paused to check her out. Tomorrow I had five more movies — including a 2 1/2-hour black-and-white documentary covering both sides of the abortion debate by maverick director Tony Kaye — to see. I needed my rest.

About The Author

Meredith Brody

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Slideshows

  • Star Wars Celebration @ Anaheim Convention Center
    Christopher Victorio brings back photos from a land not so far away of the Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center.
  • Fear FestEvil 2015
    Calibree Photography brings back photos from Fear FestEvil 2015 at Rockbar Theater in San Jose on Friday, April 11. Performances included freak shows, and bands: Ghoul, Orchid, and High On Fire.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed