The Daily Scene at TIFF 2013

Thank you, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), for such a marvelous birthday party. If I couldn’t have been at home among family and friends, I’m not sure I could have imagined a better way to celebrate. The first day of the festival was a decide

click to enlarge Blue Is the Warmest Color
Blue Is the Warmest Color


Thank you, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), for such a marvelous birthday party. If I couldn’t have been at home among family and friends, I’m not sure I could have imagined a better way to celebrate. The first day of the festival was a decidedly low-key affair. Festival programmers eased us into the proceedings with a teasing platter of tasty bites and a bit of fizz in our glasses to whet the appetite. I dared for more, though, seizing the opportunity to wrap myself in the embrace of Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Color.  


I wish I could hone in on the fascinating experience of the Ron Howard double feature I booked for the afternoon — the nervy racing biopic Rush (two-thirds of which doesn’t even seem like a Ron Howard film at all, but something raw and daringly sexy) and the Jay-Z concert documentary Made in America (a surprisingly welcome return to Howardland) — but the final screening of the day, 12 Years a Slave, ended up dominating practically every conversation to come. This was the film of the festival and, likely, of the year. 


A sparse crowd gathered for the first of a two-part press conference for 12 Years a Slave. The initial panel included several of the producers, director Steve McQueen, screenwriter John Ridley and historical consultant Henry Louis Gates Jr. McQueen had a testy moment or two, addressing questions about the difficult notion of a black man from Britain telling this story about this peculiarly American institution. Gates Jr. gave me a playful wink and a nod of acknowledgement that thankfully provided a reminder that hope is only lost when we take ourselves too seriously. 


There’s nothing like a Sunday at a film festival to remind you that this is supposed to be about the critical work. My fifth year attending TIFF and I finally hit the high mark of a six-film day, although the real distinction here is less about the half-dozen films than the idea that I capped it off with an interview (with 1982 film composer John Jennings Boyd) . A long day’s journey, but Boyd’s sparse music (and our brief exchange) flickered like soft sustaining candlelight.


At a major event festival like TIFF, it is wise to resign yourself to the snaking lines and the waiting game. The hope is that things run smoothly from a technical standpoint. But all of your carefully drawn plans can come crashing down, even in this age of digital projection. The highlight today should have been the screening of August: Osage County, the dramatic tour de force packed with stellar performances — from Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts down to impactful supporting terms by Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale and Julianne Nicholson — but I was amazed by the patience of the press and industry types who joined me for this first screening, standing in line almost as long as the runtime of the film.


So, industry professionals will brave hours in line for a must-see from one of the finest living actors on the planet, but what truly warmed my heart and restored my faith in humanity was the sight of regular citizens wrapped all around the streets outside the Elgin Theatre on a Tuesday night waiting, with purchased tickets in hand, to see Felony, a complex thriller from Australia (written by Joel Edgerton, who also happens to be the star) about a decorated detective who accidentally hits a young man on a bike and attempts to cover up his involvement in the crime. Edgerton, making waves in Hollywood projects like the recent adaptation of The Great Gatsby and Warrior, is an emerging presence, but hundreds of movie lovers packed this historic house on a weekday night for a film that likely won’t get a splashy release down the road.


The final day, much like the kickoff, was about ease, downshifting, in this case, from the frenetic pacing and activity to saying adieu to the spectacle. So, in some ways, it was fitting that I ended my festival run at a back table in a restaurant (the Kit Kat), sharing drinks and free-flowing conversation with Frank Pavich, the director of Jodorowsky’s Dune, a personal favorite of mine. The film, a what-if styled documentary about an early attempt by French-Chilean surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo and The Holy Mountain) to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune during the 1970s, offered lessons about passion, dreams and the impact of failing epically. It is far better to have gambled on art and lost it all than gained a fortune rebooting the Twilight saga three years after the final installment of Breaking Dawn, right?


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