Going in with a whimper

Why Is TIFF Debuting So Dumbly?

After 140 columns, the projector’s being shut off—this is the last SideVue for the foreseeable future. Newspapers being about as passé as projectors (this October, all of Canada’s Empire Theatres end an era of physical-film-screening, scrapping their platter systems for digital), I’ve been lucky to have a space at all for my sidelong glances at cinema’s channeling of our cultural currents, zeitgeists and slanted viewpoints. Perhaps one day soon, this column will return. If not, it’s still been a reel fun ride and I hope you’ve enjoyed it, too.

Meantime, it’s nearly roll-time for red carpets across the land. September’s film fest month in Canada and the Toronto International Film Festival has got things off to a stupid start with the announcement of its debut film—From The Sky Down, Davis Guggenheim’s documentary of a certain Irish megaband and their making of Achtung Baby in 1991. In the press release, “‘Davis Guggenheim’s fascinating account of this world-renowned band is the perfect film to kick off our 11-day celebration of artists, stories and voices from around the world,’” says Piers Handling, “Director and CEO, TIFF.”

It’s only the “perfect” film to start off Canada’s biggest film fest if you want to: a) make some big press-release splash by announcing to the world that a doc about one of the world’s top-grossing concert-tour bands is premiering at your festival; b) tie the film in to the announcement, a week later, that the doc would be included in the Super Deluxe and Uber Deluxe editions of the Achtung Baby 20th anniversary boxsets, on sale in November for $167.32 and $658.49 (that “CEO” in Mr. Handling’s description reminds us this is a corporate and branding decision, too); and c) woo some or all of the band members (sorry, I mean “world-renowned” musical “artists”) to TIFF to generate even more photo-snapping and celebrity-gawking on the red carpets of Hogtown.

The pathetic thing is that TIFF has, to choose from, three perfectly powerful, reputed stars to shoot into the sky for the festival premiere. But they’re Canadian directors—David Cronenberg (with his new film, the Freud-Jung drama A Dangerous Method), Guy Maddin (with his new film Keyhole), Sarah Polley (with her new film Take This Waltz)—and apparently Canadian directors and their films aren’t worth showcasing on Opening Night for a world that awaits supposed Oscar-predictor TIFF with bated breath.

Toronto’s Hollywood-envy complex isn’t being replicated by every film fest across the country in September, at least (the Edmonton International Film Festival is opening with Cloudburst, from Nova Scotian director Thom Fitzgerald). And there are some damn intriguing films opening at Venice and Toronto that may just get rolled out at EIFF and other fests or, a little further down the road, at your local arthouse cinema. So look out for some of these. (I’ve avoided repeating those titles I already mentioned back in January in my year-ahead preview, although I can’t help repeating one of them now—a new film from Whit Stillman, after 13 years away and an unproduced Jamaican dance-music script!)

Still on the home front, Canuck Mary Harron (American Psycho) tries her take on the sub-genre almost everyone’s bitten their teeth into lately with boarding-school vampire story The Moth Diaries. Twixt is Francis Ford Coppola’s Poe-ish tale of a popular witch book-series writer who’s drawn into strange events, though the trailer makes it look like this is another of Coppola’s interesting but not entirely successful late-career works.

From horror to comix (not the super-hero kind) territory now. Marjane Satrapi follows up her feature-length animated adaptation of her graphic novel Persepolis with a feature-length animated adaptation of her graphic-novel memoir of a tar-playing uncle, Chicken with Plums. And Italian comix-maker Gipi makes his film debut with L’ultimo terrestre [The Other Earth], which tried a War of the Worlds-style news-announcement online to promote the film.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ darkly surreal Dogtooth was one of the great debuts of the past few years, so there are high hopes for his second, Alps. The story concerns a service where people stand in for the recently deceased and Lanthimos says it’s “darker and funnier [than Dogtooth]. It goes to each extreme a little bit more.” And Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) hopes to be the lucky 13th director to trace Arthur Schnitzler’s 1900 sexual-politics play La Ronde onto celluloid. 360 has been adapted by writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and features Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and Anthony Hopkins.

Glenn Close stars in a project that’s she’s been trying to get made since starring in a stage version of George Moore’s story in 1982. Albert Nobbs is the tale of a woman who disguises herself as a man in order to work as a butler in 19th-century Ireland; Close co-wrote the play with Booker-winning author John Banville (The Sea). Terence Davies (The House of Mirth) returns to period drama with an adaptation of Terrence Ratigan’s 1952 play The Deep Blue Sea, in which a respectable wife falls into an affair with an RAF pilot. Trishna is Michael Winterbottom’s cultural transplanting of Thomas Hardy’s Victorian fall-of-one-woman-tragedy Tess of the d’Ubervilles to today’s India.

George Clooney brings his political drama The Ides of March, while Owen Moverman (The Messenger) offers Rampart, a drama about the 1990s LAPD corruption scandal, as his second feature. Todd Solondz has long been a Dark Horse in the film world—since Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness—but his latest, about a 30-something still living at home, is actually (and worryingly?) tame enough to get the stamp of approval from a major Hollywood talent agency.

The arguably necessary outsiders of the hockey world, those whom some praise as enforcers and others deride as goons, get their documentary due in The Last Gladiators, from Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side). Almost as pugnacious and even more polarizing is Sarah Palin, whom Nick Broomfield (Kurt and Courtney, Biggie and Tupac) makes the subject of his latest doc, Sarah Palin: You Betcha! Jessica Yu moves from outsider art (In The Realms of the Unreal) to the world’s rushing water crisis with Last Call at the Oasis. And the third of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s looks at the wrongly convicted West Memphis Three, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, will have a new ending now that the three, 18 years later, have been freed (though after having to plead guilty). Canadian director Atom Egoyan is working on the feature-film adaptation of the trio’s story. Perhaps it will boast enough Hollywood-attracting star-wattage to nab the Opening Night at a future TIFF. V

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