Toronto International Film Festival 2019

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TIFF 2019, Last Days: Uncut Gems, Atlantis, Jallikattu, This Action Lies

At Marriage Story‘s TIFF premiere, the audience applauded the Netflix logo; a night later, the same happened for A24 at Uncut Gems. The latter makes slightly more sense—rightly or wrongly (no comment), A24 has coherent brand cachet in positioning itself as Art-Fixated rather than purely profit-motivated—but in both cases I felt like I was going mad, and even more so when I heard that the first question for The Lighthouse‘s cast and crew at their first screening was why is A24 is so very special (surely that’s not on Willem Dafoe to answer.) Admittedly, Adam Sandler shaking Kevin Garnett’s hand onstage […]

TIFF 2019, Days 7-9: Collective, To the Ends of the Earth, Ema

One benefit of an extended stay at TIFF (if you can swing it) is is allowing time for friends with trustworthy taste and far more patience to slog through non-obvious titles, then adjusting my endgame schedule accordingly for what they recommend. Hence the unexpected highlight of 29 TIFF screenings (24 features, four Wavelengths shorts programs and one revival screening of Pickpocket), Alexander Nanau’s verite doc Collective, about a scandal that had entirely passed me by. Opening title cards establish the fundamentals: a pyrotechnics accident at a 2015 concert led to a fire killing 26 on site, the death toll swelling to 64 […]

“The Privileged Life Can Also Come at a Price”: Eva Mulvad on her TIFF-Premiering Love Child

Having committed adultery and conceived a child out of wedlock, a couple is forced to choose between keeping secrets and family ties — or being true to love and residing in exile. Though that could be the plot of an old-fashioned romance novel (or modern-day soap opera), it’s actually the all-too-real situation the protagonists at the heart of Eva Mulvad’s documentary Love Child are forced to reckon with. Over the course of six years Mulvad (the Danish documentarian behind lighter dramatic fare such as the Grey Gardens-in-Portugal standout The Good Life, and more recently, A Cherry Tale and A Modern […]

“I am Interested in Multiple Uses of Power and the Different Forms of Violence and Abuse That Take Place in Close Relationships”: Five Questions for Disco Director Jorunn Myklebust Syversen

Religious extremism and its cult-like symptoms are of intense interest to filmmaker Jorunn Myklebust Syversen, her two feature films, Hoggeren (The Three Feller) and Disco offering ample evidence of this. The two films portray cultural manipulation from the top down, with the hierarchies of religious institutions providing the confinements for their leading characters. Premiering at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Disco links professional shortcomings to a lack of belief in the holy spirit. Disco tells the story of 19-year-old Mirjam, a world champion freestyle disco dancer whose stepfather serves as pastor of the local church, Freedom. Once Mirjam’s success in […]

TIFF Wavelengths 2019, Program Two: Home Movies

Following on the eccentric construction of the first program, where the coherence of a quartet of formally disparate films was established by a shared interest in alternative means of image production (gender, as The Bite reminds us, being one of these as well), the second slate of Wavelengths shorts traced a much clearer arc, as all six works offered variations on the home movie. Though I found it lesser in quality than the night before, Picard’s curation here was brash and confrontational in a way it rarely is, a charmingly punk gesture to make in primetime on the festival’s first […]

“A Movie is Not Something Where I Need to Convey a Message About How People Are Supposed to Live”: Director Kôji Fukada on A Girl Missing

Since his debut feature, Human Comedy in Tokyo, in 2008, Kôji Fukada has steadily become one of the most interesting filmmakers working out of Japan in the last decade plus. Many of his features can be characterised by a protagonist or family unit’s apparent stability being upended by one event, a plot development that illustrates how easily and turbulently lives can spiral out of control. In his sophomore feature, Hospitalité (2010), this was played for laughs. In that film, a family printing business is gradually taken over by a former associate who talks his way into a job, moves into […]

“It Was a Project That Then Became An Obsession”: Director Alain Berliner on the Decades-Spanning Journey Behind His TIFF-Premiering Doc, Letter to the Editor

Less a motion picture than a picture of still photographs projected in succession, Alan Berliner’s latest documentary, Letter to the Editor, takes as its inspiration the vast photography featured in The New York Times over the past four decades. Berliner, now 63, began collecting and categorizing thousands of photographs since Ronald Reagan’s first year in the White House (1980) and continues unabated to this day, or at least until Letter to the Editor made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this past Saturday evening.  Comprised entirely of typically hi-res photographs first published in The New York Times […]

“Deragh Had Never Skydived Before…” Five Questions for Writer/Director Kazik Radwanski about His TIFF-Premiering Anne at 13,000 Ft.

Overwhelming anxiety, bad workplaces and ill-advised self-medication are all very on-trend for 2019—Kazik Radwanski’s Anne at 13,000 Ft is right for the moment. A Torontonian child care worker at a government-run facility, Anne (Deragh Campbell) is the protagonist of a handheld drama whose initial energy is very in a post-Dardennes vein, with nervy-but-not-illegibly-jumpy camerawork following her. One way to add production value to your lowish-budget production is suggested by the opening, where Anne skydives out a plane as part of a bachelorette party (!). The footage is clearly unfaked and my nightmare; smartly intercutting between the build-up and her job, a […]

Five Questions for The Vigil Director Keith Thomas About His TIFF-Premiering Film’s Religious Horror

As a weighty, academic-like subgenre of the horror film, “religious horror” presents endless opportunities to explore both the occult and the minutiae of organized worship. Prepackaged with historical baggage and preconceived expectations, religious horror films play on our belief of the supernatural, however naively broad it may be; like any religion, most horror film films require some suspension of disbelief. While William Friedkin’s The Exorcist continues to stand as the most explicit cinematic example of clergy-meets-devil, other classics such as Rosemary’s Baby present a more subtle depiction of messianic workship: in an unexpected shock, the title character gives birth to […]

Diana Sanchez, TIFF’s New Senior Director of Film, on Her First Year at TIFF and the Future of Film Festivals

In March Diana Sánchez was promoted to the newly created role of Senior Director of Film for the Toronto International Film Festival. Previously, Sanchez was the Spanish language selector for the Canadian festival. She now oversees the programming strategy for the main festival; TIFF Cinematheque; Film Circuit, the Canadian organization’s nationwide film network; and theatrical programming at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Given the size of that job, it was inevitable that she would have to relinquish her role as Artistic Director of the Panama Film Festival, the festival she helped start in 2011. Under her direction, the Panama Film Festival […]

Frightening with Cosmic Consequences: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead on their TIFF-Premiering Synchronic

Working for the past several years as a directing tandem, filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead return to the Toronto International Film Festival with Synchronic, a film described by TIFF programmer Michael Lerman as “both suspenseful and subversive.” Following two paramedics based in New Orleans as they uncover a series of odd, drug-related deaths, Synchronic represents the next step forward for the two genre-filmmakers. Complete with two franchise-leading stars (Anthony Mackie of Avengers fame and Jamie Dornan of Fifty Shades of Grey), the film marks the directing duo’s return to TIFF after a five-year hiatus (when their gory foreign romance, […]

“It’s About Pursuing ‘Truth’ and How Each Journalist Interprets That Word for the Rest of Us”: Yung Chang on His TIFF-Debuting This Is Not a Movie

Long a thorn in the establishment’s side, veteran foreign correspondent Robert Fisk has spent the past four-decades-plus reporting “subjectively” from frontlines the world over, most notably in the Middle East. An Arabic speaker, who interviewed Osama bin Laden three times before 9/11, Fisk has forever served “on the side of the suffering,” political implications be damned. Unsurprisingly, this has caused the Beirut-based Brit to become a controversial, if highly respected, figure, labeled both human rights advocate and terrorist sympathizer alike. Now in his seventies and still dodging bullets, both literally and figuratively, Fisk continues to file columns for The Independent […]

“It Was an Era of Reinvention After a Terrible Trauma”: Five Questions for Ebs Burnough about His TIFF-Premiering Doc, The Capote Tapes

Dramatic feature films like Bennett Miller’s Capote have dramatized the life of the late Southern author by focusing on the time surrounding the writing and release of his classic piece of non-fiction storytelling In Cold Blood — a work that’s had astounding influence on today’s true-crime landscape. Now, another chapter of Truman Capote’s life is analyzed and evoked in the documentary debut of Ebs Burnough, The Capote Tapes. Although it covers Capote’s whole life, the doc, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival yesterday, focuses heavily on Capote’s final years, which include the writing of his unfinished novel, Answered […]

TIFF Wavelengths 2019, Program One: Double Iambs

It grows more difficult with each passing edition to assent to the standard line that the Wavelengths program is a small clearing for artistic purity amidst a shrill, militaristically corporate environment. This has nothing to do with Andréa Picard’s curation—as deft and illuminating this year as any in the decade I’ve attended the Toronto International Film Festival—and everything to do with ongoing shifts in the social and institutional situations of artists interested in making work whose form is other than that of the commercial narrative feature. Shifts within the institutional priorities of the festival itself have required that Picard take […]

TIFF 2019, Day 4: Dolemite Is My Name

Eddie Murphy was all of 21 when he started shooting 48 Hrs. There were no years of supporting player quips to work himself up the ladder—instead, he landed the lead in an excellent, commercially successful movie first time out. He wasn’t the kind of comic who needed a movie to be built around his limitations, but an instantly seasoned player with serious dramatic chops. There’s a moment in Coming to America where the subway doors slam shut on him registering surprise and disappointment, and Murphy nails the look without overplaying—I think at that point in his career he was capable of […]

TIFF 2019, Day 3: The Personal History of David Copperfield, Cunningham

Does Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield have an obvious/meaningful relationship to his other work, and what attracted him to this adaptation in the first place? The former is easier to answer: Iannucci, age 55, studied English literature at Oxford and almost wrote a PhD on Paradise Lost, so it’s not surprising he has an affinity for Charles Dickens, any more so than it’s unexpected that the overeducated Oxbridge students at Monty Python’s core would perform a sketch about Proust. Nor is Iannucci’s love for Dickens recent news: check out his hour-long 2012 BBC special Armando’s Tale of Charles Dickens, where […]

TIFF 2019, Day 2: I Was at Home, But…, Zombi Child, First Love

As Giovanni Marchini Camia notes in this valuable, context-providing review/interview of I Was at Home, But…,  Angela Schanelec’s fourth feature, 2001’s Passing Summer, was the first to give rise (in a Die Zeit review) to the term “Berlin School,” an imprecise but generally accepted designation for contemporaries including Christian Petzold, Maren Ade, Ulrich Köhler, Christoph Hochhäusler, Thomas Arslan et al. As Camia also notes, Schanelec’s relationship to this term is tense; her work is the most overtly severe, and it’s taken her longer to break through than her highest-profile peers. Internationally, Schanelec didn’t receive significant recognition until her ninth feature, 2016’s The Dreamed Path, until […]

TIFF 2019, Day 1: Parasite, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Pain and Glory, The Report

For P&I-accredited attendees without the scratch to make it to Berlin/Cannes/Venice (let alone Telluride, with its $780 cost of press entry), day one of TIFF is traditionally a marathon catch-up march through their biggest titles, often scheduled in competing Sophie’s choice slots, with the big-name world premiere titles coming later. All this year’s Cannes main slate awardees are in the program minus two (the pointed omissions are Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe and the Dardennes’ Young Ahmed). This year’s Palme d’Or went to Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, which is fine by me: he certainly deserves some kind of significant honorific at this point. Bong’s career […]