By Sydney Levine | Sydneys Buzz October 8, 2013 at 11:33PM
Late as usual. People are attending MIPCOM in Cannes and in November AFM in Santa Monica, and I’m only now getting around to writing about my own private Toronto. I chose films I would not be able to see soon in a theater near me and I chose films because my schedule permitted me to see them. Occasionally I chose films my friends were going to and that happened when my time was not demanding other things be done.
I wish I could have seen 100 other films too but for some reason or another I could not fit them in.
I moderated a wonderful panel (and we did blog on that!) on international film financing with SFFS’ Ted Hope, UTA’s Rena Ronson, Revolution’s Andrew Eaton, and Hollywood-based Cross Creek’s Brian Oliver, and Paul Miller, Head of Film Financing, from the Doha Film Institute, Qatar's first international organization dedicated to film financing, production, education and two film festivals.
I also spoke with Toronto Talent Lab filmmakers and then I filled my days with films – I did get an interview with Gloria’s director Sebastian Lelio and Berlin Best Actress winner Paulina Garcia and with Marcela Said, director of The Summer of Flying Fish but mostly I watched film after film after film – up to five a day, just like in the old days when I had to do it for my acquisitions jobs. This was pure pleasure. Friends would meet before the film, we would watch and disperse. And we would meet again at the cocktail hour or the dinner hour and then disperse again.
My partner Peter had lots of meetings with the Talent of Toronto from the Not Short on Shorts and the Talent Lab Mentoring Programs.
Parties like the Rotterdam-Screen International party gave us the chance to catch up with our Dutch friends whom we have not seen for the last two years. Ontario Media Development Corporation’s presenting the International Financing Forum luncheon gave us the chance to talk to lots of upcoming filmmakers and old friends again who were mentoring them. The panel Forty Years On: Women’s Film Festivals Today, moderated by Kay Armatage, former TIFF programmer, Professor Emeritus University of Toronto, and featuring Debra Zimmerman, Executive Director of Women Make Movies, NYC, Melissa Silverstein, Do-Fojnder an dArtistic Director of the Athena Film Festival in NYC and blogger of Women in Hollywood, So-In Hong, Director of Programming of the International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul had a rapport and didn’t hesitate to challenge each other. It felt like a party even though the subject was quite serious. The SXSW party was crowded as always, filled with everyone we could possibly know. It is always a great party we all want to attend.
One of the great dinners was that of The Creative Coalition Spotlight Awards Dinner honoring Alfre Woodard (12 Years a Slave), Hill Harper (1982, CSI: NY), Sharon Leal (1982), Matt Letscher (Scandal, The Carrie Diaries), Brenton Thwaites (Oculus, Maleficient), Tommy Oliver (1982, Kinyarwanda – I am a great fan of Tommy’s!), Tom Ortenberg (CEO, Open Road Films which has a coventure with Regal Theaters and AMC Theaters recently acquired by the richest man in China), and David Arquette (The Scream series). Our hostess, Robin Bronk is so welcoming and so dedicated to furthering the cause of universal education as a human right, education in the arts as a must. I admire her presence and her good work.
Here is a list of the great (and not so great, but never bad) films I got to see. I also list those I continue to hear about even now. I do not list all the films which were picked up during the festival and later. For that, you can go to SydneysBuzz.com and buy the Fall Rights Roundup 2013 and see all films whose rights were acquired (and announced) and by whom with links to all companies and Cinando for further research. For buyers it will, by deduction, show what is still available for AFM and for programmers, it will show who is in charge of the film for specific territories. The second edition will be issued two weeks after AFM.
One of the first films I saw and still retaining its place as one of my favorites was the documentary Finding Vivian Maier which begins with the discovery of photographs by an unknown woman named Vivian Maier by filmmaker John Maloof. As the mystery of this woman is uncovered, the audience is treated to her stunning work and the story of who she was.
One of my favorite films was by one of my favorite directors, Lucas Moodyson. We Are The Best (ISA: Trust Nordisk) was a great surprise, the story of three teeny-bopper punk-influenced girls who loved getting into unusual situations. It was loving and fun, darling and funny. I would take my children to see it and would delight in seeing it again. It was the biggest surprise for me. I can see why Magnolia snapped it up for the U.S. I thank programmer Steve Gravenstock for giving me the ticket for this film which I would have missed otherwise.
I had missed Jodorowsky’s Dune in Cannes. I am a great fan of El Topo and was eager to see this film. I was surprised at the elegance and skill of Jodorowsky in explaining his vision. Afterward, Gary Springer, our favorite publicist, arranged a wonderful reception at a classic comic book store where we loaded up on some fascinating graphic novels and Gary showed us his depiction on an old issue of Mad Magazine discussing the making of Jaws which he was in. picture here.
A totally unique and unexpected film about the African Diaspora, Belle, written and directed by Amma Asante was not talked about much to my surprise, perhaps because Fox Searchlight acquired all rights worldwide from Bankside before the festival. It is a stunningly beautiful British period piece of the 18th century about a mixed race aristocratic beauty.
My favorite film, on a par with The Patience Stone last year was Bobo (ISA: Wide) by Ines Oliveira starring Paula Garcia Aissato Indjai, produced by my friend Fernando Vendrell who gave me a ticket when I could not get one myself. This story of a woman who does nothing except go to work is forced to accept a claning woman and her young sister from Guinea-Bissau. Together they face down their demons. I love the cross-cultural understanding which results in their shared situations. I recently saw Mother of George and found the same warm connection across great cultural divides, though this one was of generations.
I wish I could have seen Pays Barbare/ Barbaric Land, the Italian/ French doc in Wavelengths about Mussolini’s attempted subjugation of Ethiopia (the only country in Africa never colonized). It sounds like great political poetry.
1982 which had previously won the prize of the jury I served on for US Works in Progress held in July at the Champs Elysees Film Festival in Paris. It was deeply moving and disturbing film which depicts the shattering and the healing of a family. It also helps feed the pipeline begun with Lee Daniels producing Monster’s Ball who went on to direct to such films as Precious and The Butler. If the African American experience can continue to be expressed so eloquently by such filmmakers as Tommy Oliver, Rashaad Ernesto Green (Sundance 2012’s Gun Hill Road), Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere), then a film literate audience will foster greater growth of even more talent in the coming generation. While I didn’t see All Is By My Side by U.K.’s John Ridley which is about Jimi Hendrix nor (yet!) the most highly acclaimed film of the festival, 12 Years a Slave by U.K.’s Steve McQueen, but I would include them in this discussion of the African American Experience.
On the subject of Africa, where last Sundance God Loves Uganda shocked and upset me, this year Mission Congo (Cinephil) revealed much of the same cultural divide only these two films show the negative impact of the Christian right upon already besieged Africans. What is done in the name of a righteous G-d is cause for dialogue and oversight.
Israel and the Middle East
No major turmoil or denunciations this year (Thank G-d, Allah, or whoever She may be). Katriel Schory, head of the Israeli Film Fund told me that if I could only see one film, then it should be Bethlehem which is the country’s submission for Academy Award Consideration for the Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. It was a sad and clear eyed microcosmic view of the issues of trust and betrayals played out among every level of the society. People compared it to Omar by Hany Abu-Assad,the filmmaker of a favorite of mine, Paradise Now, but I did not see Omar.
Rags and Tatters at first seemed like a documentary, and does have doc footage, but it is a circular story that ends where it began but with much more understanding of the chaotic events in Cairo. Really worth watching.
Of the Latino films two Chilean films, Gloria (Chile) and The Summer of Flying Fish (Review), were accompanied by interviews which you can read on my previous blogs here and here. El Mudo from Peru by the Vega brothers was in the odd vien of their previous film, October. Not sure at the end just what the film was saying…
Toronto Film Fest Programmer Diana Sanchez’s official count of Latino films in the festival is 16. Of these, 5 are by women; 30% is a strong number. Venezuela and Chile are strong with year with two films each. Two other films might have been chosen except they went to San Sebastian for their world premieres. Especially hot this year was Mexico. 4 films are here but she might have chosen 10 if she could have. Costa Rica is making a showing with All About the Feathers and Central America is making more movies. There is lots of industry buzz coming from the good pictures from Brazil like A Wolf at the Door from Sao Paolo production
She is not counting Gravity by Alfonso Cuaron as as Latino film but as a U.S. film.
And Our White Society
The Dinner (ISA: Media Luna) by Menno Meyjes ♀ (ISA: Media Luna), a Dutch film deals with the personal and political as two families disintegrate when the affluent sons kill a homeless woman. Deeply disturbing social issues on the other side of the spectrum from those of 1982 and yet very much the same. How a society can foster such dissonance in class structure today which results in the disintegration of family and even a nation’s political life is, as I said, deeply disturbing. Based on the N.Y. Times best selling book which sold over 650,000 in The Netherlands, and is published in 22 countries, it stars four of Holland’s most renowned actors, Jacob Derwig, Thekla Reuten, Daan Schuurmans, and Kim van Kooten. This is a story that could be remade in America and still maintain its strength. The writer-director Menno Meyjes wrote the Academy Award nominee The Color Purple and collaborated with director Steven Speilberg on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In 2008 he directed Manolete with Penelope Cruz and Adrien Brody.
The Last of Robin Hood was a romp which thrilled us because Peter Belsito, my own dear husband, had a moment on screen (as the director of Errol Flynn’s last film Cuban Rebel Girls). He got the part because he had had an equally small role in the original Cuban Rebel Girls when it filmed in Cuba in 1959, four months after the Revolution. He happened to be there on vacation with his family including his 18 year old sister and his crazy aunt because Puerto Rico was full that year and Cuba had plenty of room. Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland invited him to play in their film. The film actually had more meaning than merely a romp as it revealed what lays below the June-September love affair between Errol Flynn and 15 year old Beverly Aadland, the nature of fame (“a religion in this godless country” to quote Flynn himself) and ambition. Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandan and Dakota Fanning were all great in the repertoire piece.
Can a Song Save Your Life? garnered great praise as the film that followed the simple pure Once. I found it a bit flat though it kept my interest enough that I was not contemplating leaving. But it lacked the simplicity of Once.
Fading Gigolo proves that a Woody Allen Film is a Genre. John Turturro makes a Woody Allen middle-aged man fantasy of a wished for love affair with a Hasidic woman. Turturro is always lovable on screen, but his directing has something inauthentic about it…the only authentic thing was the twice-stated thought that somewhere in his heritage he was really Jewish. When I saw his previous film Passione, about Italians and passion, the opening song, being one of the first Cuban songs I ever heard, turned me off because again, it was inauthentic. It was Cuban, not Italian. I think he is not comfortable in his Italian guise.
Other films at TIFF I have seen previously:
Only Lovers Left Alive by Jim Jarmusch (ISA: HanWay, U.S. SPC). If you can see it as a dream of night, then the vampires dreaminess might appeal to you. I personally was ready to fall into my own stupor after watching this 123 minute movie of Vampires who have seen it all. Zzzzzz.
Don Jon is sexy and sweet. Scarlett Johansson is a superb comedienne, equal to Claudette Colbert in this film about two totally media mesmerized young lovers. ___ and his father are also great straight men. I loved this film, so funny and sweet and all about sex. Loved it!
Borgman Darkest humor, or is it humor? Creepy and definitely engrossing. Dutch filmmaker Alex van Warmerdam at his best. This is the Netherlands' Official Academy Awards Submission.
What I hear was good:
Aside from the ones that got snapped up for lots of money and are covered in all the trades already, there are films which I keep hearing about even now and will see:
12 Years a Slave (ISA: Summit, U.S. Fox Searchlight)
The Lunchbox (ISA: The Match Factory)
Prisoners (ISA: Summit/ Lionsgate, U.S.: Warner Bros)
Dallas Buyers Clubs (ISA: Voltage, U.S. Focus Features)
Life of Crime (ISA: Hyde Park, U.S.: )
A Touch of Sin (ISA: MK2, U.S. Kino Lorber)
Gravity (ISA: Warner Bros. U.S. Warner Bros.)
Enough Said (ISA: Fox Searchlight, U.S. Fox Searchlight)
La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) (ISA: Pathe, U.S. Criterion) Italy’s submission for Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film
Violette (ISA: Doc & Film, U.S.: ?)
Omar (ISA: The Match Factory, U.S.: ?)
Le Passe (The Past) (ISA: Memento, U.S. SPC) Iran’s submission for Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
To the Wolf (ISA: Pascale Ramonda)
The Selfish Giant (ISA: Protagonist, U.S. IFC)
At Berkeley by Frederick Wiseman (ISA: Doc & Film, U.S. Zipporah)
The Unknown Known (ISA: Entertainment One, U.S. Radius-TWC)
Ain’t Misbehavin (Un Voyager) by Marcel Ophuls (ISA: Wide House)
Faith Connections by Pan Nalin (ISA: Cite Films). This Indian French film, produced by Raphael Berduo among others is written about here.
Civil Rights (?)
12 Years a Slave (ISA: Summit, U.S. Fox Searchlight)
Belle (ISA: Bankside, all rights sold to Fox Searchlight)
Kill Your Darlings: The youthful finding of himself by Alan Ginsburg as he enters Colombia University and meets Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac and Alan Bourroughs revolves around a murder which actually happened. The period veracity and Daniel Radcliffe’s acting carry the film into a fascinating character study. (U.S. SPC)
Dallas Buyers Club (ISA: Voltage, U.S. Focus Features)
Tom a la ferme / Tom at the Farm by Xavier Dolan ISA: MK2, U.S.:)
L’Armee du salut/ Salvation Army by Abdellah Taia (ISA: - U.S.:-)
Eastern Boys (ISA: Films Distribution)
Pelo Malo/ Bad Hair (FiGa Films)
The Dog (Producer Rep: Submarine)
Ignasi M. (ISA: Latido)
Gerontophilia (ISA: MK2, U.S. Producer Rep: Filmoption)