While I am an advocate of the summer blockbuster season, it doesn’t even come close to my love of the Toronto International Film Festival. And I’m not just saying that because I live in the city; I am equally impressed, and excited for that matter, when Cannes rolls around in the month of May. But let’s be honest here, Toronto is one of the top three film festivals in the world. This September will be the seventh festival that I’ve attended and while the films announced thus far have yet to really floor me, the programmers of the fest have a habit of selecting films that don’t seem like much at first, but prove themselves otherwise in the long-run.
Just look at its track record- American Beauty, Whale Rider, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Juno, Sexy Beast, Borat. There are countless others, simply due to the fact that Toronto is a film festival different than all the rest. It is a festival for the fans, for those who adore film. It caters to every taste, which very few festivals do. Again, its track record speaks for itself, which is a fact that producers and studios are fully aware of.
Over the years, Sundance has lost some of its luster, while Venice has its good years and bad years. The programmers at Toronto, for one reason or another, constantly make immaculate choices that send shockwaves throughout the industry. But this year, something is different. Something doesn’t feel right.
Although it is far too early to tell, the films announced for the Toronto fest have yet to really grab me. Which is not to say that I am not intrigued by some of the titles. Cannes best picture runner-up Gomorra from Italy is easily my most anticipated at the moment. This Italian film is garnering oodles of attention around the world and I can almost guarantee (based on what I’ve read thus far) that it will walk away with a number of awards and new fans. Another film, which sounds so outlandish that it has to at the very least be entertaining is Tony Manero from Chile. It’s the story of a serial killer who idolizes John Travolta’s character from Saturday Night Fever and the resultant effects of such an obsession.
Last week, programmer Colin Geddes announced the line-up for the infamous Midnight Madness program, one of the most prolific and hotly anticipated programs every year.
It’s the place where Saw, Spun, Bubba Ho Tep, Cabin Fever, Hostel, Inside and even Near Dark, way back when, got their start. This year, easily the most anticipated film of the program is JCVD, the new Jean Claude Van Damme action/satire/drama hybrid picture. Personally, I’ve always been most impressed with Midnight Madness simply because you can tell that the films selected were picked simply because of their quality, not because of the names that it would attract. Last year was a memorable Madness, seeing as how it ushered in the return of two true Masters of Horror, George A. Romero and Dario Argento. While the films that they accompanied failed to equal the hype and anticipation that preceded them, it was definitely a treat to see these two masters attend a festival surrounded by fans.
This years Madness is decidedly lighter than previous years, relying on a number of foreign, independent and low-budget features to fill the program. Regardless, the hype machine has already begun. French film Martyrs is already garnering some attention, with Geddes calling it the most controversial film in the history of the program. Given past Midnight films, that is quite the statement and needless to say, because of it, the film will be viewing under a very critical eye.
Over the years, a friendly competition has broken out between the Toronto Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival due to the fact that when one begins (Venice), the other (Toronto) is getting ready to kick off its festivities. This year, however, it seems that Venice, for the time being, has succeeded at attracting a large number of high profile pictures. As per Tuesday’s film line-up announcement, the new Miyazaki film Ponyo on the Cliff will premiere alongside Darren Aronofsky’s much-anticipated The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke (a film that I am very much looking forward to). For added insult, a number of Toronto premieres will be premiering at Venice first, giving the Venice screenings the more coveted world premiere.
While it’s disheartening that some films will be at one festival but not the other, a friendly competition between film festivals can only mean one thing for moviegoers- more films to enjoy. Both festivals have unique characteristics that outweigh the other. Venice, for example, is held in one of the most beautiful cities in the world without question. Toronto, on the other hand, is an urban jungle, populated with an incredibly sophisticated arts community. Film festivals are things of beauty, as they bring out the best in moviegoers and filmmakers alike.
Whether it’s Venice, Toronto, Cannes, or a tiny community film festival taking place in a rundown theater around the corner, swing by and catch a couple of films. The greatest thing about these festivals is that they bring you to places that you’ve never been to, which to me is the most essential rule of filmmaking. Good or bad, films should whisk you away for a couple of hours and introduce you to interesting people and places. Instead of focusing on the competitive aspect of the festivals (and I frequently find myself in such a position, sadly), perhaps we should embrace the universal beauty of storytelling. It’s what unites us all and lays the groundwork for (what I hope to be) healthy and opinionated debate.
See you in the theater.