For film lovers, the excitement is building. TIFF2013 is set to begin this week in Toronto. This year, the festival highlights 366 films from across the globe and I’ll be there, hoping to catch a few unpublicized gems during the eleven day festival.
I will be writing and sharing as many reviews as possible between screenings and this year has an unusually interesting and eclectic batch of films.
A great benefit of the festival has always been the chance to see a film before the marketing hype arrives. It might be worthwhile to know the names of the director and cast, maybe read a synopsis of the plot, but everything else about the film should be a blank slate. For the viewer, that lack of expectation can make for a great film experience.
TIFF and I have been in an ongoing, mutually beneficial, long-term relationship for almost 30 years now. I started attending screenings as a film student. My friends and I would often buy student passes and spend all day in the balcony seats, sneaking in backpacks of sandwiches and potato chips for marathon viewing sessions. We were so passionate about film and filmmakers. We once stopped a man on the subway because we recognized him as the director from a screening of a Dutch comedy we saw the night before. Of course, we asked him about his lighting techniques.
I’m not being original in revealing this, but I do love movies promiscuously and unconditionally. Film has always been important to me and I choose to view it optimistically. Every film has something to say. It’s rare that I exit a movie before the credits roll. There is almost always something worthwhile in even the worst 90 minutes of useless dreck (there are always exceptions to this rule). I believe, although I don’t know for sure, that movies can be both an instruction for life and a diversion from life.
It’s hard for me to admit that although it’s being celebrated in a TIFF re-issue this year, “The Big Chill” was one of the first films I remember watching at my very first festival, the 1983 Festival of Festivals. Over the years, I’ve watched probably hundreds of hours of films, both good and bad. The bad somehow always linger a little longer. But I’ve also had many unforgettable festival moments.
I remember Christopher Plummer‘s dazzling appearance after the screening of 2011′s “Barrymore”, that was hosted by Canadian filmmaker, Atom Egoyan. The audience was filled with Canadian celebrities and Mr. Plummer was very charming during a discussion about a long career that spanned sixty years. The consummate raconteur, he spoke of lessons learned from an actor’s life and his personal connections to the Barrymore family. His anecdotes provided a brief glimpse into his relationships with women and his candid battle with alcohol. I thought he would make a memorable dinner companion.
There was also Liza Minelli, standing outside the Elgin theatre where a restored version of her fascinating 1972 TV concert film, “Liza with a Z”, was screened in 2005. In an Oscar-worthy gown, she welcomed movie-goers and the press with a flourish and an invitation that we would all have a “simply wonderful time” inside. On stage after the screening, she sang a few snippets of her most memorable songs, fielded personal questions from the audience, and complimented a few of the drag queens at the back of the theatre who were made up to look like their idol on stage. It was weirdly surreal, although I have to admit I did have a “simply wonderful time”. The film was a remarkable time capsule of an energetic performance from another era. However, I left the theatre later that night, thinking not so much about Liza, but about Norma Desmond from “Sunset Boulevard”.
Director Henry Jaglom was another favourite personality from the earlier years of the festival. After a screening of “Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?” he entertained the audience by spinning comedic stories of languid liquid lunches with Orson Welles. The two had once worked together on a film. They would work on one final film together, “Someone To Love” just before Welles’ death in 1985. Long into the night, Henry sat perched on the edge of the stage, microphone in hand, talking about Welles’ famous personality, numerous starlets and movie ideas that never got made–it was a fascinating glimpse into the way old-time Hollywood once worked over drinks at Sardi’s.
And I also remember film critic, Roger Ebert. He was often sitting alone in the dimly lit balcony section of the now demolished Uptown theatre. I miss his rumpled presence at TIFF these last few years. Often, I would see him busy before a film taking notes, but he was always generous to the many movie-goers who interrupted him for a ”thumbs up” or an autograph. After all, we were all there for the same reason when the lights would go down; our love of film.