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27 September, 2010

Romanian Revolution Continues At NYFF


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The revolution in Romanian cinema that began several years ago with the astonishingly original films THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (2005), 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST (2006) and 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS (2007), continues to flex its muscle, with a strong showing at the New York Film Festival, which opened this past weekend.

Three extraordinary films from Romania will be featured at the Festival, New York's most prestigious film event. AURORA, the latest effort from director Cristi Puiu (THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU)is a devastating character study of an engineer whose life has spun out of control. Casting himself in the demanding lead role, Puiu plunges the viewer into the shadowy world of the streets of Bucharest, as his character encounters former colleagues, a mistress, his mother, and his former in-laws, all the while harboring a secret plan designed to restore order to the whole. Using the filmic language of long takes and close ups, the director brings us into a universe of secrets and lies, an allegory for a country still trying to define itself after decades of political repression. The film, at three hours long, moves along with glacial precision, but resonates as realism in minute detail.

TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS by director Radu Muntean seems to have a lighter tone, but is equally devastating. A man must choose between his wife of ten years and his mistress in this powerfully acted meditation on the temptations and costs of adultery. Are these characters stand-ins for the Romanian population as a whole, who have been fed unfulfilled promises and then have been cheated on by manipulative politicians and greedy corporate kings? This intimate film plays its trio of actors like a finely tuned chamber orchestra, exposing the wounds of its characters in excruciatingly intimate detail. The director, whose previous films THE PAPER WILL BE BLUE and SUMMER HOLIDAY, is emerging as one of Eastern Europe's most distinctive voices.

As a special event, the Festival is also featuring the premiere of an astonishing documentary essay film that speaks to the heart of the current zeitgeist of its country. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUSESCU by Andrei Ujica is an astonishing work of the sociopolitical imagination as it imagines in striking visual terms the rise and fall of the controversial Romanian dictator, whose shadow continues to haunt a contemporary Romanian finding new definitions and its place in the world. Romanian cinema, to coin a phrase, is still on a roll......

Facebook Film Opens New York Film Festival


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Future generations will be in a better position to determine whether the introduction of social networking technology in the first decade of the 20th century was a blessing or a curse. Certainly for the entrepreneurs who created new ways for us to communicate with one another, it has been both. Such is the case for the multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, who founded the internet phenomenon Facebook, but who has lost as much as he has gained in terms of the trust and love of his friends and family.

This cautionary tale of our times is being brought to the screen by iconoclastic director David Fincher in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, which opens the 48th edition of the New York Film Festival on Friday evening. Drawing on a razor-sharp script by television and theater legend Aaron Sorkin, the film has been a major point of controversy in the blogosphere for several months for its play-by-play story of the meteoric rise and acrimonious fall of the twenty-somethings who created the internet sensation.

The film features a terrific ensemble cast led by Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Tamberlake, with stellar support from Brenda Song, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara and Arnie Hammer. Sorkin's script is inspired by the celebrated 2009 nonfiction book THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES by Ben Mezrich, a tome that pulls no punches when it comes to outlying the greed, betrayals and wrong-headed philosophies of its twenty-something "geniuses". Tellingly, none of the Facebook staff, including founder Mark Zuckerberg, were involved with the project, although one of the co-founders, Eduardo Saverin, was a consultant on the non-fiction book.

Casting began in early August 2009, with Eisenberg the first to be signed in September 2009. For the 27-year-old actor, whose stock has been rising in such recent films as THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, ZOMBIELAND and ADVENTURELAND, this is his first true leading role in a major Hollywood production. Garfield, who can currently be seen on screen in the UK drama NEVER LET ME GO, will make waves next year as the new Spiderman. For Timberlake, who has been gaining acting chops for a few years now, this film could seal the deal for his getting bigger acting roles in the future. Major filming on the project began in October 2009 in Cambridge, Massachussets, with most scenes filmed on the campuses of two of the state's most famous prep schools, Phillips Academy and Milton Academy (made to fill in for Harvard, which refused to lend its campus to the filming).

For fans of the work of the Oscar-nominated director David Fincher (FIGHT CLUB, ZODIAC, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON), the film is creating major excitement. Fincher has a reputation as a control freak with obsessive attention to the detail, but also as a commanding stylist who has brought an individual flavor uniquely his own to his filmography. Always controversial and rather unapproachable, he is the kind of intense artist whose work speaks for itself.

In true internet fashion, the film's highly protected script was leaked online in July 2009. In November 2009, producer Kevin Spacey defended the film from critics who complained that it showed an unflattering portrait of all involved as part of the filmmakers' leftist political agendas. The film's main protoganist has stated that he is not happy with the bits and pieces he has seen of the film, but that he has not seen the full film to judge its accuracy. Others who were part of the initial Facebook developments, including co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, has also called the film a rewriting of the past and a pretty aggressive attack on Zuckerberg.

Audiences in North America will be able to weigh in shortly when the film is released by Columbia Pictures on October 1. However, the New York Film Festival has world premiere bragging rights this weekend and this is the start of what is another marathon film appreciation that continues through October 10. We will cover it all.......For more information on the New York Film Festival and other programs by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, visit: www.filmlinc.com

23 September, 2010

Independent Film Week Spotlights Indie Projects


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Independent Film Week, a multi-layered program of screenings, conferences, co-production networking events and filmmaker pitch sessions has kicked off the New York film season with a vengeance. Under the auspices of the Independent Feature Project (IFP), the venerable filmmakers organization, this year's event involves both professionals and film buffs in a dizzying schedule of activities around the city of New York from September 19 to 23.

The Independent Film Week kicked off with the New York premiere of HOWL, a Sundance Film Festival favorite directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, starring James Franco as beat poet Allen Ginsberg. The film is, in fact, an alumnus of the IFP's No Borders International Production Market where it was first presented as a project in 2008. Another alumnus, TWELVE DAYS TO SUNDAY, a documentary about rural America by director Anna Farrell, had its world premiere screening this week after its inclusion in the 2009 IFP Documentary Independent Filmmaker Lab. In addition, Telefilm Canada is presenting its annual showcase of new Canadian titles.

This year, the Project Forum (formerly known as the IFP Market), continues the organization's mission to create networking and financing opportunities for independent filmmakers with a host of North American and international professionals and funding agencies. The initiative, which abandoned the actual screening of dramatic features several years ago, is more focused on assisting filmmakers through the development, financing and completion of their feature films. All projects showcased in the Project Forum are features and documentaries ranging from films in development, the early stages of production, to those nearing completion (i.e. in postproduction or at the rough cut stage). In all, 150 projects were selected to participate this year, evenly split between documentary and narrative features in development (script through post-production).

The range of credentials of the participating filmmakers is astonishing......everyone from fledgling newcomers to more established indie artists. Narrative program highlights from the 2010 Project Forum includes new work represented by producers Howard Gertler & John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Jack Goes Boating), Lynette Howell (Half Nelson), Mark Heyman (The Wrestler), Michael Roiff (Waitress), Christine Walker (Howl), Jay Van Hoy & Lars Kundsen (Old Joy) and executive producers Ross Katz (Lost in Translation), Andrew Niccol (Gattaca), Mira Nair (The Namesake), and Ron Simons (Night Catches Us).

Several established directors with strong filmographies are being presented this year, in a bid to develop and finance their latest projects. They include new works from acclaimed directors Maggie Greenwald (Songcatcher), Tony Kaye (American History X) and Dover Kosashvili (Late Marriage), as well as follow up features by Craig Zobel (Great World of Sound), Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind) and Ry Russo Young (You Won’t Miss Me). Noted documentary directors with new projects include Andrea Nix Fine & Sean Fine (War Dance), Paul Rachman (American Hardcore), Judith Helfand (Blue Vinyl), Robinson Devor (Zoo), Sarah and Emily Kunstler (William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe) and veteran William Greaves (Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One).

Project Forum is also presenting 25 narrative scripts in early development by up-and-coming writers and writer/directors, which will be of particular interest to the producers, funding agencies, distributors and agents in attendance. IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Labs supports 20 diverse filmmakers throughout the completion, marketing and distribution of their first feature film. The program has become the leading U.S. forum for executive producers, agents and managers, sales agents and festival programmers to discover and support fresh talent on the independent scene prior to the introduction to the marketplace or at film festivals.

Over the years, No Borders International Co-Production Market has become the premiere U.S. forum for buyers, sales agents and financiers to meet with established independent producers who have strong track records for producing films in the international marketplace. All 45 projects presented at No Borders this year have at least 20% financing in place; many also have additional cast and/or principal attachments. Of the projects selected for presentation this year, 45% will be represented by producers from the U.S. including six projects from the Sundance Institute.

The other projects participating in the No Borders Market are represented by producers sponsored by the intiative's international partners and support organizations, including Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen (Germany), Film Victoria (Australia), Hong Kong- Asia Film Financing Forum (China), Israel Film Fund, the National Film and Video Foundation (South Africa), New Zealand Film Commission, Screen NSW (Australia), Telefilm Canada, and the UK Film Council, as well as support organizations ACE (France), CineMart (The Netherlands), NFDC Cinemas of India/Film Bazaar, Power to the Pixel UK, PPP- Pusan Promotional Plan, and TGP – Tokyo Project Gathering.

Documentary has played an important role in IFP’s history from the very beginning of the organization. This year's Spotlight on Documentaries program is presenting 70 documentaries ranging from those at an early financing stage (early development or in production) to those nearing completion (in postproduction or at the rough cut stage). This is of particular interest to distributors, sales agents and film festival programmers.

As important as the projects themselves, the Independent Filmmaker Conference has assembled a dizzying who's who of industry experts in the fields of financing, production, promotion, distribution, film festival strategy and new media opportunities that offer attending filmmakers a "boot camp" that rivals any 3-year film school. The sharing of information and case studies of indie films that have broken through in the past year are invaluable for filmmakers working in an increasingly difficult environment for their works.

Despite a tough economic climate for independent filmmakers and the not-for-profit organizations that support them, this year's Independent Film Week demonstrates that the indie flame is still very much alive. For more information, visit: www.independentfilmweek.com

20 September, 2010

Cadillac People's Choice Awards at TIFF


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is unique among A-list film festivals because it still is a non-competitive event. Unlike its other stellar events, including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, San Sebastian and Sundance, TIFF does not bother with the formality of competition juries and all the drama that surrounds their sometimes dubious choices. Instead, the audience determnes the winners, specially of the Cadillac People's Choice Awards, which were announced on Sunday, the final day of TIFF's 11-day film marathon.

For a festival that is so attuned to the vagaries of the film business, a prize conferred by contented audience members is more of a coup, since they speak to potential box office returns and end-of-year critical prizes. This year's Cadillac People's Choice winner will certainly make this prediction a reality.

The Cadillac People's Choice Award was won by THE KING'S SPEECH, a UK/Australia co-production directed by Tom Hooper. The film's two leads, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, are the early favorites for Golden Globe and Oscar recognition. The film tells the story of King George VI, who reluctantly assumes the throne in 1937 following the abdication of his brother, despite a stuttering problem that makes him a pariah in a world invaded by radio. When he engages the helpof an unorthodox Australian speech therapist, the lines of class and privilege are crossed....a harbinger of the diluted role of the monarch in 20th century democratic England. The Award includes a $15,000 cash prize. Runner up was FIRST GRADER, another UK film directed by Justin Chadwick, marking this as a strong cinema year for England.

The Cadillac People's Choice Midnight Madness Award which goes to a film in the Festival's (rather gory) genre program, was won by STAKE LAND, a vampire saga by American indie director Jim Mickle. The ghoulish tale is set in the aftermath of a vampire epidemic, when a teen is taken in by a grizzled vampire hunter on a road trip through a post-apocalyptic America.

The Cadillac People’s Choice Documentary Award stayed local with the Canadian film FORCE OF NATURE: THE DAVID SUZUKI MOVIE by director Sturla Gunnarsson. The film is a loving portrait of David Suzuki, a passionate environmentalist who still has the fire to spread his message at the age of 75.

Following eleven days and more than three hundred films, the Cadillac People’s Choice Awards definitely gives a tremendous boost to the films acknowledged and makes them, if not Oscar contenders, then at least staples of the film festival circuit over the upcoming months. For more information on the Festival, visit: www.tiff.net

17 September, 2010

Julian Schnabel: A Renaissance Man For Our Times


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Julian Schnabel strides two different worlds like a modern-day colossus. As a painter, sculptor and photographer, he has been in the A list of fine arts culture for more than 30 years. For the past decade, he has added "filmmaker extraordinaire" to his resume, becoming one of the most talked-about and lauded film artists of his generation. Painters making films is not completely new (Leger, Kandinsky, Dali and other early modernists did make film expressions, but they were either short abstract works or limited surrealistic efforts). However, Schnabel is an astute director of actors, a highly visual stylist and a film artist with a unique vision, making him the first (to my knowledge) painter who has been uniquely accepted into the film firmament as well. This makes him a renaissance man of our times.

Toronto is playing host to both sides of this unique visual artist, by hosting the North American premiere of his fifth film MIRAL at the Toronto International Film Festival AND a mini-retrospective of his painting, photography and sculptural work currently in exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The exhibition (which runs through January 2011) has been timed with the Festival, easily Toronto's most important cultural event, to create a unique cross-cultural celebration of a unique stylist's visual language and influences.

JULIAN SCHNABEL: ART AND FILM brings together his two passions: painting and filmmaking. For an artist who has had exhibitions around the world, this is the first that uniquely examines the interplay between his two loves, and traces how they exist in dialogue with one another. With over 50 works (including polaroids of film stars, monumental painting on canvas and velvet, and an expressionistic sculpture), curator David Moos has created a visual landscape on the fifth floor of the AGO that is as intoxicating as the work itself. To learn more, visit: www.ago.net

Considering that Schnabel only began his film work a decade ago, the influence of cinema has been part of his lexicon from the very beginnings of his fledgling painting career. The first work that garnered him international reputation was a 1978 work titled ACCATONE, after the celebrated film by Italian stylist Pier Paolo Pasolini. His love of international cinema informed many of his subsequent works, including an abstract work on sailcloth devoted to the actress Jane Birkin and Surfing Paintings series that Schnabel dedicated to the legendary Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci. "Movies were my escape", he states in the short documentary produced by the AGO for the exhibition. "I drew my first impressions of what it meant to be an artist from the classics of world cinema and they still remain a major influence in all of my work." Other key cinematic figures who served as subjects or touchstones in the exhibition include Marlon Brando, Albert Finney, Dennis Hopper, Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken and Rula Jebreal, with who he wrote the screenplay of his newest film MIRAL.

MIRAL, which had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, was inspired by the life of Palestine-born, Western-based television journalist Rula Jebreal. The film examines the lives of four Palestinian women of different generations as they search for hope and justice in a country torn apart by conflict. The film offers a showcase to actresses Hiam Abbass and Freida Pinto (of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE fame) in the central roles and reinforces his view that women are the ones who both continue the culture and suffer the most when it is threatened. Aside from the strength of the film's political core, Schnabel invests it with a highly expressionistic visual style that uses all the tones and tools that cinema can offer.....a strong parallel to the use of colors and brushes in his art work. Interestingly, he needed to turn to European resources to fund the film, including Pathe, Canal Plus and Cinecinema, although the film is slated to be released later this year in North America by The Weinstein Company.

Although MIRAL has been received with mixed reviews, the film is rich in compassion for its subjects and its use of striking visual imagery. These are qualities he has exhibited and honed since beginning his film career in 1996 with BASQUIAT, a dramatic portrait of the "doomed" street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and the 1980s New York art scene that Schnabel knew so intimately. Politics, both personal and pragmatic, pervade his second film BEFORE NIGHT FALLS (2001), which was a career catalyst for Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who is now among the biggest movie stars on the planet. In 2007, Schnabel had his most immersive experience in cinema, directing both the expressionistic THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERLY and the music documentary LOU REED: BERLIN. All four of the films will screen throughout the AGO's exhibition run.

Clearly, this is a man of passion, visual gifts and huge talent. To have made such strong impressions in two different arenas is unprecedented. It remains clear that both Schnabel the painter and Schnabel the filmmaker have much more to say, and for those fortunate enough to live or visit Toronto this week, both of his gifts are on ample display.

Dubai Film Market: A Cultural Crossroads


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), the largest and most ambitious film event in the Middle East, used the setting of the Toronto International Film Festival to make a major announcement. For its 7th edition, DIFF will sponsor the largest and most comprehensive film market in the Arab world, a multi-faceted initiative that will create unprecedented access to film and talent from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The new Dubai Film Market will work ‘from script to screen,’ covering every aspect of cinema from conceptualization to distribution. Its various components will include the Dubai Film Connection, the Festival’s successful co-production market; the Dubai Film Forum, its popular hub for talent development, funding, workshops and networking; Enjaaz, the Festival’s dedicated post-production support programme; and the proven Dubai Filmmart, specializing in content trade, acquisition and distribution.

"We have built a reputation as a major film event over the past seven years", DIFF Managing Director Shivani Pandya shared with me at a meeting earlier this week in Toronto. "Now we are ready to build on that foundation and become a major gateway between the major film centers of North America and Europe and the Middle East, Asia and Africa. The initiative is in keeping with the Festival's motto of "Bridging Cultures. Meeting Minds." and in reinforcing Dubai’s reputation as an international hub for cinema capital and services.

"We have a special role to play in the promotion of Arab, Asian and African cinema", Pandya continued. "Not only will we showcase completed films from those regions, but we will also be instrumental in developing and financing new projects, as well as exploring distribution and new media possibilities."
The Dubai Film Market is yet another indicator of the the Festival’s exponential growth in just over 6 years time. Since its inception in 2004, DIFF has become a major must-attend film event that has been instrumental in the promotion of Arab, Asian and African cinema and the development of at least 20 films from its various financing initiatives. "Arab cinema is just beginning to get worldwide attention and we definitely see this as part of our cultural mission", Pandya stated.

“The new Dubai Film Market will reflect a marked upgrade to the way we work, to ensure we offer the most effective and efficient environment for business year-round,” Pandya added. "At this December's edition, international delegates will be able to view the current crop of cinema, meet emerging and recognized talent, acquire films, meet the key decision-makers in the Arab, Asian, African and international film worlds, and develop business partnerships."

In 2009, the sixth Dubai International Film Festival presented 168 films from 55 countries, including 29 world premieres, 13 international premieres, 77 Middle East premieres and 33 GCC premieres. DIFF also disburses more than US$575,000 in prizes through its Muhr competition, and participating filmmakers also receive in excess of US$400,000 in project grants, completion funds and post-production support.

The seventh edition of Dubai International Film Festival 2010 will be held from December 12 to 19. DIFF 2010 is held in association with Dubai Studio City and supported by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, Dubai Duty Free, Dubai Pearl, Emirates Airlines and Madinat Jumeirah. "This is a challenging time for world cinema and we see it as our goal to help develop international ties and relationships", Pandya concluded. "We also look forward to welcoming international guests to sample our unique culture". For more information on the Festival and its many industry initiatives, visit: www.dubaifilmfest.com

16 September, 2010

TIFF Film In Focus: MAMMA GOGO


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

When a filmmaker draws on his own experience to the extent that Icelandic director Fridrik Thor Fridriksson has done in his wonderful memory film MAMMA GOGO, the intimacy of the revelations is almost disarmingly intimate. The prolific director, probably the best known from his native country and one of the most consistent in Scandinavia cinema, takes his audience on a personal journey as the film’s protagonist, a filmmaker himself, becomes immersed in the downward spiral of his mother due to Alzheimer’s disease.

The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this past week, is not the only one to deal with human frailty, but it distinguished by its director’s canny mix of tragedy and satire, as his mother’s descent is paralleled by the economic meltdown that has put Iceland in the news over the past few years. “When this illness began showing up in my mother’s behavior, I noticed that all the politicians and the bankers who caused the economic mess, were suffering from a very similar illness”, Fridriksson commented at a one-on-one interview in the outdoor café of the Intercontinental Hotel. “They all lost touch with common sense and did not fully understand what they were doing.”

Fridriksson shared that he was guilty of some of the excesses portrayed in the film by the thinly autobiographical film director character. “Like everyone else, I started wildly investing in the stock market and making crazy risks”, he offered. “But I have become used to taking risks working as a filmmaker and I guess I just got caught up the madness that was happening at the time, where we thought things would just continue to go up, up and up.” As we know, Iceland’s fragile economy was amongst the worst hit in Europe. The country’s bankers wildly speculated with cash from foreign investors, piling up debt that far exceeded the island’s GDP. The film industry, always rather intimate by other European country standards, was one of the hardest hit by the crash.

The government in Reykjavik has slashed the state film subsidies, upon which all local filmmakers are dependent, by nearly a third, effectively reducing the country’s already modest output of six or seven films annually to no more than two or three. “It was never easy to finance a film in Iceland”, Fridriksson explained. “We always have needed strong co-production partners, particularly with Germany and Scandinavia, and as the economic crisis has hit them almost as hard, it has made producing films almost impossible.”

Fridriksson, who is an acknowledged film veteran who has recently been lauded with Career Achievement Awards at film festivals in the Czech Republic and other locales, remains an exception because of the track record of some of his earlier films such as CHILDREN OF NATURE (1992), which was nominated for an Oscar, and COLD FEVER (1995), an international arthouse hit. The director has also won the Amanda Award (the Norwegian Oscar) twice for MOVIE DAYS (1994) and DEVIL'S ISLAND (1996), as well as Best Director prizes at such festivals as Edinburgh, Festroia, Karlovy Vary and Santa Barbara. “It is particularly hard now for young filmmakers who don’t have this kind of recognition”, Fridriksson offered. “I realize I am very lucky that I can continue to find investors around the world for my projects.”

MAMMA GOGO
is co-produced with Germany and is being sold internationally by Munich-based powerhouse Bavaria Films. However, the director’s economic and psychological situation is reflected in the film’s story, as an Icelandic director facing economic ruin pins all his hopes that his film, a local box office flop, will get an Oscar nomination and recoup its monies overseas. His travails are only compounded as his once-proud mother begins to deteriorate mentally and needs to be forcibly institutionalized. “It was a hard time for me and my family”, Fridriksson shared about the past few years until his mother’s recent death. “In a way, I felt that the whole society was becoming undone by its own mental crisis, and that the confidence and belief in the future that we have always had has been replaced with a feeling of powerlessness, anger and lack of engagement in the political process.”

The malaise is only now beginning to lift after almost three years of negative worldwide press and the pull-out of investment in the country by foreign banks and industries. “I believe that the Icelandic Film Fund will be back to its previous level in the next year or two, and that will be good news for me and other Icelandic filmmakers”, Fridriksson predicted. “Our film industry has been one of our most effective exports and people in power are beginning to see that an investment in film has high returns in terms of the country’s image and prestige.”


Fridriksson’s
fellow Icelandic filmmakers are needing to get creative in the ways that they finance their films. Two new low-budget efforts, CITY SLATE by Olaf de Felur Johannnesson and RISING MOON from Lydur Anason, secured backing from private investors, including online fundraising efforts that are very new to Iceland. Premiering at the Locarno Film Festival last month, KING’S ROAD, a dysfunctional family drama (is there anything else?) directed by editor-turned-director Valdis Oskarsdottir saw its producer, director, editor and most of the crew take a major cut in per diems. The film, which is being sold in Toronto by German sales company Beta Film, mines the current financial crisist for laughs as well, including its setting in a run-down trailer park. The economic recession may have taken its toll financially, but creatively it seems a topic that is ripe for directorial invention. For more information on new Icelandic films, visit: www.icelandicfilmcentre.is

15 September, 2010

A French Accent At TIFF


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

French filmmakers, film stars and business professionals are everywhere here at the Toronto International Film Festival, giving this year's a definite French accent. This is a long-running love story, with this city's film buffs in l'amour fou with French cinema, during TIFF and throughout the year.

The Gala Presentations at the Festival, arguably the most prestigious section, boasts four French titles: LAST NIGHT, a US/French co-production by debut helmer Massy Tadjedin, with a stellar cast that includes Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes and Guillaume Canet; LITTLE WHITE LIES by Guillaume Canet, the story of a group of friends who go on vacation that stars Oscar winner Marion Cotillard and Francois Cluzet; POTICHE, the latest comedic masterpiece by bad boy Francois Ozon, with an all-star cast toplined by film legends Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu; and SARAH'S KEY, the film adaption of the celebrated World War II-set novel, as directed by Gilles Paquet Brenner and starring Oscar nominee Kristin Scott Thomas.

In the Special Presentations section, several French films are making their world premieres: L'AMOUR FOU, a documentary about fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, by debut director Pierre Thorenton; SPECIAL TREATMENT, a racy drama about a Paris prostitute looking to change her life, toplining legendary beauty Isabelle Huppert and directed by Jeanne Lebrune; and THE BIG PICTURE, director Eric Lartigau's drama about a banker who tries to fulfill his dream of becoming a photographer, expertly played by Romain Duris. Other French films in the section include LOVE CRIME, an executive battle drama starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier, directed by Alain Corneau; and A SECREAMING MAN, the Cannes Film Festival jury prizewinner set in war-torn Chad, by director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun.

Other buzzed French titles include OF GODS AND MEN, director Xavier Beauvois' examination of religious extremism set within a group of French monks in violent Algeria; THE DITCH, a harrowing depiction of life in a labor camp in 1960s China by directeed Wang Bing; THE GAME OF DEATH, an examination of obedience based on the theories of behaviorist Stanley Milgram, as interpreted by directors Christophe Nick and Thomas Bornot; THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, provocative director Catherine Breillat's highly visual take on the famed fairy tale; and the world premiere of ROSES A CREDIT, a romantic drama set in 1950s France by Israeli director Amos Gitai.

For more information on these films and others that are co-produced with French companies, visit Unifrance: www.unifrance.org

14 September, 2010

The Brits Are Back


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

It has been a difficult few months for the British film industry. Not only has the economic recession made the film business even more challenging, but the controversy surrounding the shuttering of the UK Film Council has been acriminious, amidst charges of economic abuse and political favoritism. Even the venerable London Film Festival, which unspools next month, losts its main corporate sponsors and had to scramble to find replacements.

However, based on the bounty of British films here at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Brits seem to be back in top form. The Festival is literally bursting with solid UK titles, some of which will probably figure in end-of-the-year awards and Oscar/Golden Globe nominations.

Leading the pack is THE KING'S SPEECH by director Tom Hooper. The film received a rare standing ovation following its press and industry screening here (something that never happens) and has officially created royal buzz. The film features a stellar cast including Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter in the true story of King George VI, the monarch who assumed the throne on the eve of World War II when his brother Edward abdicated to be with Mrs. Simpson (one of the juiciest scandals of the 1930s). George suffered from a life long problem with stuttering, which he turns to the Henry Higgins-like Geoffrey Rush character to correct. Tongues are already wagging that this film will put actor Colin Firth over the top and win him the Oscar denied him for last year's A SINGLE MAN. The Weinstein Company, which has picked up North American rights, will be mounting a major awards campaign for the actors, the director and the film itself.

BRIGHTON ROCK, based on a celebrated Graham Greene novel, brings together Oscar-winner Helen Mirren, Sam Riley and rising actress Andrea Risebough in a film directed by Rowan Joffe. The film marks the first project to be greenlit from the development slate of UK distributor Optimum Releasing, which is the UK arm of the French mega-company Studio-Canal.

Director Nigel Cole had a considerable hit a few years ago with CALENDAR GIRLS. He returns to Toronto with the world premiere of MADE IN DAGENHAM, a lets-get-unionized film based on the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car factory where female workers walked out to protest against sexual discrimination and unfair pay scales. The film produced by Stephen Wooley and Elizabeth Karlsen's Number 9 Films, features a stellar cast that includes Sally Hawkins, Rosamund Pike and Bob Hoskins.

NEVER LET ME GO, which opens the London Film Festival next month, is an adaptation of the celebrated sci-fi novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (REMAINS OF THE DAY) as adapted by innovative novelist/screenwriter Alex Garland (28 DAYS LATER). The film features three of the UK's hottest young acting talents: Carey Mulligan (AN EDUCATION), Keira Knightley and the new Spiderman, Andrew Garfield. The films tells the harrowing tale of a group of friends who are part of a sequestered community that has been raised specifically to offer their body parts as donations in a futuristic "what if" society that has abolished illness (but at a great personal cost). Although some reviews were a bit chilly, the film is a moody and meditative art piece.

Other highly buzzed UK titles here include WEST IS WEST, the sequel to the celebrated Indian all-star cast EAST IS EAST, both penned by Ayub Khan-Din; the human trafficking drama I AM SLAVE by director Gabriel Range; and THE DEBT, a thriller directed by vet John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE), again starring Helen Mirren and featuring AVATAR's Sam Worthington, Jespeer Christensen and Jessica Chastain.

13 September, 2010

Spotlight On European Directors


Manoel De Oliveira

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Toronto International Film Festival has always had a love affair with European cinema and this year, in its 35th anniversary year, is no different. Nearly half of the films presented here this week are European or have European co-production partners. The European Film Promotion organization is assisting nearly 50 European sales companies with their presence here in order to assist the films in finding North American distribution here.

More in depth reviews and stories about the films are forthcoming but a list of the directors presenting their newest titles in the 3 main Festival sections is impressive in and of itself, so here goes:

GALA SECTION
Tom Hooper (UK, THE KING'S SPEECH)
Guilaume Canet (France, LITTLE WHITE LIES)
Andy De Emmony, (UK, WEST IS WEST)
Francois Ozon (France, POTICHE)
John Madden (UK, THE DEBT)
Gilles Paquet-Brenner (France, SARAH'S KEY)

MASTERS
Raoul Ruiz (France, MYSTERIES OF LISBON)
Amos Gitai (France, ROSES A CREDIT)
Manoel de Oliveira (Portugal, THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA)
Catherine Breillat (France, THE SLEEPING BEAUTY)
Jerzy Skolimowski (Poland, ESSENTIAL KILLING)
Ken Loach (UK, ROUTE IRISH)
Jergen Leth (Denmark, EROTIC MAN)
Jean-Luc Godard (Switzerland, FILM SOCIALISME)

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Danny Boyle (UK/US, 127 HOURS)
Milcho Manchevski (Macedonia, MOTHERS)
Michael Winterbottom (UK, THE TRIP)
Pierre Thorettton (France, L'AMOUR FOU)
John Turturro (US/Italy, PASSIONE)
Mark Romanek (UK, NEVER LET ME GO)
Richard Ayoade (UK, SUBMARINE)
Rowan Joffe (UK, BRIGHTON ROCK)
Mike Leigh (UK, ANOTHER YEAR)
Stephen Frears (UK, TAMARA DREWE)
Danis Tanovic (Bosnia, CIRKUS COLUMBIA)
Sylvain Chomet (France, THE ILLUSIONIST)
Alain Corneau (France, LOVE CRIME)
Stefano Incerti (Italy, GORBACIOF, THE CASHIER WHO LIKED GAMBLING)
Nigel Cole (UK, MADE IN DAGENHAM)
Pasquale Scimeca (Italy, THE HOUSE BY THE MEDLAR TREE)
Jeanne Labtune (France, SPECIAL TREATMENT)
Benoit Jacquot (France, DEEP IN THE WOODS)
Eric Lartigau (France, THE BIG PICTURE)
Guillem Morales (Spain, JULIA'S EYES)
Alex de la Iglesia (Spain, THE LAST CIRCUS)
Susanne Bier (Denmark, IN A BETTER WORLD)
Chris Kraus (Germany, THE POLL DIARIES)

TIFF Film In Focus: BEGINNERS


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The courage to live one's truth....that is the potent theme of BEGINNERS, an emotional drama that had its world premiere on Saturday evening at the Toronto International Film Festival. American director Mike Mills, who made an assured debut in 2005 with the festival hit THUMBSUCKER handily mixes comedy and tragedy and guides his cast of top flight actors to convincing and moving performances.

Drawing on his own background as a graphic designer and artist who has exhibited extensively in the US and Europe, Mills juggles two storylines that, in the best filmic tradition, eventually intertwine, and in the process, becomes the catalyst for vital life lessons. Ewan McGregor toplines as Oliver, a rootless, rather odd, cartoonist who lives mostly in his head and connects with the world through his ironic illustrations. Two recent major events in his life have turned his rather solitary world on its head and force the opening of his heart.

Juggling two chronologies, the first follows the slow-burning deterioration of Oliver's father, who is dying of lung cancer. Sobering as that is, it also is accompanied with the news that his father, at the tender age of 75, has decided to come out as gay. His newly found gay freedom (as showcased in his new wardrobe, new boyfriend and a new outlook on life) provides some of the comic helium in the film. The fact that the father is played by Christopher Plummer, one of Canada's great acting treasures, gives the character a depth and solidity that would be lost with a lesser presence.

Oliver is rather comfortable with this news and the film offers telling flashbacks to his early family life, when his museum curator father was mainly absent and he spent time with his emotionally complex and seemingly damaged mother. He begins to understand that his father has been gay all along but like many of his generation, attempted to set up house with a woman and have a family, although the emotional investment was never fully there.

Understanding the falsity at the heart of his parents' marriage has made Oliver a loser at love, a likeable and attractive guy who has had relationships with women in the past, but who never could believe that they would last. This wound, borne from his innate understanding of the tension and emotional distance in his won parents' union, is put to the test when he meets a dazzling and beautiful French actress, who is in Los Angeles for just a brief time on a film shoot, living rather rootlessly herself in a fancy hotel room. As played by Melanie Laurent (the blond Jewish movie theater owner in Quentin Tarantino's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS), she is all quirky in an endearing European sense and sexually ripe.....a perfect compliment to Oliver's intense and brooding personality.

McGregor and Laurent have terrific on-screen chemistry and their budding romance is contrasted nicely with the inherent dignity of Plummer's performance. In a scenario that could have seemed contrived with lesser talents involved, the father's late-in-life determination to live life honestly is the valuable legacy that he is finally able to leave to the son that he has somewhat neglected in the past. By motivating him to surpass his self-prescribed limitations, he has taught his son (and us, by extension) that life demands our courage and strength and that honesty breeds its own rewards.

With its smart script that never goes for the easy laugh or the ready tear, BEGINNERS is ultimately a valentine to the art of acting and the artistic ambitions of its talented writer/director.

12 September, 2010

The Loss of Innocence At TIFF


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Yesterday was September 11th, and again I find myself in the city of Toronto, as I did in 2001......when the planes crashed, the towers fell, the buildings burned and America lost its innocence. It was a very strange place to be back then, in the midst of covering a film festival, while one's city was in chaos. For those of us from New York, there was a shared concern about the loss of loved ones, the security of our friends and family and the frustrations of not being able to place phone calls or find a flight back home. I ended up staying in Toronto an extra 5 days, because there were no airplanes flying anywhere near New York. As the images unfolded and were repeated endlessly on television, I knew that I had experienced a seminal moment, which now is summed up in the internationally recognized 9-11.

Many things have happened since, too many in the name of "avenging" 9-11, and here we still sit, sifting through the messages of what it all means. For filmmakers, this meditation on the loss of innocence has been a potent subject. And at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, it is the theme of a good many films in the program.

Many of the films are focused on children and young people, the potent symbols of innocence, and the ways that they lose this child-like wonder....a symbol of a national and international awakening to pain and loss. In TRUST, a 14-year-old girl believes she is in love with the boy she endlessly communicates with via internet chat rooms. When they finally meet and she discovers that he is, in fact, a middle-aged man, she does not have the skills or the maturity to know how to repel his sexual advances. She is raped in a motel room but still clings to the fantasy that this is true love, age difference be damned. It is only when the FBI, called in to find the sexual predator, reveals that he has done the same thing to other pre-teen girls, that she visibily ages 10 years and understands how she has been manipulated and forever changed.

Actor-turned-director David Schwimmer (yes, he of FRIENDS fame) brings a strong sense of foreboding to the tale, which is enhanced by a smart script and the high calibre of acting. Newcomer Liana Liberato is a real find as the teenager, who is unsure of herself and ready to believe the lies of a stranger to make her feel better about herself. The parents in pain are wonderfully played by Clive Owen (in an internalized performance that strays from his usual swaggering style) and Catherine Keener (in the weaker role but still effective). The film is not afraid to be emotionally raw and while it offers a sense of reconciliation in the end, it is clear that innocence is indeed lost forever.

In Darren Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN, a psychological drama set in the competitive world of professional ballet, actress Natalie Portman plays a timid but dedicated dancer who is given the chance to play the role of a lifetime. In a new version of the Tchaikovsky classic Swan Lake, the demanding ballet director (Vincent Cassel) decides to have one dancer portray the twos sides of the Swan Queen: the innocent and naive White Swan and the sensual and seductive Black Swan. As pressures mount and family tensions become unbearable, the young woman's grip on reality fades and she moves from her precocious innocence to a hardened heart. The performance, sure to be remembered at Oscar time, is a terrifying transformation that demonstrates how the harshness of the world can corrupt the soul.


NEVER LET ME GO by UK director Mark Romanek is an adaptation of the celebrated novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (REMAINS OF THE DAY), an existential sci-fi film with great emotional depth. Three of the UK's finest young actors (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield) play young people who have been genetically modified since birth to eventually become organ donors in a futuristic society that has eradicated disease. Sheltered from the outside world at a special school hidden in the countryside, the teenagers eventually discover the ominous future that awaits them and the cruel fate that will not allow them to reach maturity or find love or fulfillment. While they accept their fate as predestined, the film evokes their growing emotional awareness as they resist and try to find a path to redemption. The film, which can be heavy at time, will be a challenge to market, but is a thought-provoking "what if" look at a technological utopia all to ready to sacrifice human emotion for what it terms "progress".

In a much more comedic vein, IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY, by the directorial team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (HALF NELSON, SUGAR), also traces the growth of its lead character, a troubled teen who has voluntarily admitted himself to a mental ward. Consumed with thoughts of suicide and feeling beleagured by the demands of his parents and teachers, Craig (played with great flair by up-and-coming actor Keir Gilchrist) rides his bicycle to the local mental hospital in his native New York, getting assigned to an adult ward where he is suddenly in the midst of people who are dangerously unstable. He is swept into the realities of these troubled folk, especially a crafty long-time resident, played by the comic actor Zach Galifianakis (THE HANGOVER). Adapted from a best-selling autobiography by Ned Vizzini, the film successfully enters the head of its young protagonist, showing how he slowly edges away from his troubles to a stronger sense of his needs and desires. Once he is able to free himself from the expectations of others, he can truly become his own person. This journey is a more hopeful one, but clearly living in the shadows of others' expectations provides a certain (enforced) kind of innocence that be discarded to move forward.

In way more dramatic and wrenching terms, that is also the journey of Aron Rolston, a cocky "extreme sports" enthusiast who must face a daunting decision when he becomes entrapped in a remote canyon in the mountains of Utah. Based on a true story, the young man (in a tour-de-force performance by James Franco that is certain to be remembered at awards season) must eventually cut off his own hand in order to free himself from his enforced imprisonment. This is, to be sure, a wrenching sequence that necessitated medics being called in to treat a few viewers when the film was screened last week at the Telluride Film Festival (I admit to closing my eyes myself).

Director Danny Boyle (last year's Oscar winner for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) employs all his considerable visual gifts to bring audiences into the heart of this compelling story of courage and survival. Almost a one-man show, 95% of the film is strictly James Franco, becoming desperate, weak and hallucinatory. The film enters his feverish head, offering snapshots of his family life, his encounter with two female climbers just prior to the incident, and his growing awareness that his independent demeanor (he has not told anyone where he is) may have sealed his fate. The growing awareness of how he has kept family, friends and co-workers at a distance in a macho brio of self-assuredness makes this as much an emotional journey as a compelling tale of survival. Full of visual invention that exhibits a kinetic sense of cinema and complimented by a superb score by fellow Oscar winner A.R. Rahman (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE), this is destined to be one of the most talked about films of the year.

As we all journey from the innocence of our youth to confront the often harsh realities of maturity, these films resonate with a sense that the greatest truths are often the ones most hardest won. And that is a great lesson indeed........

Bell Lightbox: An Instant Film Treasure


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), one of the largest and most important film events in the world, unveils its permanent home today with a day long “block party”. The Festival, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, was once centered in the chic Yorkville neighborhood, north of the urban center. This year, however, the Festival has moved to the city’s Entertainment District, home to its live theaters and the city’s most trendy district, about three kilometers downtown.

Anchoring the new location is the Bell Lightbox, the five-screen cinematheque that opens today. Designed by world-renowned architectural firm KPMB, this unique facility will provide an essential meeting place for film professionals, educators and film lovers from around the globe. The Daniels Corporation and the Reitman family – acclaimed filmmaker Ivan Reitman and his sisters Agi Mandel and Susan Michaels – who together form the King and John Festival Corporation, have helped TIFF to realize its dream of a building dedicated to film.

Destined to become Toronto’s version of the National Film Theater in London, the facility will offer first-run indie and international films, as well as play a classic repertory program of what it calls “essential cinema”. Already being used as of today as a TIFF venue, when the Festival is over on September 19, the complex will offer exclusive theatrical engagements of such films as the Cannes Palme d’Or winner UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES and Quebec wunderkind director Xavier Dolan’s LES AMOURS IMAGINAIRES.


The complex also will offer film-related art exhibitions, including the celebrated Tim Burton retrospective mounted by New York’s Museum of Modern Art earlier this year. TIFF Cinematheque is a year-long initiative to bring the very best of cinema to the local public. Highlights include a six-channel audio version of the Alfred Hitchcock classic PSYCHO, as well as newly struck prints of such landmark films as BREATHLESS, L’AVVENTURA, THE THIRD MAN and TAXI DRIVER.

The Bell Lightbox, in one sure stroke, becomes an international film destination that reinforces Toronto’s reputation as one of the prime film towns on the planet. For more information, log on to: http://tiff.net/tiffbelllightbox/Venue.

11 September, 2010

Europe Meets Canada In Toronto


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

With roughly half of the films premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival tracing back to Europe (either as co-productions or stand-alones from their country of origin), Europe certainly has a strong presence here. This has been enhanced by the inauguration of the Producers Lab Toronto, a new initiative by European Film Promotion (www.efp-online.com), the pan-European promotion agency and the Ontario Media Development Corporation (www.omdc.on.ca), with support from Media International and Telefilm Canada.

A mix of 24 producers from Canada and Europe are meeting in a series of networking sessions, to generate interest and co-financing in each other's projects. This follows trends started in Berlin, Rotterdam and other fests to become a nurturing environment for new projects that may, very likely, be showcased here next year.

European producers participating in the forum include: Ivan Angelusz (Hungary), Silje Hopland Eik (Norway), Matti Halonen (Finland) Janine Jackowski (Germany), Andrzej Jakimowski (Poland), Akica Juric Tilic (Croatia), Monika Kristl (Czech Republic), Bernard Michaus (Luxembourg), Martina Niland (Ireland), Luis Angel Ramirez (Spain), Marc-Antoine Robert (France) and Reinier Selen (The Netherlands).

Their Canadian counterparts include Paul Barkin (Alcina Pictures), Andrew Boutilier (Submission Films), Robert Budreau (Lumanity Productions), Damon D'Oliveira (Conquering Lion Pictures), Trish Dolman (Screen Siren Pictures), Liz Jarvis (Buffalo Gal Pictures), Jennifer Jonas (New Real Films), Jennifer Kawaja (Sienna Films), Corey Marr (Corey Marr Productions), Brandi-Ann Millbradt (Philms Pictures), Martin Paul-Hus (Amerique Film) and Paul Scherzer (Six Island Productions).

For more information on the participants and the projects they are developing, visit: www.efp-online.com

Italian Cinema Bridges The Atlantic


PASSIONE (John Turturro, Italy)

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

As the Venice International Film Festival enters its final weekend, the annual overlap between it and the Toronto International Film Festival, which opened this past Thursday, is most keenly felt. It is no secret that the two festivals are major rivals for world premieres and the attention of the world press. Venice's appeal is well, that's it is Venice...one of the world's most glamorous destinations. Toronto, a city that put the ugh in urban, is more industry-necessary and ultimately may have more commercial impact. However, the film business, that uneasy balance between art and commerce, is at its most vivid as both Venice and Toronto make nice over one's final and the one's first weekend.

This bridge across the Atlantic Ocean can also be evidenced by the strong contingent of Italian films playing in Toronto, cooridnated by the Italian Trade Commission, a public agency entrusted with promoting trade and business opportunities between Italian and foreign companies, and Cinecitta Luce (www.cinecittaluce.it), whose FilmItalia team creates a presence for Italian cinema at film festivals in Cannes, Berlin, Bueones Aires, Toronto, Shanghai, Tokyo, Locarno, London and New York.

At this year's Toronto International Film Festival, Italian films are out in force in most of the Festival's sections. It even boast a World Premiere in the film THE CALL (La Llamada), the story of the ardent and sudden passion between two Italian women in Buenos Aires, in a film written and directed by Stefano Pasetto which is screening in the Discovery section.

Most of the Italians films on tap are International Premieres, marking their first time out of Italian soil. In the Special Presentations section of the Festival, three Italian titles are generating attention. GORBACIOF (The Cashier Who Liked Gambling) by writer/director Stefano Incerti tells the story of a prison cashier who spends his spare time in the illegal gambling den of a seedy Chinese food shop in Naples. MALAVOGLIA (The House By The Medlar Tree) by Pasquale Sciemca focuses on the effects of illegal immigration on a tight knit community of fishermen in Sicily. Actor-turned-director John Turturro expresses his amore for Napoli in the musical pastiche film PASSIONE.

In the Contemporary World Cinema section, Italian master director Saverio Costanzo delivers a devastating take on the role of fate in the lives of two misfits who seem destined to be alone but never are in THE SOLITUDE OF PRIME NUMBERS (La Solitudine Dei Numeri Primi). The scene shifts to a quiet medieval village perched high on the hills of Calabria in the existential drama LE QUATTRO VOLTE by Michelangelo Frammartino, which premieres in the Visions section of the Festival.

Italy is also represented in several major co-productions, including BARNEY'S VISION, a Canadian-Italian film starring Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman and Minnie Driver, as directed by Richard J. Lewis; OUTSIDE THE LAW, an "Algerian GODFATHER" crime drama co-produced with France, Algeria, Tunisia and Belgium, directed by Rachid Bouchareb; and two co-productions with the UK: NEDS by Peter Mullan and ROUTE IRISH, the latest film from auteur Ken Loach. Whether in the heart of Venice or the pulse of Toronto, viva Italia!!!
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The Who's Who Of Toronto


Woody Allen and Anthony Hopkins

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

For you stargazers, here is a list of the films that feature top rank film directors and acting talents that are premiering this week at the Toronto International Film Festival (not a complete list):

127 HOURS (Danny Boyle, Director; James Franco, Actor)

AMIGO (John Sayles, Director; Chris Cooper, Actor)

ANOTHER YEAR (Mike Leigh, Director; Jim Broadbent, Actor)

THE BANG BANG CLUB (Ryan Phillipe, Actor)

BARNEY'S VERSION (Paul Giamatti, Actor; Dustin Hoffman, Actor)

BEAUTIFUL BOY (Michael Sheen, Actor; Maria Bello, Actress)

A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO ENDING (Harvey Keitel, Actor)

BEGINNERS (Mike Mills, Director; Christopher Plummer, Actor)

THE BIG PICTURE (Romain Duris, Actor)

BIUTIFUL (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Director: Javier Bardem, Actor)

BLACK SWAN (Darren Aronofsky, Director; Natalie Portman, Actress)

BRIGHTON ROCK (Helen Mirren, Actress)

BUNRAKU (Josh Hartnett, Actor; Woody Harrelson, Actor)

BURIED (Ryan Reynolds, Actor)

CASINO JACK (Kevin Spacey, Actor; Kelly Preston, Actress)

CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (Werner Herzog, Director)

THE CONSPIRATOR (Robert Redford, Director; James Macavoy, Actor; Robin Wright, Actress; Kevin Kline, Actor, Evan Rachel Wood, Actress)

CONVICTION (Tony Goldwyn, Director; Hilary Swank, Actress)

DAYDREAM NATION (Josh Lucas, Actor)

THE DEBT (John Madden, Director; Helen Mirren, Actor)

DEEP IN THE WOODS (Benoit Jacquot, Director)

EASY A (Stanley Tucci, Actor; Emma Stone, Actress)

EVERYTHING MUST GO (Will Ferrell, Actor; Rebecca Hall, Actress)

HEARTBEATS (Xavier Dolan, Director)

HENRY'S CRIME (Keanu Reeves, Actor; Vera Farmiga, Actress)

HEREAFTER (Clint Eastwood, Director; Matt Damon, Actor)

THE HIGH COST OF LIVING (Zach Braff, Actor)

IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (Zach Galifianakis, Actor)

JACK GOES BOATING (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Director)

JANIE JONES (Elisabeth Shue, Actress; Abigail Breslin, Actress)

KABOOM (Gregg Araki, Director)

THE KING'S SPEECH (Colin Firth, Actor; Geoffrey Rush, Actor)

LAST NIGHT (Sam Worthington, Actor; Eva Mendes, Actress)

LOVE CRIME (Ludivine Sagnier, Actress)

MADE IN DAGENHAM (Miranda Richardson, Actress; Sally Hawkins, Actress)

MIRAL (Julian Schnabel, Director; Freida Pinto, Actress)

MYSTERIES OF LISBON (Raul Ruiz, Director)

NEVER LET ME GO (Carey Mulligan, Actor; Charlotte Rampling, Actress)

OF GODS AND MEN (Lambert Wilson, Actor)

OUR DAY WILL COME (Vincent Cassel, Actor)

PASSION PLAY (Mickey Rourke, Actor; Megan Fox, Actress)

PASSIONE (John Turturro, Director)

PEEP WORLD (Michael C. Hall, Actor; Sarah Silverman, Actress)

POTICHE (Francois Ozon, Director; Catherine Deneuve, Actress)

PROMISES WRITTEN IN THE WATER (Vincent Gallo, Director)

RABBIT HOLE (Nicole Kidman, Actress; Aaron Eckhardt, Actor)

RIO SEX COMEDY (Bill Pullman, Actor; Irene Jacob, Actress)

ROUTE IRISH (Ken Loach, Director)

STONE (Robert De Niro, Actor; Edward Norton, Actor)

SUPER (Liv Tyler, Actress; Ellen Page, Actress; Rainn Wilson, Actor)

TABLOID (Erroll Morris, Director)

TAMARA DREWE (Stephen Frears, Director; Dominic Cooper, Actor)

THREE (Tom Twyker, Director)

THE TOWN (Ben Affleck, Director; Jeremy Renner, Actor)

TRIGGER (Bruce McDonald, Director; Sarah Polley, Actress)

THE TRIP (Michael Winterbottom, Director)

TRUST (David Schwimmer, Director; Clive Owen, Actor)

THE WAY (Emilio Estevez, Director; Martin Sheen, Actor)

WHAT'S WRONG WITH VIRGINIA (Jennifer Connelly, Actress; Ed Harris, Actor; Amy Madigan, Actress; Dustin Lance Black, Director)

YOU WILL MEET A DARK STRANGER (Woody Allen, Director; Anthony Hopkins, Actor; Josh Brolin, Actor; Gemma Jones, Actress)

10 September, 2010

Stars Shine Brightly In Toronto


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

While film professionals are here at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to buy and sell films in a still soft market, for the Toronto public the big attraction are the movie stars who will be walking the red carpet in the coming 10 days. Toronto is a bit star-crazy, with all the local television stations highlighting their TIFF coverage and promising viewers up-close-and-personal access with the movie stars who are huddling here. Every newspaper and magazine viewed on newstands features TIFF on its front page. The Festival is THE event in this town and interest in the movie stars coming here is at a fever pitch.

The list of movie superstars is pretty impressive. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart will wrestle with the death of a child in RABBIT HOLE, the latest film from indie provocateur John Cameron Mitchell (HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH). British thespian James McAvoy stars as an attorney defending Robin Wright in the Robert Redford-directed historical drama THE CONSPIRATOR. Oscar winner Jennifer Conneley is back in top form as a mentally ill mother in WHAT'S WRONG WITH VIRGINIA, Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's (MILK) directorial debut.

Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor co-star as father and son in BEGINNERS by director Mike Mills. Taking on a rare serious role, Will Ferrell toplines in EVERYTHING MUST GO, a drama about a man whose life is falling apart around him, directed by Dan Rush. Mickey Rourke, who wowed audiences with THE WRESTLER at the 2008 TIFF, plays a down-on-his-luck trumpeter in PASSION PLAY, directed by Mitch Glazer.


Natalie Portman
stars as a ballerina in director Darren Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN, which is a major contender for top prizes at the Venice Film Festival, where it made its world premiere debut last week. Double Oscar winner Hilary Swank is back with a vengeance in the drama CONVICTION, directed by actor-turned-director Tony Goldwyn. Emma Roberts and Zach Galifianakis create comic sparks in IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY, directed by the team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Josh Hartnett and Woody Harrelson bring macho charm to BUNRAKU, director Guy Moshe's mashup of westerns and samurai films. Add to this list actor Keanu Reeves who is seriously comedic in HENRY'S CRIME, directed by Malcolm Venville.

Despite the dense cloud cover hovering overhead, the stars are in full view at the Toronto International Film Festival this week. For more information on the Festival, visit: www.tiff.net

09 September, 2010

Hockey Or Godard: TIFF Opening Night Choices


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Well, one can't say that the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) which opens this evening, does not offer its audience a wide range of choices. On its opening night, film lovers can decide to sample the official Festival Opener, a campy Canadian hockey musical (yes, you read that correctly) titled SCORE: A HOCKEY MUSICAL by local filmmaker Michael McGowan or the latest movie meditation by one of the art form's masters Jean-Luc Godard.

FILM SOCIALISM, presented in the Festival's Masters series, is the latest cinematic time bomb from the French director of such nouvelle vague clasics as BREATHLESS (1960), VIVRE SA VIE (1962), BANDE A PART (1964), ALPHAVILLE (1965), PIERROT LE FEU (1965) and WEEKEND (1967). After an inactive stretch in the 1970s, Godard was back with a series of non-traditional, non-narrative film poems that were both ridiculed and embraced for their dense structure and kaleidoscopic visuals.

His latest continues in this expressionistic mode, described as a "symphony in three movements", the film is a cri de coeur that is both ravishing and troubling. The film begins on a cruise ship where passengers indulge in the hedonistic pursuits of gambling and disco dancing. The middle section moves to a provincial gas station to examine the domestic politics of the family that runs it. The final segment revisits the cruise ship's journey around the Mediterranean, intercut with archival footage and a dizzying monntage of clips from key films in Godard's encyclopedic catalogue of the cinema.

Much like abstraction expressionist painters or "automatic writing" authors, Godard leaves visual clues in what appears to be random assemblages to reveal deepth truths about our unsettled times. Count this as another metaphysical statement, both political and beyond politics, by cinema's most playful and distrubing provocateur.

08 September, 2010

Montreal World Film Festival Awards


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

OXYGEN, a Belgium/Netherlands co-production by debut director Hans Van Nuffel, won the Grand Prix des Ameriques at the Montreal World Film Festival last evening. The award is the highest honor given at the Festival, which concluded a 10-day homage to world cinema that includes nearly 450 feature and short films from 80 countries.

OXYGEN tells the poignant tale of two young men who suffer from cystic fybrosis, a genetic disease that slowly destroys their lungs. Although they share the same illness and the same limited life expectancy, the two could not be more different. Tom is a bitter person who expresses his frustration via violent behavior with his hoodlum mates. Xavier is a confirmed optimist who is a superb athlete who continues to push himself to embrace life. His energy and joy of life eventually bring Tom out of his doldrums and appreciate the possibilities that he still has in life. Van Nuffel, who won a short film prize at the Festival a few years ago, and co-scriptwriter Jean-Claude van Rijckegham, avoid all the usual disease-of-the-moment clichés and tells a life-affirming story of courage and determination that bare repeated telling.

European films dominated most of the awards of the evening. The Italian drama FROM THE WAIST ON (Dalla Vita In Poi) by director Gianfresco Lazotti won the Special Grand Prix Jury Prize. The film, which was also scripted by Lazotti, offers an arresting mix of prison drama and Cyrano de Bergerac. A young woman writes to her fiancé who is sentenced to a long prison sentence, and eventually turns to her best friend, a handicapped woman stuck in a wheelchair to find the right words to express her love.

Two European directors shared the award for Best Director. Norwegian director Maria Sødahl was recognized for her insightful work on the film LIMBO, a cautionary tale of bored wives who turns to one another for friendship and reinforcement while their husbands work in the tropical paradise of Trinidad and Tobago. Sharing the award was French director Pascal Elbé for his dynamic immigrant drama TÊTE DE TURC.

Continuing the European sweep were awards for VENICE, a historical film set in the early days of World War II by Polish director Jan Jakub Kolski, which won the Best Artistic Contribution prize; the German existential drama THE DAY I WAS NOT BORN (DAS LIED IN MIR) by director Florian Cossen, which won both the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize and the Ecumenical Jury Prize; and the four winners in the First Works World Competition which included AMORE LIQUIDO by Italian director Mario Luca Cattaneo (Golden Zenith), REVERSE MOTION by Russian director Audrey Stempkovsky (Silver Zenith), LE SENTIMENT DE LA CHAIR by French director Roberto Garzelli (Bronze Zenith), and EUROPOLIS by Romanian director Cornel Gheorghita (Special Mention).

Despite the strong showing of European films, accomplishments from other parts of the globe also were recognized. Winning the Best Screenplay prize were scenarists Silvia Pasternac, Fernando Leon and director Carlos Carrera for the powerful Mexican family drama DE LA INFANCIA (FROM CHILDHOOD). The film, told from the point of view of two brothers, tells a harrowing tale of the hardships endured by the family of a drug-addicted hood who shifts from violence to affection and back again at a moment’s notice. The film also won the Glauber Rocha Award for the Best Latin American Film.

The Innovation Award was given to local favorite, Quebec director Julie Hivon, for the psychological love story TROMPER LE SILENCE (SILENCE LIES). The film also received the Cinemathèque Québécoise Public Award for the most popular Canadian Feature Film in the Festival. Canada was also represented by Quebec actor Francois Papineau who won the Best Actor prize for his role as a troubled father who has lost his son and goes on the road to find himself in the Festival’s opener ROUTE 132 by Montreal-based director Louis Bélanger. Winning the award for Best Canadian Short Film was THE CIRCUS by local animator Nicolas Brault.

The remaining awards of the gala ceremony included Best Actress honors for Eri Fukatsu in the stylish Japanese thriller AKUNIN (VILLAIN) by director Lee Sang-Il; the Best Documentary prize to CHE, UN HOMBRE NUEVO (CHE. A NEW MAN), a portrait of revolutionary Che Guevara by Argentine director Tristan Bauer; and the shared Audience Awards for the most popular film in the Festival, given to Spanish director Emilo Aragon for his nostalgic PARAJOS DE PAPEL (PAPER BIRDS) and German director Florian Cossen for the existential drama THE DAY I WAS NOT BORN (DAS LIED IN MIR).

At the end of the ceremony at the Theatre Maisonneuve, perennial Festival Director Serge Losique invited the audience to return to next year’s Montreal World Film Festival, which will be celebrating its 35th anniversary, with many special events already in the works. For more information on the above films and others shown at this year’s Festival, visit the website: www.ffm-montreal.org

07 September, 2010

Montreal Closes With Tavernier Film


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Montreal World Film Festival comes to a close this evening with the North American Premiere of THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER, the latest film from celebrated French director Bertrand Tavernier. The film will screen following the announcement of the Festival awards at the Theatre Maisonneuve, a spectacular concert hall that is the Festival’s most luxurious screening venue. The lavish historical epic is set in France in the mid sixteenth century, when the religious wars between Catholics and Protest Huguenots created endless opportunities for intrigue, passion and constantly shifting alliances and loyalties.


The film centers on the beautiful young aristocrat Marie de Mezieres (played by the gorgeous Melanie Thierry) whose father has promised her hand in marriage to the Prince of Montpensier. However, the tempestuous bride-to-be is in love with Henri de Guise, one of the kingdom’s most intrepid heroes. The Prince takes Marie back to his chateau, where she is tutored by Chabannes, a Protestant, who soon falls in love with the young woman. When Henri arrives at the chateau along with the Duke d’Anjou, the heir to the throne, a passion play of extreme emotions is set into gear. The young noblewoman is torn between passion, duty and ambition, each quality personified by the three different men in her life.


This titanic battle of the will and the flesh is emboldened by the gorgeous art direction and costume design that makes the story a sumptuous feast for the eyes. It is indeed a compliment to say that the film is a Renaissance painting come to life. Like its heroine, director Bertrand Tavernier’s visitation to 16th century France has both beauty and brains and offers a portrait of Renaissance life that is vivid and enthralling. Much more than a costume epic, the film is a compelling drama and a vivid exploration of the extremes of the battle of the sexes that still has resonance in our modern times. The director elicits strong performances from his sensational cast, which includes also includes Lambert Wilson, Gaspard Ulliel, Raphael Personnaz and Gregoire Leprince-Ranguet.

For Tavernier, this film is a return to form after a rather spotty decade. His previous film, IN THE ELECTRIC MIST, a thriller set in contemporary Louisiana and starring Tommy Lee Jones, John Goodman and Peter Sarsgaard, is also screening in the Festival in the complete director’s cut. The film was edited without its director’s approval and released in a truncated version that bombed rather disastrously at the box office. Prior to that film, he only made two other films in the past decade, SAFE CONDUCT (2002) and HOLY LOLA (2004), both of which were not widely seen by international audiences.

However, Tavernier is still regarded in his native France and by discriminating critics and film buffs as a modern cinema master, the inheritor of the throne from the lions of the French nouvelle vague of the 1950s and 1960s. Tavernier broke into films as an assistant to legendary filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville before scoring a major success with his debut film THE CLOCKMAKER OF SAINT-PAUL in 1974, featuring an award-winning performance by Philippe Noiret. He was most active in the two decades that followed with such highly regarded films as THE JUDGE AND THE ASSASSIN (1976), CLEAN SLATE (1981), A SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY (1984), BEATRICE (1987), DADDY NOSTALGIE (1990) and L’APPAT (1995).

A lifetime lover of jazz, he realized a personal dream of creating the perfect “jazz movie” in 1986 with ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT. He directed legendary saxophonist Dexter Gordon in an Oscar-nominated performance, where he played the semi-autobiographical character of an American jazz musician in Paris. The film’s atmospheric lensing and the intense performance of Gordon in a role that was uncompromisingly similar to his drug and alcohol addicted self, made it a standout for its director, although it did not open the doors of Hollywood as many had expected.

Tavernier, who has also written several books on cinema, ultimately felt more comfortable working in France, where artists are venerated and celebrated for their overall contributions, rather than the limitations of recent box office performance. For the sturdy classic films of his most prolific period, he is regarded as one of the most passionate and accomplished filmmakers of his generation.

05 September, 2010

French Superstars In Montreal


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

If one is a fan of French cinema (c'est moi) and gaga over French movie stars (moi aussi), then the closing weekend of the Montreal World Film Festival is a gift from the cinema gods. Jetting into town for a series of talks and film presentations are actors Gerard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye, two formidable presences on the Gallic screen.

Nathalie Baye will receive a special Career Achievement Award at the screening later today of one of her signature performances in UNE LIAISON PORNOGRAPHIQUE (1999) by Frédéric Fonteyne. The Festival has been showing a slew of Baye films including such gems as LA BALANCE (Bob Swaim, 1982), NOTRE HISTOIRE (Bertrand Blier, 1984) and LE PETIT LIEUTENANT (Xavier Beauvois, 2005).

Gerard Depardieu will deliver a rare "master class" on the art of acting and his four decades of work on the big screen. Two of his great performances will also be showcased with free, outdoor screenings of THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE (Daniel Vigne, 1982) and CYRANO DE BERGERAC (Jean-Paul Rappeneau, 1990).

For francophones and those smitten with le cinema francais, this is a weekend sent from heaven.......

Confronting The Shadows Of History


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

It is always tempting to ascertain a link or a thematic accent in the programming of a film festival. Threads are there but creating a strong argument in that direction is always a bit of a false road. In truth, film festivals come together based on the films that are made available to them. However, as with an individual, each Festival has its own distinct personality and interests. At the Montreal World Film Festival, an event that I have attended off and on for almost 15 years, the films can be said to represent their audiences. Montreal is known for its social tolerance and its opening arms to refugees…..this not only explains the multi-cultural experience of the city but harkens to its reputation as the “Amsterdam of North America”. If you’re different, oppressed, repressed or just plain bored, Montreal is the place for you. Lacing through this unique mix of disparate communities from all over the world is a strong sense of social justice and an intensive interest in the lessons to be learned from examination of the past.

Maybe because I also share this interest and have tended to view films that fit into this category, it seems that a strong number of titles at this year’s Festival are confronting the shadows of history. Film is, by its nature, artifice so any high-minded look at the historical past is really just an interpretation. The “truth” of what occurs is, as it must be, totally dependent on the perspective of those involved. However, film, with its sense of immersion and its ability to tease the mind and examine the soul, offers a unique perspective of real events and personalities. And since any history is colored by those who have written it, these historical films offer up a kind of truth that is meant to be useful in the present (since the past, no matter how glorious or tragic, can never be revived).

Two films that grasp for the existential truth of their moments in time are, ironically (or perhaps not) from Poland…..a country that has only had true freedom of expression for 20 odd years. However, Polish filmmakers seem intent on examining their past (horrors and all), in order to forge a new identity that allows a future with more potential and flowering. In VENICE, written and directed by Jan Jakob Kolski, the first weeks of the invasion of Poland by the Nazis in September 1939 upsets the balance of tranquility and gentility at a country villa and its bourgeois family inhabitants. In LITTLE ROSE by Jan Kidawa-Blonski, the time period shift to almost thirty years later, when the first sparks of dissent in the Soviet bloc spawns a zealousness of political suppression. In this specific case, in the Warsaw of 1968, surveillance of suspected dissidents merges with an intense anti-semitic fervor that culminates in tens of thousands losing their jobs, their homes and their citizenship. These very Polish tales have obvious resonance for all cultures and for all times.

In a pair of Japanese films viewed here, the fervor of exposing injustice is also a strong theme. In BOX – THE HAKAMADA CASE by Banmei Takahashi, a famed case of wrongful accusation and imprisonment from the 1960s shatters the dictates of the Japanese legal system and continues to influence civil rights legislation in that country. A young boxer is accused of murdering a landlord and his family and falsely sentenced to death. A crusading judge believes in the man’s innocence and spends over 30 years in an obsessive search for justice. In CATERPILLAR, set during Japan’s war with China in the months before Pearl Harbor, director Kaji Wakamatsu offers an impassioned indictment of right-wing nationalism in the tale of the wife of an injured soldier who openly speaks out about the absurdities and the costs of war.

Although considerably glossier in detail, the historic pageantry of several European films illuminate the passions and the politics of their times. In NANNERL, MOZART’S SISTER, French writer/director René Féret offers a fascinating portrait of the equally musically gifted sister of the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, illuminating the young woman’s talent and the social structure that thwarted her musical ambitions. In the similarly themed CHRISTINE CRISTINA, the directorial debut of iconic Italian actress Stefania Sandrelli, a gifted woman poet in the Middle Ages must contend with the powers of the state and the church that cannot accept the accomplishments and ambitions of the lowly female of the species. Conflicts, both secular and religious, are also at the heart of the Chinese/Hong Kong co-production CONFUCIUS by Mei Hu, a glossy biopic of the poet/philosopher, whose wisdom and compassion introduced notions of equality, human dignity and fairness into tradition-bound Chinese hierarchical culture

In the German/French/Spanish co-production epic HENRY OF NAVARRE by German director Jo Baier, the 16th century court of the French king comes alive, with all its decadent splendor and the religious tension between the ruling Catholics and the rebel Protestant Huguenots, to make a point of the costs of religious conflicts both then and now. That same conflict is given another point of view in the Festival’s closing night film THE PRINCESS OF MONTENSIER by veteran French director Bertrand Tavernier. A beautiful aristocrat is promised to marriage to one man but is in love with another. This romantic triangle is intertwined with the religious war between Catholics and Protestants, offering a counterbalance between the power of love to elevate and the power of hate to destroy.

What these historical films offer is not only an attention to detail but a recreation of the passions and the tragedies of earlier times in a way that is more vivid than any book or historical document. Whether they are 100% accurate is not the point. They arouse our interest, our emotions and our minds. And they make clear that events in the recent or distant past are part of our legacy as human being and are still coursing through our veins. We are them, and they are us. For more on these and other films, visit: www.ffm-montreal.org