The world’s second biggest festival in terms of star power closed without a bang which was most unusual. Over the years press and industry have become accustomed to being fed the crème de la crème in Toronto. For the fest’s 39th edition the posse of stars in attendance, the big studio titles and the nomination-hungry indie flicks didn’t add up to a whole lot in the end, reckons screeNZ’s man in Toronto, film writer and critic Laszlo Kriston.
TIFF is always overwhelming. Its nearly 300 title line-up is crammed with world premieres. The red carpet is awash with American stars, many of whom rarely grace European festivals with their presence.
Not a banner year
In light of all this, could an underwhelming annual output be to blame for TIFF’s failure to ignite much adulation or to offer clear critical and audience favorites? Or was it due to Cameron Bailey barring Telluride’s world premiere titles from the first four days of TIFF (traditionally the busiest period, at least from an industry perspective).
Bailey’s ultimatum to the producers to open with a big bang in one of the glitzy movie theaters on King Street West, guaranteeing TIFF a first showing, or sneak in more quietly during the second half of the fest — as did Kiwi expat Andrew Niccol’s Venice-premiered Good Kill and The Daily Show host Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, Rosewater.
The lack of action was noticeable in Toronto. The international trades this year ceased to publish their TIFF dailies on Monday (only Screen carried on valiantly until Tuesday). Usually, those dailies run until Wednesday and, occasionally, later.
Anaemic advertising sales no longer justify that effort, obviously. There doesn’t seem to be enough money in the industry to go around: the Euro-zone crisis is affecting the pre-sales market and even the bids for distribution rights didn’t take off as they used to.
Only Top Five, Chris Rock’s presumably autobiographical picture about a comedian’s day in New York as he attempts a career make-over, enthused the buyers big time. Paramount landed worldwide rights for a cool US$12.5 million.
Another odd development was that some of the high-profile titles, such as the Bill Murray-starrer St. Vincent, received their press screenings several days after the premiere. Imagine a film not being shown to the press in Cannes for many days after audiences have seen it. It’s impossible. Yet TIFF thinks it’s okay. This gave some journalists an extra burden.
A friend of mine, a reviewer for The Hollywood Reporter, complained that it’s nearly impossible to get tickets from the publicists to ensure that reviews appear right after the public screening and not a week later. Journalists for smaller publications are well accustomed to poor treatment at TIFF but snubbing the big trades seems like bad business.
This year there were no obvious candidates to follow in the footsteps of American Beauty, Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech or 12 Years A Slave, all of which embarked on triumphant, award-gathering journeys after a TIFF premiere.
On the flipside, opening film The Judge may give Robert Downey, Jr. and the Academy Award-winning Robert Duvall another chance to scoop nominations. It earned positive notices, which is not always the case for A-list festival’s opening titles. Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, the latest in a line of screen adaptations of the story of tortured mathematician and code breaker Alan Turing, who was later chemically castrated under British laws that criminalized sodomy, proved to be an effective WWII drama and took the People’s Choice award, while NZ’s own What We Do in the Shadows took the equivalent award for the Midnight Madness section.
The Weinsteins will push the latter for awards consideration.
Planes That Fly, or Don’t
There was plenty of sunshine for the 196 attending actors/actresses to enjoy on the red carpet until the torrential rains came, a weather snafu that caused Paul Haggis’ flight to divert to Ottawa.
Morgan Freeman’s arrival was also delayed by several hours as his private jet malfunctioned after take off. He returned to Mississippi, fixed the problem then took off again, only to face the same problem the second time. Freeman’s solution? Go home and get out “the other plane”. #HollywoodProblems.
A little bit of political disenchantment can go a long way, as Robert Connolly’s Australian title Paper Planes proved. A mash up of Rocky and The Karate Kid, without the pulled punches, Paper Planes’ kid protagonist sheds his status as a bully by becoming the boy wonder of, well, paper plane-flying contests.
“It’s a time when we feel betrayed by our governments, by economic instituations, even by the church,” Connolly told ScreeNZ at TIFF. “People feel very disempowered. So stories that attract me are about individualism, how individuals can change the world, whether it’s Julian Assange in Underground, or José Ramos-Horta in Balibo. In this, it’s about how a child affects a father. It’s a reverse parenting story.” A father of two himself, Connolly realized that none of his kids’ heroes were Australian, something he also wanted to address.
The result is a thoroughly enjoyable, uplifting youth romp that rarely becomes cutesy.
Viewers walking, heads rolling
Despite the very positive spin being put on the title by Australian media, there were quite a few walk-outs following the scene in Aussie title The Little Death when a woman asks her boyfriend to rape her.
Toa Fraser’s The Dead Lands, offering up very different forms of violence, received a far more enthusiastic reception at its premiere.