The end of the 26th annual Toronto International Film Festival was really an end to an unexpected and shocking week. Already subdued from last year’s anniversary festivities, this year’s fest was more a celebration of the films rather then a red-carpet rollout for the stars. After the horrific events of Sept. 11 unfolded, that motto was solidified. After one day of cancellations, the festival rolled on, acting as a beacon of perseverance in the face of tragedy. As festival director Piers Handling put it, “we found solace in each other, occasionally losing ourselves in film.”
Using some limited media accreditation and having been given tickets from friends who just weren’t in the mood anymore, I trudged onward into the dark escape of screening rooms showing strange and wonderful movies from all over the world. While it would take me weeks to list every film that struck a chord, here’s a summary of the ones that still linger.
“Kissing Jessica Stein”: Fox Searchlight picked up a doozy. Adapted from an off-Broadway play, Stein is a remarkable little romantic-comedy that refuses to succumb to the formulaic shit of so many second-rate romcom’s being made today. Hilarious, witty and even poignant, Stein is what a Woody Allen picture used to be, playing to modern sensibilities. Look for a Valentine’s weekend release.
“The Grey Zone”: Without question, the most moving film on my list this year. Tim Blake Nelson (that’s right – ‘Delmar’ from O Brother) directs the haunting story of a Jewish uprising in a Holocaust camp near the end of the war. Why can’t more dramas be made with this type of intelligencer
“Versus”: There’s nothing quite like watching Japanese ultra-violence with a packed house at midnight, all of whom cheer every time a corpse is shredded in half. You want to see cinema stripped of convention, make sure you somehow get your hands on this fucked-up, utterly trivial but totally banging joy ride by Ryuhei Kitamura. Plot: a bunch of prisoners run into a forest and unleash holy hell. Damn good!
“Monsoon Wedding”: Mira Nair leads an Indian screen revolution that relishes its ability to combine smart, joyful storytelling with a unique sense of visual style. Monsoon Wedding was a hit in Toronto for these very reasons and should cut a killer path in its international release. (Editor’s Note: Monsoon Wedding also won the Venice Film Festival award for Best Picture last week.)
“Treed Murray”: Canada may have a reputation of showcasing its filmmakers through a painfully slow international roll-out but William Phillips’ addictive debut plays to the contrary. Here we have a filmmaker who has somehow managed to write a surprisingly engaging urban thriller and keep the entire story in one location. The casting director deserves an award here too.
“Waking Life”: You have to toss this on a list simply because it was so damn unique. Using rotoscopic animation, actors and their surroundings are animated in this trippy, dropped-to-much-‘E’ kind of way that fits the subject matter to a tee. Linklater must have been high when he wrote this, but so should you be when you watch it. Best trip of the fest.
“Dog Days”: Probably the most excruciating two hours I’ve spent in a long while, which is what makes this Austrian gem so fucking good. Ulrich Seidl’s painful examination of suburban implosion reminds me of what Ang Lee tried to do in Ice Storm. Only Seidl keeps the camera on while people are laid bare. Fascinating.
“Cyberman”: A Canadian documentary that’s not about the weather or hockey. Nope, this one focuses on a Toronto professor who considers himself the world’s first cyborg. Inventing an eye-tap device that allows him to record the world as it records him, Steve Mann is a huge dork with an incredibly profound vision. His future is now and it’s mind-blowing.
“The Believer”: Well shit, Sundance may have finally earned some foresight. This Grand Jury winner explodes on the screen and will beat you over the head with an aluminum bat into your eyes bulge out and you realize that American indie cinema is alive and well. Ryan Gosling plays a skinhead with one hell of a moral dilemma. The kid’s come a long way from Breaker High. Too bad this picture is still struggling for studio distribution.
Toronto International Film Festival Awards 2001:
VOLKSWAGEN DISCOVERY AWARD:
CHICKEN RICE WAR CheeK, Singapore
Voted on by the accredited Press Corps of the Toronto International Film Festival.
INCH’ALLAH DIMANCHE Yamina Benguigui, France
(for its sensitivity and fresh humour in dealing with the conditions of Third World women, daily racism, and clashes between cultures)
BE MY STAR by Valeska Grisebach (Austria/Germany)
Because of the justness of its documentary-like style in observing bittersweet teenage love.
KHALED by Asghar Massombagi (Canada)
Because of its skill in turning a small-scale mother and son story into a poignant human drama.
This year’s FIPRESCI Jury members are: Atilla Dorsay, Sabah, Turkey – Jury President; Eduardo Antin, el Amante Cine/Tres Puntos, Argentina; Jan Aghed, Sydsvenska Dagbladet, Sweden; and Real La Rochelle, 24 Images, Canada.
NFB – JOHN SPOTTON AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN SHORT FILM:
FILM (DZAMA) deco dawson, Canada, (for its unique artistic vision that pays hommage to a contemporary artist using the vocabulary of early filmmakers)
CITYTV AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN FIRST FEATURE FILM:
INERTIA Sean Garrity, Canada, (for its visual flair and comic sensibility which heralds the arrival of a filmmaker of great promise)
TORONTO – CITY AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN FEATURE FILM:
ATANARJUAT (THE FAST RUNNER) Zacharias Kunuk, Canada (for its sophisticated telling of a mythic tale that reflects the complexities of the human spirit)
AGF PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD:
LE FABULEUX DESTIN D’AMELIE POULAIN Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France
2. MAYA Digvijay Singh, USA
3. MONSOON WEDDING Mira Nair, India