They came, they saw films, they wrote about it
THROUGH OUR EYES: The Globe and Mail's crack movie
team on the highlights, the lowlights and the mood
of this year's screen marathon
The Globe and Mail
September 13, 2002
Favourite film: Standing in the Shadow of Motown, not so much for its art as for its subject -- the musicians who played in the Motown house band -- and because it was a welcome celebratory relief from the general tone of anxiety.
The buzz: A lot of "I've seen good things but nothing mind-blowing." My personal swirl of conversations revolved around the mixed reception of Atom Egoyan's Ararat and a lot of discussion about Canadian film and whether it was overrated or underrated by Canadian critics.
The mood: Anxious and slightly weird, partly because of the Sept. 11 anniversary and the new war buildup on the front pages, next to pictures of the celebs. Even the silliness of the Roger Ebert flap was somehow symptomatic of a kind of fractiousness that spilled over into the press screenings, where there were often sharp words. I think the Toronto press looked a bit provincial in mocking him and he looked indulgent and self-important in spending column inches on what a superior reporter he is.
Favourite film: My favourite movie was the little-known Winged Migration, the first full-length feature by Parisian Jacques Perrin. Two beautiful hours of birds and scenery. I had several epiphanies watching it. Just fantastic.
The buzz: The movies I heard everyone talking about were Irréversible and Max. Everyone was divided about whether the nine-minute rape scene in Irréversible was merely exploitative or had artistic merit. With Max the question was how it was possible to deal with Hitler on film.
The mood: The mood of the festival was businesslike. Even the parties were businesslike. Sept. 11 lent a sombreness to the whole event.
Favourite film: Divine Intervention -- This isn't the best film in the festival, but it's surely one of the bravest, as director Elia Suleiman transforms the moral chaos of the Middle East from a social tragedy into an absurdist comedy, with results both funny and instructive.
The buzz: Alas, I spent the bulk of my time in screening rooms where, with a few annoying exceptions, people don't talk -- when they did, it was to complain that the picture wasn't living up to its buzz.
The mood: Amiable efficiency, marked by a determined, if not entirely successful, attempt to put last year behind.
Favourite film: 11'09"01, the collection of Sept. 11 shorts, is a film that shows how artists transmute history into beauty, especially Claude Lelouch's short on deafness and sound.
The buzz: The visits of Catherine Deneuve and Sophia Loren had people talking about the passing of the goddesses and the end of an era. Which stars of today will replace these icons? It's anybody's guess.
The mood: After Sept. 11 last year, filmmakers lost their confidence. This year, it's clear both in the films and the words of the filmmakers that they got it back.
Favourite film: Personal Velocity, Rebecca Miller's quiet and thoughtful adaptation of her own book. It's a truly insightful and honest look at three very different women who struggle against the currents of their lives, shaped by early bad choices.
The buzz: Aside from big pictures such as Laurel Canyon and Far from Heaven, I heard a lot of good things about Whale Rider and Rabbit-Proof Fence, two films both featuring young girls seeking identity in their outsider cultures. Another film I wish I'd seen is Lost in La Mancha, an apparently dazzling, hilarious documentary following Terry Gillam's disastrous attempt to make a movie out of Don Quixote.
The mood: What was everybody waiting for? The usual hype and stress hit a new level when it was mixed in with a little Sept. 11 anniversary apprehension. Meanwhile, more star-gazers than moviegoers made lines seem longer for restaurants and bars than the films.
Favourite film: Spun, by director Jonas Akerlund. Because it rocks like a music video, stars Mena Suvari looking like hell warmed over and makes you laugh, cringe and cry. The film is based on the life of screenwriter Will De Los Santos and he's one of the most fascinating free spirits I've ever met.
The buzz: People were talking about themselves, as usual, as well as the weather and the mind-boggling box-office success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
The mood: Relaxed, for a change. From clothing to hairstyles to the party vibe to press conferences, the mood was a lot less pretentious this year.
Favourite film: The litmus test for a good movie is whether I wake up thinking about it. Three of this year's offerings kept me awake -- each very different. First, David Cronenberg's dark examination of schizophrenia in Spider, then Todd Haynes's Far from Heaven (a deft look at what was really going on in America's perfect lives and in their perfect bungalows in the 1950s), and finally Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, from British director Shane Meadows, who made a film that had the hacks at the press screening laughing out loud (and often).
The buzz: The movies with buzz were Vancouver-based Mina Shum's long-titled Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity (rumoured a hot commodity among film buyers); Phillip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence (a true Aussie story about three aboriginal girls snatched from their families); and Whale Rider, from Niki Caro, a life-energizing film from New Zealand.
The mood: Generally upbeat, fairly laid-back, and framed with overall relief to have the past year firmly behind (and without further incident). Most people (stars and the regular Joe in the audience) seemed happy to be here, watching pretty high-quality films. All in all, the stars seemed less stuck-up and more accommodating than at the start of last year's festival.
Favourite film: Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, which I saw with an extremely vocal and appreciative audience. It's hard not to love Moore's comic yet deadly serious examination of gun culture in America, particularly because it has a huge section about Canada and a cartoon "intermission."
The buzz: Films that were most talked about were Aki Kaurismaki's The Man Without a Past and Miyazaki's Spirited Away (by Hayao Miyazaki), Vendredi soir (by Claire Denis), Spellbound (the feel-good film of the fest, a doc about kids in the National Spelling Bee), Divine Intervention (a beautiful, absurdist satire made in Palestine) and Todd Haynes's Far from Heaven.
The mood: Frantic, with a few gaskets blown. Even more than previous years, the festival felt front-end loaded and I heard regular festivalgoers, publicists and media types complaining about it. On the other hand, the overall buzz was that it was an exceptionally good year, in terms of the quality and range of films.