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Festival Diary, by Johanna Schneller
9/11 takes another toll

By JOHANNA SCHNELLER, The Globe and Mail
September 11, 2002

If the Festival seems a lot quieter after today, it's because the New Yorkers have gone. Obviously, not all of them. But a great many New Yorkers whom I met this past week said they simply needed to be back home for this day. They had plane reservations for Monday or Tuesday, or at the last minute they realized how much they wanted to be there, and made frustrated cellphone calls to get some.

Granted, people from everywhere planned to go home yesterday, because for many the festival was already over. An absurdly loaded opening weekend -- in which the dozen most popular films top-lined by the biggest stars are crammed into the first three days -- has been a bane of the last few TIFFs, and one I wish would change. But this year the craziness was worse than ever, because most distributors wanted to avoid 9/11, and demanded that their offerings appear well before it.

But the rep for Sony Music whom I met at a party Saturday night, who was in town to sniff out soundtracks -- he scored a coup by nabbing the Shine album a few years ago -- just wanted to be back home in New York for the commemorative concert tonight. "Last year, I was stuck in Toronto for three days," he said. "Finally, I rented a limo with eight women. You should have seen the junk food they brought! I never realized how much women rely on junk food at times of crisis. Or how often they go to the bathroom."

A magazine editor friend who also got stuck in Toronto last year didn't know why she felt so compelled to be in Manhattan for this first anniversary, until someone said to her: "It's because you weren't here last year."

An agent I know flew back to L.A. yesterday. His office will open for business (as will most, though for many in New York and L.A., work is optional today). "Then somebody said to me: 'What, if you're not making Chris Tucker's next $20-million deal, the terrorists have won?' So, we thought we'd do something formal," he told me. A rabbi will be holding non-denominational talks for the agents who want that.

TIFF is proudly international. More and more films are co-produced by multiple countries. Today, for example, festgoers can see Nothing More,from Cuba/Spain/France/Italy, or Touching Wild Horses,from Canada/Britain/Germany. In the restroom at the Four Seasons, women ask for toilet paper in every language. But sometimes you just want home.

It was interesting for me to watch Michael Moore's movie Bowling for Columbine,part of which was filmed in Ontario, with a Canadian audience. (I'm American. I live in Toronto. The locals can be hostile.) At first, the Canadian viewers chortled at Moore's foolish American subjects, as always. But when some foolish Canadians showed up, they bristled.

"Those kids he interviewed outside the Taco Bell hardly represent the average Canadian," one Torontonian carped. Um, hello -- the Americans that Moore films hardly represent my average countrymen, either.

At the movie's press conference, I asked Moore why he didn't put anyone on screen who agrees with his point of view. He replied that he did: Marilyn Manson. This was rather disingenuous, since he immediately admitted he didn't know Manson's music. He just knew it would be funny to say: "Marilyn Manson is a voice of reason." That's Moore's prerogative, of course; it's his movie. "He's a very entertaining propagandist," one critic said to me. But nobody likes it when the propaganda is turned on them.

As far as movies themselves being affected by 9/11, I don't think the tragedy made any effect whatsoever on what studios will make, or what audiences will see. On Saturday evening, I overheard Chicago critic Roger Ebert say this to Norman Jewison: "I ran into Sydney [Pollack, the director/producer], and he said that Harvey [Weinstein, the Miramax honcho] didn't want to release The Quiet American [a film of Graham Greene's novel about American imperialism in Vietnam, which Pollack produced] because he's afraid of a post-9/11 backlash, which is too bad, because it's one of Caine's [Michael, the actor] best performances."

While I was reeling at the number of A-list names that Ebert dropped in a single sentence, Jewison replied: "If audiences can take The Sum of All Fears [in which a nuclear bomb decimates Baltimore], they can take anything."

Jewison is right, of course -- after a month-long lull last September, moviegoers stomached Arnold Schwarzenegger as a firefighter avenging terrorism, evil CIA agents in The Bourne Identity and Bad Company and countless shots of the Twin Towers shining in the sun, with barely a gulp of discomfort.

"What do you look for in a movie?" a table full of interviewers asked actor Willem Dafoe on Monday. He was promoting the film Auto Focus,a true story in which he plays a swinger who leads Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) into sex addiction.

"I'm always looking for a shift of my perspective," Dafoe replied. "A leap in my consciousness, a challenge of my view of the way I think things are." Which is a pretty good definition of what any movie-lover wants, before and after 9/11.

Then, a true New Yorker, Dafoe went home. To be with loved ones. Or because Auto Focus is in the New York Film Festival, which starts soon? My guess is, both.

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