Posts Tagged 'TIFF 2012'

Toronto Film Fest 2012 Wrap-Up from the MFF Programming Team

Director Alice Winocour of AUGUSTINE at TIFF 2012.

TIFF is an eleven-day festival that opens with a burst of excitement palpable throughout this metropolis of 2.5 million people, as buzz films and celebrity sightings become the talk of the town. A very different and almost curious mood permeates the last few days of the festival. Most films have screened twice already, and for their third and final screenings there are fewer filmmakers present, resulting in somewhat smaller crowds in the festival’s 20+ auditoriums—not to mention increasingly bloodshot eyes and a cicada-like chorus of sneezes and sniffles.

That said, the often-lighter crowds and lack of Q+As that mark many screenings make the final days of TIFF a great opportunity for the diehard cinephiles to jump in and smoothly attend 5 or more films a day. That’s exactly what the MFF programming team did, walking away with heaping plates from TIFF’s heaping buffet line of international and indie films (while being mindful not to make contact with the sneezeguard). The results? Some of the very best films we saw at TIFF this year, including:

Actor Nathalia Acevedo of POST TENEBRAS LUX answers questions at TIFF 2012.

POST TENEBRAS LUX – The new film from young provocateur Carlos Reygadas (BATTLE IN HEAVEN, SILENT LIGHT) masterfully touches down on issues of class, family, sex, and animal cruelty. Its sumptuous, otherworldly exterior shots use unconventional lensing to render a rural Mexican landscape but fantastical and warped. Audiences will be puzzling through this challenging film, a narrative with transgressive- and experimental-film elements, for years to come.

IN ANOTHER COUNTRY – Offbeat South Korean humorist Hong Sang-soo brings Isabelle Huppert into his unique comic fold with this story of three French women, all named Anne and all played by Huppert, who visit a small coastal village in S. Korea and encounter the same cluster of offbeat characters. One of the three Annes is a French film director, reportedly modeled after frequent Huppert director Claire Denis (an MFF staff favorite). Winning notes of Bunuel sound throughout, but the voice sounding these notes is singularly Hong’s—and this is both one of his best films and the one most likely to cross over to larger art-house audiences.

Director Don Coscarelli of JOHN DIES AT THE END at TIFF 2012.

JOHN DIES AT THE END—One of TIFF’s most popular programs is its nightly Midnight Madness series, and this new mind-melter from PHANTASM director Don Coscarelli was arguably the best cult film of the fest. Based on the novel of the same name, Philip K. Dick collides with Bill and Ted in this fun, high-energy story of a mysterious new drug that opens minds to other dimensions.

(L to R) TIFF Programmer Andrea Picard, Director Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Director Verena Paravel of LEVIATHAN at TIFF 2012.

LEVIATHAN—This film about large-scale commercial fishing off the coast of New Bedford, MA was perhaps the festival’s most visceral experience, crossing over from documentary into the realm of experimental film as it eschews interviews for violent bursts of location sound and unflinching (and sometimes unrecognizable) imagery of the vessel, the ocean, the sky above, and the bloody culling of each day’s catch. Co-director Lucien Castaing-Taylor directed the acclaimed pastoral documentary SWEETGRASS — also a visually splendid film, but of a very different look and tone.


(L to R) HERE COMES THE DEVIL Director Adrían García Bogliano, actor Laura Caro, producer Andrea Hernandez, and actor Francisco Barreiro at TIFF 2012.

HERE COMES THE DEVIL—Also from Mexico, director Adrían García Bogliano‘s gory horror film has one foot rooted firmly in the art-house, drawing heavy inspiration from Peter Weir’s mysterious classic PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. A Mexican production from an Argentine director backed by U.S. money, this was a prime example of a creative, international genre-film production that knows its audience well.

AUGUSTINE – French director Alice Winocour impresses with this strong debut feature concerning the prevalence of institutionalizing young women under the catch-all diagnosis of hysteria in 19th Century Europe. Young servant Augustine suffers a seizure during a dinner party at her employer’s home. She is quickly whisked off to a psychiatric hospital where she becomes the star subject of the prominent Dr. Charcot’s neurological experiments. As she becomes aware of her illness, she gains insight into the dynamics of her institutionalization and her doctor’s motives, thus altering the balance of power between doctor and patient. Several films on similar subjects have been made in recent years (most notably Cronenberg‘s A DANGEROUS METHOD); what sets this one apart is a decidedly female perspective and an excellent insight into the devastating effects of a repressed, patriarchal society on women’s sexuality. Smart, gritty, and frank in its depiction of the time (with plenty of lessons for the present), this is not your average period costume puff piece.

THE CREMATOR – Chinese director Peng Tao‘s 3rd feature centers on the relationship between Cao, a lonely undertaker, and Xiuqiao, a young woman who is far from home on a journey to uncover the whereabouts of her sister. Cao may know something of the sister’s whereabouts, but is reluctant to share this information with Xiuqiao, until an unforeseen turn of events causes him to divulge. Interspersed with striking tableaus depicting Chinese funerary rites, THE CREMATOR is a beautiful and deliberately paced film that holds many subtle rewards.

Eric Allen Hatch, Director of Programming

TIFF 2012: Second Report From the MFF Programming Team

Athina Rachel Tsangari, producer of DOGTOOTH (MFF 2010) and director of ATTENBERG (MFF 2012), presents her new short film THE CAPSULE.

Each Toronto International Film Festival offers not just a vast number of titles, but such a staggering variety in tone, genre, budget, and country of origin, that it’s very possible for each audience member to have a strikingly different experience. While MFF’s programming team will have covered approximately 80-100 different new feature films when all’s said and done, that number represents about one third of everything offered at TIFF; it would be literally impossible for any one festival-goer to see more than a sixth of the films screening at TIFF.

As the festival reaches its midpoint, a lot of the audience buzz surrounds high-profile forthcoming films such as the era-hopping, literature-rooted epic CLOUD ATLAS and Paul Thomas Anderson’s THE MASTER. Our interest in TIFF is a bit different.

While we certainly take in some films whose release schedule is imminent and known (see AMOUR, below), our primary concern is smaller films from less established international voices whose films may not yet have a U.S. distributor, yet alone a release plan. These are the films that are most likely to hit us with a genuine sense of discovery. Pragmatically speaking, these are also films that may still be fresh and emerging in the marketplace come Maryland Film Festival 2013.

To put it another way, for every Haneke or Winterbottom on our TIFF itinerary, we dive in with two or three tickets that are unknown quantities, eager for that next discovery—and as eager as the rest of you to catch THE MASTER in 70mm when we get back to Baltimore.

Here are a few more films that have stood out to our programmers as TIFF 2012 passes its midpoint:

(Center) Director Michael Haneke answers a question during the Q&A for his exceptional film, AMOUR.

AMOUR — Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the latest from Michael Haneke (Funny Games, The White Ribbon) is an elegant, heart-wrenching account of an elderly couple living out their final days in their Paris apartment. Jean-Louis Trintignant (The Conformist, Three Colors: Red) and Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima, Mon Amour) give stunning performances, accompanied by an excellent-as-ever Isabelle Huppert as their increasingly concerned daughter. Haneke’s films are never easy to watch, and despite the relatively restrained subject matter this one is no exception—but if you’re ready for a tough film with a gentle core, AMOUR should not be missed. All indicators are this will (deservedly) be one of the big foreign films of the forthcoming season.  Close MFF followers, BTW, may notice many narrative and thematic similarities to a small, excellent Icelandic film we screened within MFF 2012, Rúnar Rúnarsson‘s VOLCANO.

WATCHTOWER — This Turkish drama boasts a unique setting, as a loner eager to escape his past takes a position as a watchman in a mountainous wooded area, his only contact with the outside world is the CB radio on which he’s to report any fires or other disturbances. Down the mountain, a young woman works as a rest-stop cook, harboring a very personal secret. Pelin Esmer has endowed her characters with rich back-stories and multifaceted personalities slowly unveiled, delivering just the kind of international gem that one might never come across without festivals like TIFF.

3 (aka TRES)—Pablo Stoll Ward also delivers such a gem with this rich character drama from Uruguay by way of Mike Leigh. A soccer-crazed dentist attempts to reconnect with his estranged ex through their mutual care of their teenaged daughter – a smart, hip teenager who’s becoming a bit of a wild child—but his ex may have moved on.  It’s a small epic, if you will, made up of dozens of little moments that feel incredibly large and real.

SPRING BREAKERS — As with all his prior work, the latest from young provocateur Harmony Korine (writer of KIDS and director of love-em-or-hate-em titles such as GUMMO and TRASH HUMPERS) isn’t for everyone. And even if he’s seemingly working with more polish and some name actors here, he’s still pushing buttons that some will find irritating, obnoxious, and/or offensive. But we generally enjoy having those buttons pushed, and found a lot to love here. This film has an unforgettable performance from James Franco as a particularly perverse Florida drug dealer, and Korine’s film would pair well with Herzog’s equally lurid, over-the-top, and self-satirizing Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.

Left – Director Michael Winterbottom presents his film EVERYDAY at TIFF 2012.

EVERYDAY – Prolific British director Michael Winterbottom‘s impressive new drama chronicles a young family’s struggles during a five-year period in which the father is sentenced to prison. The film was itself shot over a five-year period to allow the actors (particularly the adolescents) to age naturally and in time with the story, while becoming closer on and off screen. This technique ultimately lends a greater sense of realism to the work, resulting in a deeply moving film.

ALL THAT MATTERS IS PAST – (L to R) Director Sara Johnsen, Actor Kristoffer Joner, and Cinematographer John Andreas Andersen.

ALL THAT MATTERS IS PAST – A tense psychological thriller/dark family drama from one of Norway’s most celebrated young filmmakers, Sara Johnsen, that explores a lifelong jealousy between two brothers over a girl who has remained the object of their affection since childhood.

Stay tuned here and on the MFF Twitter, as our programmers continue to report back from TIFF ’12!

MFF Programming Director Eric Allen Hatch and Programming Administrator Scott Braid

First TIFF 2012 Report From The MFF Programming Team

Toronto International Film Festival launched their 2012 edition Thursday afternoon with a classy touch, a free 35mm screening of the recently departed master filmmaker Chris Marker’s 1983 film essay Sans Soleil.

While the official opening night film came hours later with the Bruce Willis-starring sci-fi title Looper, the choice to open a festival featuring roughly 300 new titles from 70+ countries with this challenging, subtle repertory work signaled a confirmation of sorts that, amidst increasing celebrity and corporate presence, TIFF still holds “pure cinema” as one of its guiding principles. Indeed, in his moving introductory remarks, TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey evoked the term “pure cinema” specifically, naming Sans Soleil as the single experience that made film central to his life and thanking an almost-capacity and very appreciative crowd for beginning their festival with this early screening.

THE BITTER ASH – (L to R) Director Larry Kent and TIFF Programmer Steve Gravestock.

So if one initially sensed a little friction between this exploratory, dissonant film and the supermodel-laden L’oreal ad that runs before each TIFF film this year, all of that dissipated quickly as Marker’s mesmerizing film took over. Set largely in Japan; featuring exhilarating bursts of synthesized visuals and sound; and tackling issues of technology, memory, and film culture (especially with its poignant revisiting of locations from Hitchcock’s Vertigo), Marker’s film reminds us that the artistic possibilities of film are limited only by personal imagination.

Not incidentally, later that afternoon TIFF also served up a free screening of Roman Polanski’s oft-neglected 1979 period piece Tess. Presumably included in TIFF as an accompaniment to Marina Zenovich’s second Polanski documentary, Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out, the festival offered a stunning digital restoration of the film. Baltimore currently offers few opportunities to view vintage films presented in state-of-the-art digital, and this DCP presentation of Tess highlighted how far the technology has come. One wonders if every restoration will take such care and if every venue’s presentation standards will be this high. But for this one screening at least, a digital print of a title from the vault flickered and danced with the warm, living grain we expect from film.

As the first full day of programming hit us Friday, we jumped into a 10-day spree of 3-5 features apiece per day. Films we’ve seen so far that may be of particular note to MFF fans include:

FRANCES HANoah Baumbach’s new character study, co-written with star (and frequent MFF guest) Greta Gerwig and crafted in tribute to both the French New Wave and the Woody Allen films shot in black-and-white with Gordon Willis.

THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGY – Slavoj Žižek speaks before the screening of PERVERT’S GUIDE at the Isabel Bader Theater.

THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGYSophie Fiennes’ epic documentary exploration of the philosophical insights of Slavoj Žižek,which uses film history to tackle issues of personal and political conformity, and began with insightful analysis of John Carpenter’s They Live (recently screened in our Gunky’s Basement series).

TIFF 2012: THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGY– (L to R) Director Sophie Fiennes (sister of Ralph) and Slavoj Žižek in conversation about their newly completed film.

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE – A surprising new work from Iranian master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. It follows the story of a young student/call girl as she accidentally entangles a well-respected elderly client into the snare of her personal affairs. The film is set in Tokyo and features outstanding performances by an all-Japanese cast who will be largely unknown to western audiences. Endowed with such fresh and lively filmmaking and story telling, even the most hardened skeptic of Kiarostami’s films will find pleasures here.

PARADISE: LOVE – The latest work by Ulrich Seidl, perhaps best known to our audiences for Dog Days, which John Waters selected to present at MFF in 2004. Seidl’s films can be brutal both in their visual content and their emotional honesty, and he delivered a dark masterpiece of sorts with 2007’s Import/Export. Here, with this first film in a projected “Paradise” trilogy, he looks at middle-aged Austrian women who travel to Kenya to indulge in sexual tourism. Seidl’s eye remains as unflinching as ever, and certainly this film could come across as shocking to those not familiar with his work; but in the context of that body, Paradise: Love felt almost gentle in comparison, at times evoking the wit and humor we might expect from a Todd Solondz or Alexander Payne tackling this subject.

In short: TIFF’s presentation and curatorial skills remain exemplary. Stay tuned, as MFF’s programmers each take in another 40+ films apiece by the end of the week, and we continue to report back here and on the MFF’s Twitter.

MFF Programming Director Eric Allen Hatch and Programming Administrator Scott Braid