Toronto Internation Film Festival Overview

Sept. 6-15, 2007

Hanging out in NYC for a week, recovering from a whirlwind nine days at the Toronto International Film Festival, where I viewed about 40 films and interviewed a half dozen directors and actors.

Without a doubt, the highlights of the Festival included: meeting and interviewing directors: John Sayles (Honeydripper starring Danny Glover), Julien Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Jessica Yu (Protagonist), Ira Sachs (Married Life), and Peter Raymont (A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman); and actors: Chris Cooper and Patricia Clarkson (Married Life). Then, too, during press conferences, it was nothing short of thrilling finding myself within a very few feet of Cate Blanchett, Sean Penn, Clive Owen, William Hurt, Geoffrey Rush, Shekhar Kapur, Gael Garcia Bernal, Catherine Keener, and Marcia Gay Harden.

My favorite mainstream feature narrative films, which received their premieres at Toronto and will open immediately in the U.S. or later this fall include: Penn's masterful Into the Wild; David Cronenberg's crime thriller Eastern Promises; Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth: The Golden Age; Paul Shrader's political neo-noir The Walker; Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis; Julien Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; and Ira Sach's sophisticated post-war drama Married Life.

Films I missed that received high praise included: Tony Gilroy's (screenwriter of the Bourne trilogy) environmental thriller Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney and Tilda Swinton; Terry Georges' Reservation Road, a vigilante vehicle starring Mark Ruffalo and Joaquin Phoenix; Gavin Hood's (Tsotsi) political thriller Rendition; L'Amour cache, starring Isabelle Huppert, one of cinema's most emotionally complex actresses; Alan Ball's (Six Feet Under) Nothing is Private; Lars and the Real Girl, starring the once again dazzling Ryan Gosling; Hans Weingartner's (The Edukators) Reclaim Your Brain; Ang Lee's Lust, Caution; Jason Reitman's (Thank You for Smoking) Juno; Todd Haynes' (Far From Heaven) fictional re-imagining of Bob Dylan's life, I'm Not There; and the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men.

Biggest Disappointments: Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream; Julie Taymor's Across the Universe, a musical from the director of Frida, based on lyrics from Beatles' songs; Emotional Arithmetic, starring Susan Sarandon, Gabriel Byrne, and Max von Sydow; Fran¨ois Girard's (The Red Violin) Silk.

Worthy documentaries included: Peter Askin's Trumbo; Carlos Saura's Fados; Parvez Sharma's look at the quandary for Muslim men who happen to be also homosexual, A Jihad for Love; John Zaritsky's The Wild Horse Redemption, in which prisoners and wild horses help rehabilitate each other; Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World; Jonathan Demme's portrait of President Jimmy Carter, Man From Plains; A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman, about the playwright (Death and the Maiden) and Chilean president Salvadore Allende's Cultural Advisor, who recounts Pinochet's coup of 9/11/73; Iron Ladies of Liberia, about Africa's first woman head of state; and Philippe Kohly's Callas Assoluta, the mesmerizing account of the diva's life and times.

My favorites from World Cinema: Fados, Saura's (Flamenco, Tango) sensuous depiction of Portugal's musical culture; Blind, a visually stunning fairy tale about the nature of love; the Hong Kong psychological action drama Mad Detective; Happiness, South Korea's Hur Jin-ho's story of memorable love; one of the world's master, humanist directors, Alexandre Sokurov's Alexandra, about a grandmother visiting her grandson, a Russian Army captain posted in Chechnaya; a series of Swedish visionary vignettes, You, the Living; Sergei Bodrov's epic saga Mongol; Ake Sandgren's devastating but empathic take on domestic violence To Love Someone; and the Icelandic neo-noir Jar City.

Certainly, I'll be "processing" these impressive films and memorable stories for weeks and months to come. My thanks to the TIFF and the SC "Sentinel Guide" editor Wallace Baine, for ensuring my participation in one of the great world Festivals.

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