Independent Cinema Office Blog

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Posts from September 2007

Toronto 2007 - Sunday 9 September

Posted Sunday 9 September 2007 by Simon Ward in Festival Reports

This morning I'm going to the new Herzog doc Encounters at the End of the World with high expectations. Luckily they're met and this feels like one of the stronger Herzog docs of recent years. Maybe not quite Grizzly Man but not far off — even if some of the underwater footage is familiar from Wild Blue Yonder. The doc looks at the work of the Arctic Survey Team in the South Pole and asks what kind of people are attracted to such a remote and hostile environment. As ever with Herzog, he manages to capture some remarkable footage but even more interestingly he seems an oddballs magnet with a keen ability to draw out their deepest secrets on camera. Excellent, thought provoking and very funny. Again, it's likely it'll be bought for the UK.

Next up was the new Brian De Palma film Redacted fresh from its Venice Silver Lion win. It went down a storm with the industry crowd, who unusually, gave it a round of applause at the end. Personally it left me pretty cold. It seemed overly familiar after Mark of Cain and the latest Nick Broomfield docudrama which both cover the same story of Western military atrocities in Iraq.

The Pope's Toilet was next up which is a Soda film in the UK. It tells the tale of a Uruguayan low-rent smuggler (he cycles goods across the border to avoid tax) who decides to capitalise on an imminent papal visit by building a toilet for the expected crowds. It's a good looking and amusing tale which calls to mind the humour and social conscience of early Trapero.

Next I made it into Persepolis by the skin of my teeth after a tight turnaround from the previous film. This is a simply stunning piece of animation illustrating the political history of pre-revolutionary Iran through to the present day using the personal, sometimes harrowing and often funny experiences of a young woman as its guide. Based on the comic of the same name by Iranian Emigree Satrapi it's a must see when Optimum release it in the UK. Fantastic soundtrack too.

Next up was something of a treat (and another Optimum release) George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead which for me was much more successful than his previous Zombie film Land of the Dead. No great surprises as Romero tells the tale of a student documentary crew filming the collapse of civilization as the undead take over. But for fans of the genre it's a treat. The crowd I watched it with were cheering along through much of the action.

I followed this with Happiness, a South Korean film which while handsome looking was a little too sentimental for my taste telling the story of a young man who can't choose between living with two women, one in a simplified rural farming community and the other in his drink and drug fueled life as a club manager. It was a competent festival film but I suspect is unlikely to see the light of day in the UK.

And finally, I went to a late night screening of In the Valley of Elah which was tense grown-up filmmaking from Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash). It follows the search by parents (Susan Sarandon and an excellent Tommy Lee Jones) for the truth behind the brutal murder of their Marine son outside a US army base. It's a sombre muscular piece of filmmaking which looks a likely contender during the upcoming awards season.

And finally after seven films back to back it's time for a drink and off to get some sleep.

Toronto 2007 - Saturday 8 September

Posted Saturday 8 September 2007 by Simon Ward in Festival Reports

Saturday kicked of with Thomas McCarthy's follow up to The Station Agent at 9am. This proved to be a pretty charming indictment of America's attitudes to illegal immigration and tried its best to redress the often demonised image of illegal immigrants in an often humourous but essentially serious depiction of the difficulties facing illegal immigrants and the harsh inhumanity of the US illegal alien department. It's a far more straightforward piece of filmmaking than Station Agent — less self-consciously quirky (no dwarfs!) but considerably more affecting. Whether it gets a UK release is anyone's guess. There isn't much call for serious indictments of the US immigration laws in the average UK plex — but a couple of UK distribs were nosing about it.

I followed this with about 40 minutes worth of Into The Wild by Sean Penn. I expected this to be an overly earnest, well meaning but heaving handed piece in the same vein as The Crossing Guard etc. but it was a fine piece of Kerouac/Cassidy style filmmaking following the (I believe true) story of a young man who turns his back on an Ivy League education to live rough in the wilds of Alaska. A little like Herzog's Grizzly Man without the psychiatric case notes. I found it riveting and was reluctant to pull myself out to go to the next film which was my number one must-see of the festival. Suffice to say I'm really looking forward to seeing the whole film.

So finally I got to see My Winnepeg which lived up to all expectations delivering a trademark witty, oneiric and touching personal history of Maddin's childhood in the Canadian City. I would happily have watched it all over again immediately afterwards. A couple of people I spoke with considered it Maddin's most accessible film yet — although personally I don't think this is the case… His terrific Saddest Music In the World had Isabella Rossellini and was adapted from an Ishiguru script yet still stumbled at the UK box office. This one needs you to know and care about not only Maddin himself but also his home town… hmm… A hard sell to all but the most avid fan I would have thought.

I then caught the new Julio Medem (Lovers of the Arctic Circle, Red Squirrel etc) Chaotic Ana which looked amazing but felt all tricksy structure and not enough content in its thin tale of a young artist moving to a commune in Madrid to further her art training against a backdrop of various relationships (including with her patron Charlotte Rampling) and an exploration of what it has meant to be female through history. A bit of a disappointment for me…

After grabbing a sandwich, next up was the latest Kitano (Sonatine, Hana-bi). Unfortunately it feels like Kitano is running on empty as a filmmaker at the moment. His last film Takeshis was a thin comedy yet to be released in the UK and this latest: Glory to the Filmmaker! feels worryingly like a filmmaker in trouble. A series of hysterical (and I don't mean funny!) sketches of imaginary aborted films made by Kitano in an effort to resurrect a failing career. Unfortunately it felt all too true and gave me a headache.

After this I went to dinner with Ed Fletcher of Soda Pictures and we trawled through the screenings we'd seen so far. Eastern Promises, the latest Cronenberg which I saw in London shortly before coming over to the festival, has also screened at the festival and will go on to be the critics overall Screen International favourite by the end of the festival.

Toronto 2007 - Friday 7 September

Posted Friday 7 September 2007 by Simon Ward in Festival Reports

Arriving in Toronto on late Friday afternoon, I picked up my pass and got to my first (and lousiest so far) screening — a Canadian horror film called They Wait which was a pretty lame affair involving ghosts from a Chinese sweat shop haunting their greedy employers "from beyond the grave". The only minor interest to be had were the local Toronto Chinatown locations…

Luckily this wasn't a sign of what was to come and the festival has been solid.

Next I popped in to Sokurov's Alexandra (which I think may be an Artificial Eye release in the UK if memory serves). This was a wry and moving account of a grandmother visiting a Russian soldier living in desperate conditions in a Checheyen boot-camp. As both a comic observation of the young soldiers wry affection for this elderly lady from the motherland — it was also a cry for some perspective on universal humanity in the imploding nationalism of the ex-Soviet states. It's probably Sokurov's most accessible film to-date and put me in a good mood for my final screening of my first day.

Dario Argento's I was (sadly — what a geek) one of the most keenly anticipated films of the festival for me (the other being Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg on which more later). It turned out to be considerably better than his last enfeebled effort The Cardplayer — but not much. With a typically ropey overwrought performance from Dario's daughter Asia, and a hilarious supporting role (crazed priest) Udo Kier — the film attempts to tie together the Three Mothers films (Suspiria - one of my favourite films of all time — and Inferno). Failing to ever reach the dizzy heights of Suspiria's baroque visual frenzy, it was at least mildly entertaining with a couple of almost-vintage set pieces. Unfortunately the script was a plot heavy mish-mash of terrible dialogue, and ridiculous characterisations. But at least I came out of it smiling. Which was itself something of an achievement as it was officially midnight in Toronto but 5am for me… and after being up for a full 24 hours, I staggered home to our luxury condo (the one with no hot water and limited light bulbs as I was about to find out).


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