It’s too bad that the continental buffet spread at TIFF’s annual kick-off press conference is no real barometer for measuring the quality of the festival itself. Lined with thermoses of Starbucks coffee, danishes, sliced fruit, yogurt, and granola cups, and these delicious little bite-size bagel thingies crammed with smoked salmon and cream cheese, not to mention three whole kinds of fruit juice, this morning’s TIFF 2011 announcement spoke to the attention to detail TIFF puts into just about every facet of their operations. And when all the bagel dough, lox, and blueberry smoothie silt had settled, there were the films. Yes, the films. Because this is a film festival, dammit!
The sight of Sarah Polley stalking the King Street Hyatt’s mezzanine level led to early morning speculation that her latest, Take This Waltz would be opening TIFF 2011. No such luck. The Seth Rogen/Michelle Williams vehicle titled after a Leonard Cohen ditty was kicked down the line, and will be making its world premiere as a Gala presentation. This year’s opener, arriving from well out of left-field, marks the first time in its 36-year history that TIFF will open with a documentary. And also the first time in its 36-year history that it will open with a documentary about geriatric Irish rock stars and billionaires U2: Davis Guggenheim’s From the Sky Down. So yeah. We rescind our earlier comment about this being a film festival, dammit. Because apparently it’s just a red carpet–upholstered melting pot for celebrity foofaraw.
Take your waltz and shove it, Polley! It’s not opening TIFF! Because it’s not about U2!
Other Gala Presentations announced today include: Rodrigo Garcia’s Albert Nobbs (Ireland); local boy David Cronenberg’s Freud/Jung spanky-sex love-triangle picture A Dangerous Method (France/Ireland/UK/Germany/Canada); George Clooney’s The Ides of March (USA); Luc Besson’s The Lady (France/UK); Bennett Miller’s underdog baseball stats-story Moneyball (US); major filmmaker Madonna’s W.E. (U.K.); and a handful of others. (Today’s announcement included about half of the total Gala Presentations.)
In addition to the Galas, festival honchos Cameron Bailey and Piers Handling also rattled off a list of most underwhelming Special Presentations, 42 in total, amounting to the majority of the program. Among the most curious announcements was the world premiere of Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous (Germany), a film that allegedly prods the issue of whether or not William Shakespeare actually wrote all those plays. So anyone who’s ever wanted to see an intrigue-laced Elizabethan drama about authorship directed by the guy who made Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow need not look any further. There’s also the world premiere of Cameron Crowe’s doc Pearl Jam Twenty (USA)—which, along with the U2 film, can be cross-listed in the “Movies Booked to Brings Rock Stars to the Lightbox” and “Who Gives a Shit?” programs. Also: films by Ralph Fiennes, Todd Solondz, Aexander Payne, Oren Moverman, Wang Xiaoshuai, and the Duplass brothers.
Though the announced films ranked (and we mean ranked) as what one film writer in attendance politely termed “Hollywood shit,” there were a few splotches of hope. TIFF is, not surprisingly, getting Lars Trier’s apocalyptic romance Melancholia (Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany). But being as Trier doesn’t travel to North America, this also means TIFF won’t have to boot him from the fest for pledging allegiance to one-or-another fascist government. In addition to films by Trier, who is more-or-less a real filmmaker, TIFF’s Special Presentations category will see a handful of films by real-deal directors like Marjane Satrapi, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, and Terrence Davies. Now, granted, a film by William Friedkin called Killer Joe, in which Matthew McConaughey plays a character named “Killer Joe,” may ostensibly qualify as “Hollywood shit.” But at least it’s weird-sounding, potentially-good, just-left-of-Hollywood shit.
Besides an underwhelming first dock of films, Handling and Bailey announced that the Princess of Wales Theatre would be added to the fold as a screening venue for this year’s festival and that, in response to audience demand, more daytime screenings will be slotted in. With this being the first year in which the TIFF Bell Lightbox will be in operation for the entirety of the festival, it also means that TIFF 2011 will be, according to Handling, “a very concentrated festival,” with the bulk of screenings split between the Scotiabank Theatre and the Lightbox. And with TIFF 2011 falling on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Festival is currently commissioning a short film which, says Handling, “we hope will touch the broader community affected by this event.” (We’ll resist the urge to make some tasteless Roland Emmerich jibe.)
Anyways. There it is. TIFF 2011 so far. But don’t despair yet. There are still huge swaths of films yet to be announced in the Discovery, Masters, Contemporary World Cinema, Canada First!, Vanguard, Visions, and a handful of other programs. Keep those fingers crossed. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get some more fan-service documentaries about enormous pop stars! And look: we’re not totally naive. We know TIFF has to make money by booking big movies in prestigious slots and hoping to sell said movies, and by bringing in tourists to mill around hotel lobbies in hopes of spotting Brad Pitt. But Cameron Bailey himself stressed the importance of “discovery” at TIFF. Isn’t this supposed to mean the discovery of a new, exciting film or filmmaker? Of those little transcendent moments that films and film festivals offer? It’s not supposed to be about yelling at Eddie Vedder on a red carpet in front of a building named for two telecommunications giants. Is it?
TIFF 2011 runs September 8–18, 2011. The complete list of today’s announcements is available online [PDF].
Photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.