TIFF Day 5: The Festival Gets its Groove
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TIFF Day 5: The Festival Gets its Groove

Festival Street is over, but you can dig into some of TIFF's best movies.

Photo by Jason Cook from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Photo by Jason Cook from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

The first Monday of TIFF is when things start to get back to normal in Toronto. It’s still festival madness, but this is the part of the festival I prefer—when the opening weekend frenzy of visitors starts to dissipate and the festival becomes more about the movies and less about the big events. Festival Street was taken down overnight, and King Street is back open to traffic. One of the little pleasures I like about the festival is seeing the 504 streetcar passing the Princess of Wales Theatre as the stars arrive, with TTC passengers getting a great passing look at the red carpet action outside their window.

What Were People Talking About Yesterday?

Unless The Birth of a Nation wins any awards when the festival wraps up, the Nate Parker at TIFF story wrapped up with the highly-anticipated press conference for the film. After a half-hour of chat about the film itself, Parker started to get tougher questions from the media about the effect the revelations of his personal history may have on the movie’s release, which he dodged, leaving the heavy lifting about “separating art and the artist” to the film’s supporting cast. “This is a forum for the film. This is a forum for the other people who are sitting on this stage. It’s not mine, I don’t own it. It doesn’t belong to me, so I definitely don’t want to hijack it,” said the writer/director/producer/actor of a film about the importance of moral responsibility and working to heal the sins of the past. Barry Hertz of the Globe and Mail provides a good summary of how it went down.

The #TIFF16 Twitter feed was alive last night with rave reviews of Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, with the coveted #OscarBuzz now full steam ahead for Natalie Portman’s performance as Jacqueline Kennedy. The screening was immediately followed by the beginning of a bidding war amongst distributors for the rights. Film Twitter™ also lit up in the middle of the night after the Midnight Madness Blair Witch premiere wrapped up, with fright fans freaking out and geeking out over the reboot to the found-footage horror classic.

Photo by Jason Cook from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Photo by Jason Cook from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

A Thrilla From Manila: In Praise of Wavelengths

When I worked at the TIFF box office and was told someone “wanted to speak to a manager” to voice their complaints to someone in charge about the festival, one of the common refrains was that TIFF used to be “The People’s Festival” but had now become too “mainstream” and too eager to cater to Hollywood’s publicity machine and George Clooney photo-ops at the expense of cinema. I always thought this argument was a perception influenced by how the festival gets covered on ET Canada or in the entertainment section of the paper, and not reflective of the hard work of TIFF’s specialized programming team who spend much of the year scouring the planet looking for innovative work in every genre, sometimes tracking progress on projects for years in anticipation of someday inviting them to the festival. TIFF is screening 296 features in 2016; even if someone was only interested in 10 per cent of the lineup, that’s still nearly 30 films to watch in 11 days. It was sometimes my fantasy to personally select a schedule of films for someone who thought the festival was “too mainstream” to have to watch so they could have their minds blown.

A great example of TIFF’s spectrum of offerings is the venerable Wavelengths programme of formally daring, experimental cinema. On Saturday, the Filipino independent filmmaker Lav Diaz won a major film festival prize, the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, for his latest film The Woman Who Left. Diaz’s work tends to be immersive; his previous film played at the Berlin Film Festival this year and clocked in at eight hours. This latest work is a comparatively lean 227 minutes. Diaz’s approach to cinema is similar to a painter using a big canvas; no one would criticize a painter that their painting is “too big.” A film like this is certainly not something you’d stumble into and enjoy, but for those who appreciate the specific cerebral rewards of letting oneself be transported and absorbed by a film straddling both minimalism and maximality, these opportunities don’t come along often.

What’s Going on Today at TIFF?

Those who are now terrified of such avant-garde prospects and would prefer the comfort of movie stars and Hollywood fare have options as well, with the Canadian premiere of another big Oscar favourite and the film I predict will win the festival’s People’s Choice Award: La La Land. It’s Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash and stars everybody’s favourite actors, Emma Stone (who won the Best Actress prize in Venice for this) and Canada’s own Ryan Gosling. The teaser trailer makes it look like a pastiche of the sweeping lens-flared sumptuousness of Punch-Drunk Love and the classic Hollywood musical, and I don’t mean that as a slight. It premieres tonight at the Princess of Wales Theatre at 6:15 p.m., and I bet there are already people in the rush line.

Gosling will be appearing in fellow Canadian Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner sequel in the near future, but, first, Villeneuve delivers an original science-fiction project, the big studio picture Arrival, featuring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. The trailer makes it look like M. Night Shyamalan meets Jodie Foster’s Contact, but who’s kidding who—it’s probably something more original than that and we’re all going to go see it. Arrival is the late show at Roy Thomson Hall tonight, and, speaking of “arrival,” please be at the theatre no later than 15 minutes before showtime or you may lose your seat to the people in the rush line; this is a hot ticket.