Academic journal article CineAction

Some Arbitrary Forays into the Toronto Film Festival

Academic journal article CineAction

Some Arbitrary Forays into the Toronto Film Festival

Article excerpt

With over three hundred films over a period of twelve days it has become impossible to cover the Toronto Film Festival. It seems legitimate, however, to begin by foregrounding some of the problems and the decisions with which one solves them. First, then, how many films can one hope to absorb and do some kind of rough justice to over so brief a period? I limited myself to about twenty-five and around day ten felt completely exhausted. I slept through an hour of Burnt Money, a film to which I had been particularly looking forward and which is, obviously, on the strength of its last forty minutes, striking and distinguished, but it would be thoroughly irresponsible of me to attempt any sort of evaluation beyond that. Members of the local press managed to give the impression that they had of course seen everything and threw out judgements accordingly, without (as far as I am aware) anywhere mentioning two of the three films I saw that seemed to me (at the time, and still on calmer reflection) indisputable masterpieces (neither of their press screenings was well attended, while a number of screenings of quite minor works were impossible to get into--it would be interesting to learn on what basis our supposedly influential journalist-critics make their choices).

Obviously, with so many films, choice is the primary problem. The festival catalogue is no help at all, since its compilers find it necessary to champion every film as having extraordinary claims on one's attention and being beyond any hint of adverse criticism--it would be nice if, just occasionally, one read something like `This is a decent little film that you will probably enjoy, and, although no earth-shaking masterpiece, we feel it deserves inclusion.' One is inevitably guided by personal bias in some form or another--the presence of directors, stars, genres or subject-matter in which one is interested. I made it a principle (though I did not adhere to it rigorously) to avoid films I knew would open theatrically--why miss films one may never get another chance to see for films that will be in one's local theatre within a few weeks or months? Hence I did not go to Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love despite the fact that it is one of the films I most look forward to. Choice will also be determined by the merest expediency: with press screenings overlapping, as many as four films showing simultaneously in different auditoriums, one may be forced to miss films high on one's list of priorities and see films of which one has no particular expectations simply because they are on at a convenient time. There are other guidelines: one likes when possible to see films by new directors; and one has today (as at previous periods in film history) the sense that exciting things are happening in certain parts of the world, pockets of creativity arising from some not-easily-identifiable set of cultural/social/political/artistic circumstances that both feed and are fed by the creativity of individual auteurs: Taiwan; Asia more generally; Iran; Northern Europe (Denmark and upwards, Iceland included).

What follows, then, is a partial and personal series of probes into individual films or themes arising from the various groupings into which one sorts them. All judgements are to be taken as strictly provisional. I saw each film only once, and it is quite impossible (and highly reprehensible) to offer some kind of confident pontification on a film of any real interest that one has seen less than three times. I recently realized that a majority of the films from the past that I have come to value most highly were films I actively disliked on first viewing (these include, for example, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Vertigo, La Regle du Jeu, and Heaven's Gate--only for the first can I plead the excuse of youth, Ophuls' masterpiece being not easily accessible for an eighteeen-year-old kid). I am adopting a starring system, previously unheard of in CineAction and employed here for mere convenience without consulting other members of the collective, who may well vote me off the board when they see that I have stooped to such a thing. …

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