By most accounts the 37th Toronto International Film Festival has been one of the best in decades, and maybe the best in the world only. It offers 289 features in 14 categories, among 148 world premieres — a new record for the festival. The filmmakers range from Ben Affleck with his glossy studio film Argo, to Rob Zombie and his hardscrabble horror movie The Lords of Salem; from 23-year-old Xavier Dolan, with his third film Laurence Anyways, to 103-year-old Manoel de Oliveira with his thirtieth film, Gebo and the Shadow (Gebo et ombre).
Add to that just about every Hollywood film hoping to win an Oscar, such as Paul Thomas Anderson's much-lauded The Master and Joe Wright's Anna Karenina, and the choices become overwhelming, as any of the 400,000 festival patrons, many in lines extending around city blocks, or the hundreds of critics from around the world, trying to squeeze into press screenings, could tell you. Despite the countless screenings and packed houses, however, the festival functions with clockwork efficiency, due to its expert staff and enthusiastic army of over 2,000 orange-shirted volunteers. Not a screening I attended started late, and all the films were projected with pristine excellence. Quite likely these might be the best presentations of these films that many attendees will ever see.
The problem, as usual, is trying to see it all, let alone capitalize on the interviews or press conferences available with the host of filmmakers and actors on hand. No matter what you do, there's always that sense that while you're enjoying one great film, there are probably two or three or more films that are just as good or better films playing somewhere else.
One place to start might be the "City to City: Mumbai" selection, focusing on that cinematically prolific city's new wave of filmmakers, young auteurs who have transformed or superseded the familiar Bollywood conventions to create original works that reflect many of the country's pressing economic, social, and political issues. Among the ten films in the program are Anand Gandhi's Ship of Theseus, Dibakar Banerjee's Shanghai, and Habib Faisal's Ishaqzaade. Labeled lightheartedly by TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey as "Hindie" cinema, this exhilarating, nascent film scene might just be the next New Wave.
Those of us in the FIPRESCI jury, though, had to focus on two categories — the Special Presentations and the Discovery Programme, each section deliberated over by three members of our six person jury. The former category consisted of films by established directors, such as Cloud Atlas, the highly anticipated film by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings; François Ozon's playfully cryptic In the House; and Derek Cianfrance's sprawling follow-up to Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines. Those covering the latter group likewise had their hands full withfeatures such as Swedish director Mikael Marcimain's Call Girl and Spanish director Pablo Berger Blancanieves, among other promising debuts. In short, a pleasant task but not an easy one. Like taking in the Festival itself, which is a year of world cinema compressed into eleven days. (Peter Keough)
Toronto International Film Festival: www.tiff.net