Saturday, September 21, 2013

Should I Go to a Film Festival?

A film festival?  Yes, of course, absolutely -- if you like movies, if you are in a town with a film festival, if you can afford tickets, if you can get tickets, go!

What can a film festival, specifically the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) do for you that just going to the movies or watching netflix doesn't do?

You can travel around the world and see what stories are being told right now by very dedicated and determined film makers.  You can meet the directors, producers, and actors and ask them questions.  You can engage with a community of many other informed film goers in the endless lines.  You can be part of something bigger than your own desire for distraction.  You can be distracted!  But most of all, you might get a view into the zeitgeist of the times.

I should say, you get a view of your unique slice of the zeitgeist.  At TIFF, you choose from over 300 films representing 60 countries.  Everyone has a different experience and probably arrive at different conclusions about the zeitgeist.

Last year, for some reason, many of the films involved terrorists and dictators.  It was a dark time.

Globe and Mail writer, Johanna Schneller, found that her selection of movies dealt with the idea of freedom:  physical freedom, legal and social freedom, and freeing oneself from addiction or abuse.  We shared only one film, a very hot lesbian relationship story which she squeezed into her thesis by saying it was about the freedom to love who you choose.  I didn't see any issues of freedom in the movie Blue is the Warmest Colour.  The beautiful young women were not prevented from expressing their love.  The film left me with two messages:

1.  Ultimately, you are more likely to want someone who is intellectually, socially, and creatively compatible with you than the person who satisfies you the most sexually.  (However, we will  make sure the audience sees exactly how good the girl-on-girl sex is).

2.  If you really want to break up with someone, you can find a way to make it her fault.

What, then are the preoccupations of 2013?

My movies seem to suggest that change is inevitable and change is hard.  The process of giving up illusions, growing up, and adapting has to happen over and over again - even when you are 800-year-old vampires as in Only Lovers Left Alive.

In Fading Gigolo, Woody Allen's bookstore goes under.  To adapt to his changing economic situation, he enlists John Turturro, a gentle florist, to provide sexual services to rich older professional women.  They also help a woman re-enter the world of the living after her husband dies.  Through courage, creativity, and compassion, people endure financial and domestic changes.

The take-home message from Hateship Loveship seems to be that you can get what you want by really really wanting it.  People can change, and with persistence and a great deal of housecleaning, you can help them.

Club Sandwich, a Mexican movie, deals with a mother whose son is ready for some independence.  She has to change to allow this to happen.  The take-home message?  Do not play truth or dare with your kids.

In Mary Queen of Scots, a beautiful young Catholic woman, cousin to Queen Elizabeth, has to navigate among the treacheries of the Sottish Lords, a controlling Catholic husband, and the rising Protestant movement headed by John Knox.  Mary just wants everyone to get along. They don't.

One theme that persists through many of the films (and most storytelling) is that things are not what they appear to be.  People who seem to be against you actually love you.  People who seem to love you or should love you want to kill you.  Sometimes they kill you through their neglect and inattention as seems to be the case in Paul Haggis's Third Person.  It will take several viewings of that movie to figure it out.  Nothing is what it appears to be.

My film festival was not completely free of terrorism, torture, and totalitarianism.  Manuscripts Don't Burn, tells the story of an attempt by the Iranian government to murder 21 writers and journalists.  The director was present at the screening.  He told the audience, "Don't enjoy it.  It's unpleasant."  

There were no credits at the end of the movie for fear that the Iranian government would punish anyone involved with the project.

The film festivities are over and the Toronto is moving towards another large collective art event:  Nuit Blanche.  I have looked, but have never found a unifying theme in these all-night arts events except this:  people like to do things together in large numbers, to be part of a mob, to share, to communicate, and to seize the night.

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