Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A fond last look back at TIFF 2010

Okay, I've taken a while to get to this, but here's a recap of the recently completed 35th annual Toronto International Film Festival. Most who attended agreed that this was a great year for them, some observers going as far as to call it the finest TIFF yet. Personally, as someone who has attended the festival regularly for over two decades, I'd have to agree. There were many things to like about TIFF 2010.

The program slate of 339 films (258 features, 81 shorts) from 59 countries was very strong and impressive. 112 of the features were world premieres, while 24 were international premieres and 98 were North American premieres. Among the world premieres were some very highly regarded films such as Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, Matt Reeves' Let Me In, Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go, Richard Ayoade's Submarine, and People's Choice Award runner-up The First Grader by Justin Chadwick, as well as almost all the Midnight Madness films. The festival's lineup was unveiled over the summer with the complete programme listings available by August 24.

I was very impressed with the many screenings that I was able to catch. There were perhaps only a couple of dogs in the bunch, but even then I understand why they were chosen in terms of their artistic merit. I was particularly impressed with the many fine documentaries, foreign films and the Wavelengths selections for which programmer Andréa Picard has been justly praised. I was able to tweet my initial impressions of some of films (@davideng) and I'll provide some more detailed reviews as the films are released.

But the films are only part of what goes on during the festival. Here's a look at what else took place.

At the end of August, a twitter comment by a woman who had seen a movie at the Scotiabank Theatre (a TIFF venue) concluded that she had bedbug bites and they must have come from that theatre. Others picked up on this and the bedbug scare went viral. But TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey replied with messages that they were responding immediately, and a thorough investigation that included using specially-trained bug-sniffing dogs showed the theatre to be entirely bedbug-free.

Before the festival officially began, a ceremony took place on the morning of September 8 to officially name the block on which Bell Lightbox stands. It was given the name Reitman Square in honour of Ivan Reitman's parents Leslie and Clara. TIFF Director and CEO Piers Handling joined Ward 20 Councillor Adam Vaughan, Ivan Reitman, Ivan's sisters Agi Mandel and Susan Michaels, and Ivan's son director Jason Reitman for the occasion. The Reitman family donated the land to TIFF in 2001 for the purpose of building the festival's new home.

Also on September 8, the 2010 class of TIFF's filmmaker development programme Talent Lab kicked off. This year's governors included director Deepa Mehta (Water), director-producer Lee Daniels (Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire) and producer Stephen Woolley (Perrier’s Bounty, Made in Dagenham). The participants were Jeff Barnaby, Sach Baylin-Stern, Richard Bell, Kara Blake, Kris Booth, Rhonda Buckley, Jeff Chiba Stearns, Daniel Cockburn, Rosie Crerar, Giorgia Farina, Matthew Hannam, Amanda Jane, Julia Kwan, Leah Mallen, Tony Massil, Jennifer Mesich, Peter Mishara, Kaveh Nabatian, Aubrey Nealon, Ruth Paxton, Karen Porter, Jared Raab, Jeffrey Royiwsky, Gabriel Taraboulsy, Pascal Trottier, and Sean Wainsteim.

The festival held a "jet lag" reception at their newly launched Filmmakers Lounge to welcome incoming filmmakers and delegates. The Filmmakers Lounge was a popular and useful new hangout for filmmakers and industry types. It was conveniently located within walking distance of Bell Lightbox and the new festival hotel, the adjoining Hyatt Regency. This allowed the festival to neatly centralize most of the festival activity further south by the Lightbox. Unfortunately, not everyone paid attention to the festival's notifications that the festival was no longer centred around Yorkville. Thus many people booked hotels, parties and activities in previous hotspots, making it inconvenient for those who then had to shuttle back and forth. But although it was a split festival this year, people should clue in next year and stick to the area around Lightbox.

On the opening day, the Canadian Media Production Association (CMPA) presented their Feature Film Producers Award at the Filmmakers Lounge. The nominees were Denise Robert (Route 132), Roger Frappier (À L’Origine D’Un Cri (Crying Out)), Daniel Iron (The Bang Bang Club), Michael McGowan (Score: A Hockey Musical) and Jennifer Jonas (Trigger). Denise Robert won the award and promptly donated the $10,000 cash prize to her Route 132 director Louis Bélanger.

The festival held an opening cocktail but most of the attendees were not so much film people as sponsors and corporate folks. From there they headed to the gala opening of Score: A Hockey Musical. Reviews for the film itself were decidedly mixed, including one local critic saying it "may also be the worst film ever to open the Toronto festival." That's unduly harsh, as the film fully intends to be a light, entertaining romp. It generally succeeds, and it's popularity has seen it go on to be the opening night film at numerous other Canadian film festivals. Following the screening, the opening party took place at the Liberty Grand as is customary. I had forgotten how packed and overwhelming the crowds could be, but it was a fun gathering nonetheless. Some of the cast of the film Score: A Hockey Musical and some hockey players were supposed to be in attendance, but I didn't spot any of them.

From Friday, September 10 to Thursday, September 16, twenty press conferences were held at the festival's new hotel, the Hyatt Regency. It may be my imagination, but the room seemed smaller and more cramped than their previous location at the Sutton Place Hotel. But they were enjoyable to attend, though I was appalled at some of the embarrassing questioned thrown out by visiting media. Too often, it was clear that the questioner didn't even see the film in question. You can watch the press conferences on the TIFF website.

IndieWIRE presented a number interviews at lunchtime in the Filmmakers Lounge with film heavyweights. Surprisingly, these were lightly attended as many did not know about them. Interview subjects included David Schwimmer, Clive Owen and Catherine Keener (Trust), Guillermo Del Toro (Julia’s Eyes), Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) and Danny Boyle (127 Hours). Martin Sheen was there with his son Emilio Estevez and he graciously greeted the many festival volunteers on duty.

On Saturday, September 11, famed film critic Roger Ebert hosted an event at the Filmmakers Lounge that he called the "Twitter Showdown." He would tweet a comment and five Twitter-savvy panelists would have a minute to tweet a response. The audience then voted on the winner for each round. The panelists were David Poland (Movie City News), Scott Tobias (A/V Club), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Grace Wang (, and actor Rainn Wilson (Super). The event was hosted by MTV’s Dan Levy. Rainn Wilson emerged as the inaugural event's winner.

Other great events taking place at the Filmmakers Lounge included the Moguls sessions, where influential industry professionals Bob Berney (founder of Apparition, Picturehouse, Newmarket Films and IFC Films) and Christine Vachon (Killer Films) were interviewed individually about the business. The Meet With... sessions which gave people an opportunity to observe a moderated discussion with a group of professionals such as agents, funders, distributors, screenwriters or producers.

Sunday, September 12 saw the official opening of the festival's new headquarters, the Bell Lightbox. To mark the occasion, the event was kicked off with a free block party. The event began at 11am but the ribbon-cutting ceremony didn't take place until 12 noon. TIFF CEO/director Piers Handling joined Michèle Maheux (TIFF Executive Director/COO) and Noah Cowan (Artistic Director or TIFF Bell Lightbox,) and a number of politicians, sponsors and filmmakers for the event. Somali-Canadian music star K’naan performed as the afternoon's special musical guest.

The building was considered a smashing success by many who visited. Although plain on the outside, it is very attreactive and appealing yet very functional upon entering. Roger Ebert tweeted "Wow. National Film Theater and Cinematheque Francais, move over" and "A guy like me, I can see retiring to a condo in the TIFF Bell Lightbox and just going to movies." Toronto Star critic Peter Howell quoted a veteran festival-goer from Cannes as saying, “I have never seen a town take to a new palais as quickly as Toronto has to the Bell Lightbox.” The complex is more than just the five state-of-the-art theatres with luxurious seating, outstanding sound and capable of showing everything from 3-D films to 70mm prints. It also houses two galleries, restaurants, lounges, educational facilities and more. It will have exciting year-round programming, including many free events. In addition to screenings, Lightbox was the site for a Master Class with Robert Lantos, and the Mavericks programme -- public one-on-one interviews with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kelly Reichardt, Davis Guggenheim, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Ken Loach and Paul Laverty, musician Bruce Springsteen, athlete Steve Nash, educator Geoffrey Canada, producer Lesley Chilcott, and Microsoft co-founder/philanthropist Bill Gates.

On Monday, Bell Lightbox was the site of the Doc Conference. This was a must-see event for makers and lovers of documentary films. After introductions by TIFF documentary programmer Thom Powers and National Film Board (NFB) chair Tom Perlmutter, the morning began with a filmmaker talk by Alex Gibney (Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer) who was interviewed by professor/author Pat Aufderheide. This was followed by two panel discussions on distribution. After a break for lunch, Powers returned to moderate the Case Study: War Torn 1861-2010 about an upcoming HBO documentary with the filmmakers. Finally, the conference ended with a lively discussion with two giants in the documentary world, Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, also moderated by Powers.

The Roosevelt Room became the Festival Music House from September 13 to 15. Filmmakers, actors, music supervisors and other industry folks were given the opportunity to hear some of the hottest bands and performers on the scene.  Acts included Stars, Tokyo Police Club, Zeus, Chilly Gonzales, The Raccoons, City And Colour, Hawksley Workman and The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie.

The Telefilm Pitch This! competition took place on Tuesday at noon. Six pitchers or pitch teams vied for $10,000 prize money to develop their film project. The participants were David Manning (50 Proof), Cher Hawrysh and Garfield Lindsay Miller (Bitter Pills), Mark Purdy and Stuart Reid (Brobots) Dane Clark, Jordan Gross and Mike MacMillan (The Fringe), Anthony Del Col, Conor McCreery (Kill Shakespeare) and Maryam Mehrtash (The Millennials: Networking Change). Anthony Del Col, Conor McCreery won for their pitch for Kill Shakespeare.

The Talent Lab participants from last year were given an opportunity to compete in the Emerging Filmmakers Competition for 3 cash prizes by making a short film on the theme of water. Five finalists were chosen and were judged by a jury and by online voting. The five finalists were Jane Tattersall (Hot Water), Stephen Dunn (Swallowed), Daniel Schachter (L'homme qui se croyet eau), Ayelen Liberona (Keepers of the Water) and Walter Forsyth (This Tear Is a Word). Trevor Anderson's The High Level Bridge was not chosen as a finalist, but was the only film from the competition to be selected to screen at the festival itself in a programme of short films. The first-prize winner was Jane Tattersall who received $15,000, while Stephen Dunn received $10,000 as an honourable mention and an additional $5,000 as the online Audience favourite.

From a business perspective, this festival represented a recovery and was one of the strongest recent years. Acquisitions during the festival included Rabbit Hole, Barney’s Version, Incendies, Super, Dirty Girl, Submarine, Beautiful Boy, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Insidious. Even as the festival drew to a close, dealmakers were kept busy with pickups Beginners; Passion Play, Everything Must Go, Peep World, Meek's Cutoff, and Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.

The festival returned to its 11-day length after many years of ending on the second Saturday. The second Sunday used to screen audience favourites, but this became problematic particularly for distributors who felt there was no benefit to additional festival screenings. Now, the eleventh day is just another day in the festival, with mostly second screenings of scheduled films. This added day is tough for those in the industry, but is very helpful for the viewing public because the extra day, especially one on the weekend, makes it more convenient for them to attend the screenings.

On the final day, the festival held its annual Awards Luncheon to hand out a small number of prizes. This year, they reverted to the seated-dining format for the event. The winners included Incendies taking the Best Canadian Feature award and The King’s Speech winning the People's Choice Award. Both films were among the best films I saw at the festival.

The festival closed with free screenings of the People's Choice winner The King’s Speech, opening night film Score: A Hockey Musical and the "TIFF For Free" films The Big Chill and The Princess Bride. Also screening on the final night was Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme. Film Socialisme also played on opening night, so it and Score: A Hockey Musical provided contrasting bookends to an all-around outstanding Toronto International Film Festival.

TIFF 2010 in pictures

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