Yesterday marked the halfway point for the 40th annual Toronto International Film Festival. As always, it’s been a place where art and glamour have attracted just about every kind of movie fan. For fans like me, who just want to see everything in hopes of finding that buried nugget from Turkey or Slovakia hiding away in the Vanguard or Contemporary World Cinema programmes, it can be overwhelming. With over 300 films, it can be difficult to choose what to see. You can read synopses of all the films on the festival’s website, look at critic’s guides, or listen to word of mouth, but even then it can be tough to pick. This year I decided to take a new service offered, which is to have my film selection curated by none other than the festival’s Artistic Director Cameron Bailey and TIFF CEO Piers Handling.
Okay, this selection wasn’t curated JUST for me, it was curated for everyone in the form of a new programme called Platform. As Handling put it, Platform “shines a spotlight on bold, innovative, international cinema from young and emerging mid-career filmmakers.” Handling and Bailey described their idea for this selection to their team of programmers – who see thousands of films from all over the world – and asked them to bring forward their recommendations. Handling estimates they watched between three and four hundred films based on these recommendations, and eventually whittled it down to twelve.
Although this wasn’t part of the programme’s mandate, to me these films represent a microcosm of the entire festival. The “young and emerging mid-career filmmakers” distinction is a loose one, as the program includes first time feature filmmakers such as Eva Husson (Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)), to festival favourites such as Ben Wheatley (High-Rise), who premiered his first film here in 2011, to filmmakers like He Ping, who has been making films for 25 years. Until a director’s career has ended, it’s impossible to identify its midpoint.
What also makes this programme unique is that it’s a juried section, meaning that unlike other programs in the festival, a ‘best film’ will be selected at the end by a jury of filmmakers and awarded $25,000. The programme gets its name from the film Platform directed by Jia Zhang-ke that screened at the festival in 2000, so he was an obvious choice for the inaugural year’s jury (he also has Mountains May Depart at the fest this year). Jia will be joined by Claire Denis and Agnieszka Holland.
The judges will see each film for the first time with audiences at their premieres, all of which take place at the Elgin/ Winter Garden Visa Screening Room. In fact, none of the films have been pre-screened for press either (which is why I’ve only seen six so far), another clever way to hopefully draw more people and attention to these premieres. “We want critics and buyers to see these films first with the famous Toronto audience,” says Handling. Each film’s premiere is followed an extended Q & A with a respected critic and the filmmaker. These are much more structured and informative than the usual audience Q & A sessions, though you can stay for that afterwards as well.
Despite choosing films that could potentially span almost all of the other programmes (the delirious High-Rise would feel right at home in Midnight Madness), you can see certain themes emerge once you take in several of them. With four films in the programme, France is a clear favourite, which again is indicative of the festival as a whole. It’s no surprise that the country that invented the auteur theory should produce so many. While there is only one documentary (the excellent Hurt, also the only Canadian film), many of the films are inspired by true events. Bang Gang, Land of Mine, The White Knights, and The Clan are all directly inspired by true stories, and many of the others reflect current realities. Again, the dystopian High-Rise is the only film that sticks out in this sense, but names like Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, and Elisabeth Moss are sure to help bring attention to the programme.
Last week, two Platform films that have yet to have their TIFF premiere won prizes at the Venice Film Festival. The Clan, which premieres tonight, won the Silver Lion, and Neon Bull (premiering tomorrow) won the Horizons Special Jury Prize. Having award winners in the line-up is always a good sign, but as we all know, films are subjective. One thing I can say about all of the films I’ve seen in this program so far is that they’re taking risks. Films that experiment and depart from the norm will usually alienate some people (see my review of Bang Gang), but often it’s precisely what puts someone off a certain film that will turn someone else on to it. Like them or not, these are all films that should spark some kind of debate after watching them.
In the end, the most important (or lucrative at least) debate will be that of the Platform jury. As Jia Zhang-ke said at the Platform press conference (through an interpreter) “It’s difficult watching these films. It’s a little bit like dating with these twelve films, you meet them all and you see which one you hit it off with. But I hope I’ll fall in love with at least one. I’ll be in trouble if I fall in love with six. I’ll go crazy.” When asked what they would do if they can’t agree on one, Claire Denis said “We will find a place to smoke and drink, I think, I hope. But I don’t think that will happen, I would be surprised.”
If I were to make a prediction at this halfway point of what the jury will choose (or what I would choose), it would be Joachim Lafosse’s remarkable film The White Knights.
Most of the films still have screenings remaining in the festival’s final weekend and I urge you to go see at least one or two. Below is a list of the films with links to their listings on TIFF’s website, as well as trailers, clips and reviews where available. Learn more about the programme here.
The Clan -Argentina/ Spain (premieres Wednesday Sept. 16)
French Blood -France
Full Contact -Netherlands Croatia
Looking for Grace -Australia
Neon Bull – Brazil/ Uruguay / Netherlands (Premieres Thursday September 17)
Sky -France /Germany (Premieres Wednesday September 16)