Every fall I TIFF
I see between 20 and 25 movies most years beginning the Friday after Labour Day and ending a week later on the Sunday. (TIFF starts Thursday evening, but I only start on the Friday.) As the excitement builds in Toronto in the weeks leading up to it, people start asking me about what’s involved. So I thought I’d put it down for all of you.
I often get asked “How do you get tickets for TIFF?” There are 3 answers:
1. The simple way - After Labour Day – you can go down to the TIFF box office or go online to www.tiff.netand purchase single tickets. You can also try the TIFF box office at the movie theatre the day of a movie.
2. TIFF chooses way – The beginning of July, you choose from a number of film packages that TIFF puts together and purchase the voucher. Around Labour Day, you find out what movies you will see.
3. What I do – The beginning of July, I decide how many movies I want to see and I purchase movie “vouchers”. The middle of August, I go online or buy the Program Book and see what movies I would like to see. I then match that list up with the movie schedule and select first and second choices for the different time slots I am available. Towards the end of August, I get my “selection time slot”, I go online and pick my movies. On Labour Day, I go down to the TIFF box office to pick up my tickets. The movies start the Thursday evening after Labour Day, run all week and end the Sunday 11 days (or so) later. During that time, I normally see around 20 movies – mostly documentaries and foreign films (that are unlikely to play in Toronto).
I normally see 2 or 3 films in a day. (I tried to see 4 in a day one year – but found it too much!) Some of the movies I see by myself, while I go to others with friends. I have a bag with me that includes snacks, a book (just in case, but this year I read my Kobo for maybe 30 minutes during the week), water, an extra sweater or jacket and some days an umbrella.
The best part of TIFF – especially the first half of the festival, is that the director and / or actors are normally available after the movie for a Q & A and you learn about the background of the movies. By the second or third day, while standing in line waiting to get into the movie theatres, you hear complete strangers start up conversations with other people in the line “What have you seen so far that was good?”
This year I saw 19 movies - 2 were Hollywood ones. Some were better than others, but I lucked out this year and didn’t see any “5 beer” movies (the number of beers you need to drink to sit through the movie) and I did see a couple of “Ice Cream Sundae” movies (at the opposite end of the spectrum from the “5 beers”).
TIFF 2013 – My Movies
This year, I saw nineteen movies over 7 days. There are two tricks to the selection process. Interpreting the TIFF film critics write up and fitting the movies that sound good into your schedule. Most movies play 2 or 3 different times in different theatres, so you’re constantly reprioritizing. The list of movies that I saw included:
Amazonia – a little unbelievable, but great 3D shots of the wildlife in the Amazon. Can you imagine a domesticated monkey surviving 5 minutes in the wild? This monkey joins a troop of wild capuchins. It is a France / Brazil co-production
Born and raised in captivity, a capuchin monkey suddenly finds himself fighting for survival in the wilds of the Amazon jungle in this remarkable live-action adventure, shot on location in breathtaking 3D.
A Place in Heaven – the main character in the Israeli film is a secular soldier. The film follows his life and personal relations over 40 years.
The fateful contract between a secular Israeli army officer and a devout young Holocaust survivor has profound and unexpected consequences, in this sprawling, decades-spanning epic from director Yossi Madmony (Restoration).
Attila Marcel – a great feel good French movie. A lot of the script reminded me of Sylvain Chomets animated films – especially The Triplets of Bellville. A great performance by Paul, the main character, played by Guillamame Gouix, who has only one word of dialogue (at the end of the movie).
Director Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist) invokes memories of Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati in his first live-action film, about a mute, sweet-natured man-child whose reawakened childhood memories unleash marvellous musical fantasies.
Bethlehem – This Israeli movie, includes a young man (Sanfur), a Palestinian, who is being groomed by the Israeli Secret Police (Shin Bet) officer, Razi. The script was co-written by an Israeli and a Muslim and portrays both sides of this “war”.
Recruited as an informant by the Israeli secret service Shin Bet, a young Palestinian man finds himself caught between two very different kinds of loyalty when he discovers that his employers are plotting to assassinate his radical brother. First-time feature director Yuval Adler spent years interviewing Shin Bet officers and Palestinian militants to create this complex, intelligent, and timely tragedy.
Border – This Italian movie is about two Orthodox Muslim Syrian sisters who try to escape from Syria and the series of twists and turns in the plot. Between you and I – many of the scenes are really far-fetched.
When two sisters learn that a member of their family has decided to desert the Syrian Army and join the Free Army, they must embark on a hazardous journey to Turkey, in this powerful account of contemporary Syria from filmmaker Alessio Cremonini.
Enough Said – this movie came out in general release in September 2013. The comedic timing was fantastic, but you can wait and watch this Hollywood movie on NetFlicks
This smart and decidedly modern romantic comedy from indie stalwart Nicole Holofcener follows the misadventures of a divorcée who finds herself making a new friend — and dating that new friend’s ex-husband at the same time. Enough Said stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener and the late James Gandolfini in one of his final screen roles.
Friends from France –This is a French / German / Canada / Russian co-production about 2 French University age kids who go on a tour to Russia (and sneak away to visit with Refusniks). Their innocence disappears over the 2 week tour. Apparently, they managed to recreate the mood and times very well as per the Q & A following the movie.
Set in Odessa in 1979, this uniquely emotional political thriller recreates meticulously the deep-freeze of the Soviet Union at the crest of the Cold War while following a pair of French cousins in their clandestine effort to reach out to the so-called refuseniks — Jews repressed by the Brezhnev regime.
Giraffada – This Italian / German / French /Palestinian) co-production told the story from the perspective of a 10 year old Palestinian boy. Ahmad Bayatra was great in the role of Ziad. This would be a feel good movie if he didn’t think all Israelis were either trigger happy, or womanizers. My nephew says everything is better if there’s a penguin in it. In this case, it’s a giraffe (or two).
In this wild and heartfelt adventure epic, a 10-year-old Palestinian boy from the West Bank must travel to Tel Aviv to secure a companion for a distraught giraffe after an air strike kills its mate.
Gravity – in general release October 2013. This Hollywood movie kept me at the edge of my seat – go see it in 3D. 3D IMAX if you dare.
George Clooney and Sandra Bullock star in this highly anticipated 3D space thriller from acclaimed director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También).
Half of a Yellow Sun – this was my favourite film this year. It was co-produced by the UK and Nigeria. It was based on the book by Chinananda Ncozi Adiche. Great plot, character development and it is based on true events. This movie could be transported to any of the various conflicts and genocides going on today.
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave, Children of Men) and Thandie Newton (Crash, The Pursuit of Happyness) star in this epic chronicle of family ties and war from celebrated Nigerian playwright Biyi Bandele
Hi Ho Mistahey! – This Canadian documentary is scheduled to play at TIFF and will probably play as a documentary on CBC Newsworld. It is a documentary about the sad state of affairs in the First Nation communities in Ontario.
Legendary documentary filmmaker and activist Alanis Obomsawin chronicles the Attawapiskat First Nations campaign to draw global attention to the Canadian government's shocking neglect of Aboriginal youth education.
Manuscripts Don’t Burn –This Iranian movie focuses on the writers remaining in Iran and the censorship and conditions that they live under. There are no credits in this film – due to Iranian censorship laws and none of the actors are still in Iran. The director, Mohammed Rasoulof has spent time in Iranian prisons.
Director Mohammad Rasoulof’s latest tackles head-on the machinations of censorship in Iran, detailing the true story of a failed 1995 assassination plot by the Iranian regime against twenty-one writers and journalists.
Midway – the photography of the Albatros documenting their life cycle on the Pacific Island of Midway are magnificent. The voice over needs some work. This is a USA production.
In bringing the ambitious project Midway to the big screen, the visual artist and first time director Chris Jordan worked with highly skilled collaborators. Producer Stephanie Levy, editor and story by scribe Sabine Emiliani (March of the Penguins), composer and Oscar nominated sound designer Erik Aadahl (Argo, Tree of Life), and Oscar award winning sound designer Ethan Van der Ryn (Lord of the Rings, Argo) discussed the making of this unique film.
Omar – This is a Palestinian production that takes place on both sides of the wall in the West Bank. There is love, betrayal, intrigue and murder.
Academy Award-nominated Palestinian director Hany Abu Assad (Paradise Now) won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for this noir-ish psychological thriller set in the occupied West Bank.
Palestine Stereo – Palestine/ Tunisia / France / Norway / UAE/ Italy / Switzerland were all involved in this movie. I picked it because the write up had a Canadian connection – but it was a far stretch. What happens in the end is left up in the air, but my impression is that these two moderate brothers became activists for the Palestinian cause.
Palestinian director Rashid Mashawari follows his widely acclaimed dark comedy Laila’s Birthday with this compelling and ironic drama about two brothers on the West Bank who, rendered homeless by an Israeli air strike, hustle odd jobs to raise enough money to emigrate to Canada.
Real – This Japanese Sci-Fi movie had lots of twists and turns. Most of the movie occurred in the “minds” of the two main characters.
Master filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure, Tokyo Sonata) returns with this story of a man who uses an advanced neurological technology to enter the frightening mindscape of his comatose lover.
The Summer of Flying Fish – the film I liked the least this year, a co-production of Chile and France. It was a coming of age film, but it dragged and the character development was not great
In this subtle and atmospheric allegory by first-time feature director Marcela Said, a teenaged girl holidaying at a lake house in southern Chile experiences a bittersweet coming of age as she faces disillusionment in love and confronts the incoherency and intolerance of her affluent family’s political views.
Trap Street - This film from China deals with love versus National Security and is a reminder that China is not a free country.Big brother is theoretically always watching. The most incongruious scene was when they sang the folk song, Donna Donna
A poignant and engaging thriller, Vivian Qu’s feature debut plunges us into the fascinating world of state surveillance in China as it follows a digital mapping surveyor’s investigation of an "off-the-grid" hidden alley.
The Wonders – This Israeli film has a light hearted side with cartoons coming to life, but it also explores the seedy side of Jerusalem and the world of “religious men” being used as “faith healers” to get money from the downtrodden.One of the main characters, Ariel, lives in the here and now, something we all should aspire to.
Lewis Carroll meets Carol Reed in this dizzyingly funny and fantastical farce from Israeli director Avi Nesher, about a good-natured slacker who becomes embroiled in a labyrinthine conspiracy in the weird criminal-religious underbelly of Jerusalem.