We wrapped our 2011 film festival last night with Violet & Daisy (imdb | tiff) at the Ryerson Theatre. It was written and directed by first-timer Geoffrey Fletcher, who wrote the screenplay for Precious, and who was, adorably, barely audible during pre- and post-screening Q&As. The words “quiet genius” are probably written on this dude’s underwear.
Anyway, the film was as entertaining as you’d expect a movie about two teenage girls working as professional assassins as scripted by an Oscar-winning screenwriter to be. Especially when you throw in James Gandolfini as a primary target. I’m reluctant to say much more about it than that, except to suggest to you that you watch it when it comes out. It’s funny, and it’s often sweet, and a pretty impressive effort from a guy we’ll be watching closely from now on.
And, as it turns out, not a bad way to close out the fest.
Five years ago Nellie and I saw what would become one of our all-time favourite TIFF movies: Day Night Day Night. When we saw a film in this year’s schedule by the same director, Julia Loktev, we flagged it. We flagged it hard. Luckily The Loneliest Planet (imdb | tiff) worked in the schedule, and we sat down Monday night to watch it.
Whereas most of Day Night Day Night was set in a small, bare hotel room or cramped bathroom stalls, The Loneliest Planet was set in the huge, stunning vistas of the Caucasus Mountains. But the stark, detailed, intimate nature of the story Loktev tells is still apparent, with small subtle gestures and movements and utterances making such enormous impacts. Nearly nothing happens in the scale of what we’d come to expect from Hollywood films, or any film for that matter, but that’s what made it so impressive — Loktev’s restraint. Her willingness to let a story tell itself rather than tell a story, her expectation that the audience will figure something out without having to be told. It’s very much a film festival film, and Julia Loktev is becoming very much a festival must-see for us.
I have written many, many times about the West Memphis Three, including a few weeks ago when they were released from prison after 17 years. Shortly after that Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, makers of the first two Paradise Lost documentaries chronicling the case, announced that the just-completed Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (imdb | tiff) would not be changed to reflect recent circumstances, but would in fact be shown as is. The filmmakers decided to get the new ending ready for the New York Film Festival instead. Still, a few hundred of us — including Morgan Spurlock — were pretty excited to see it.
In fact, there was little in this documentary I didn’t already know, so I’m finding it hard to come up with a proper rating. But it was pretty damn cool to be there with two of the guys who truly contributed to these guys getting out, and to hear them answer questions. I’m so jealous of the people in New York who get to see the new ending, especially since rumour has it that some of the WM3 might actually show up.
7/10 for the documentary itself, but a Spinal Tap this-one-goes-to-11/10 for the social impact Berlinger and Sinofsky have had.
Our second movie of the festival, and this year’s “Hey…how did that get there?” selection, was The Hunter (imdb | tiff), starring Willem Dafoe, but really starring the amazing landscapes of Tasmania. It was okay…not great, but reasonably entertaining, if a little hard to buy. But wow, was it amazing to look at. I was a little upset that we’ve not included any side trips to Tasmania in our upcoming Australia trip, even if the film does suggest it’s populated by weird hippies and dangerous loggers.
The director and stars stuck around for some Q&A after the film. I assume Mr. Dafoe was tired, since he didn’t seem terribly coherent. Also: he’s one short man. But he probably gained the movie one point out of ten all on his own, otherwise the jumpy storyline and thin plot would have kept it at a 5.
Anytime you can start a festival with a Werner Herzog documentary, you should start a festival with a Werner Herzog documentary. So we started our 2011 fest with Into The Abyss (imdb | tiff) on Thursday night, the first real screening of the fest.
The documentary sprung from footage gathered for a short TV series about death row inmates, but one particular story had enough depth for a feature. That story was of two Texas men, one serving a life sentence and the other on death row, as well as their family and the family of their victims. Herzog makes it clear from the beginning that he is against the death penalty but doesn’t spend time on making that case, instead focusing on the damage done to everyone surrounding a murder. The most interesting and compelling interview subject was a former captain of the ‘death squad’ at Huntsville. I won’t say more than that; you need to watch it for yourself. In classic Herzog style an incredible mix of drama, truth, humour and fascinating subjects bubble to the top and create a lasting impression.
Herzog and his editor took to the stage after the film, and talked extensively. I won’t be able to describe how he wrapped up the Q&A perfectly, echoing the final scene of the documentary, but he did. He was funny and insightful and so much more excited than the last time we saw him at the festival — understandably so; he’d just lost his adoptive mother. It was a classic Herzog moment. And a classic film festival moment too.
Just got the TIFF email. Despite being in the last box to be processed, we got 4 first choices and 1 second choice. Incroyable! That means we’re seeing:
- Into the Abyss, the new Werner Herzog documentary
- The Hunter, with Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill
- Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the documentary about the West Memphis 3 that was shot before their sudden release. While a new ending has been shot, it won’t be available until after the festival. Still, it will be cool to be one of only three audiences to ever see this version.
- The Loneliest Planet, which…I kind of don’t know what to expect here, but it was directed by Julia Loktev, who directed Day Night Day Night, one of our all-time TIFF sleeper favourites
Rampart, a big draw with a huge cast, but we’ll see it on the last day of the fest which means all the hubbub will have died away. Violet & Daisy!
[UPDATE: we decided to trade in the Rampart tickets for a Violet & Daisy screening after all. We rated it higher, it shows earlier in the festival and there’s a chance the director will still be around to talk about the film. So, in the end, despite being in the last box processed we got all five of our #1 picks.]
Pretty excited (and relieved!) right now.
I thought had it bad last year when our TIFF box was the second-last one picked.
This year we’re in the absolute last box. #19, when box #20 (of 33 total) was drawn.
In the immortal words of my old colleague Bat Le: “We have screwed!!”
[UPDATE: not screwed!]
Actually, not so big this year. Still lots among the ~500 movies that I want to see, but not as thick a crop as it seems to have been in past years. Especially when you filter out all the fancy-pants screenings. Anyway, here’s what we narrowed it down to:
Now…to find the time to fill out the booklet and drop them off!