Posted: 09/08/2006

 

Toronto Film Festival – 2006

by Paul Fischer



Exclusive: Reporting From the 2006 Toronto International Film Fest!


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PART 1

The Toronto Film Festival is up and running at a typically hectic pace. Being a journalist here is not all fun and games, from lobbying publicists to rushing frenetically to the next screening, it’s a week or so of adrenalin-charged exhaustion. After 10 years or so of covering Toronto, it is clearly that this remains one of the most significant festivals outside of Cannes. But as I have said repeatedly over the years, it’s the movies that are all important, from the Oscar wannabe blockbusters to the odd gem one loves to champion, or a combination of the two. The first day involves screenings and running around before the business of the Festival commences. And the films that I’ve seen thus far are as diverse and eclectic as one can see.

The first question is: How many films about Truman Capote and his obsession with the farmhouse murders of 1959 need one see? If it’s as great as Infamous, then, the answer is self-evident. Writer/director Douglas McGrath has crafted a truly magnificent work—stylish, visually arresting, and compelling. Every frame is a delicate work of art, and the final result is a film far superior to last year’s Capote, which suffered from a languid pace and a detached air of dissatisfaction. The plot of Infamous is the same: while researching his book In Cold Blood, writer Truman Capote (Toby Jones) develops a close relationship with convicted murderers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith (Daniel Craig). Comparisons between the two will inevitably occur, but Infamous has what Capote lacked: an emotional resonance. While Hoffman’s Capote was a great impersonation, British actor Toby Jones inhabits the character with extraordinary depth and a profound sense of emotional realism. If there is any justice, the Academy will forget last year’s winner and bestow a Best Actor award to Mr. Jones, who is the heart and soul of this work. But the plaudits don’t stop there. While we all know Daniel Craig will be an interesting 007, his Perry Smith is a powerhouse performance, to the extent that one is never aware of the actor delivering that performance. There is no James Bond anywhere to be found, which proves that for the first time since Sean Connery, Bond is played by an actor, not a movie star, and their scenes together are electrifying. Sandra Bullock is a revelation here, delivering a beautifully nuanced performance as Harper Lee, and there’s some lovely work from Jeff Daniels as cop Alvin Dewey, and Hope Davis, always a standout as Slim Keith. Even Gwyneth Paltrow’s very brief cameo as Peggy Lee is glorious. Infamous, stylishly directed by Douglas McGrath, with Bruno Delbonnel’s glorious cinematography enhancing mood and tone, is a powerful, witty and exquisite film. If you liked Capote, you must see Infamous, superior in every way, and one of the first great films of the year. Hopefully it won’t be ignored come Oscar time.

Not quite as intellectual is Alex Rider: Stormbreaker, screening here as part of the new Sprockets section for kids. British newcomer Alex Pettyfer is a typical teenager who becomes an unwilling teen spy following the death of his uncle, also a spy. Imagine James Bond as an adolescent and, well, you get the idea. The film moves at a frenetic pace, but is hampered by moments of sheer haminess, and a ridiculous performance by Missi Pyle, without whom this first installment of the Alex Rider series would have been more engaging. A slick and neatly packaged teen action film, the movie boasts a nice turn by the film’s appealing star, while Bill Nighy, naturals steals the show. There are some great set pieces, such as a chase on horseback and a stunning sequence featuring Alex on a bicycle, but the film never makes up its mind if it’s lampooning the 007 genre or being its own film. It could have done with a sharper sense of humour, but ends up either taking itself too seriously or going for a more comically grotesque extreme. This is an unlikely Toronto entrant, but a male teen audience will appreciate the film’s action scenes and overall silliness. This is not a bad film, just a forgettable one.

While early Oscar predictions might seem premature, Forest Whitaker is a shoe in for a nomination as best actor for his riveting portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, in Kevin Macdonald’s The Last King of Scotland, which Fox Searchlight releases later this month. Scottish actor James McAvoy plays a recent medical graduate from university, who resists going the safe route at home working with his doctor father, to go on an adventure to Uganda . Initially there to help impoverished villagers, a chance encounter with the newly ensconced General Idi Amin, that leads him on a journey that changes his life. As Amin’s new personal physician, this fictional doctor allows us to see Amin’s paranoia and self-destruction. Weaving fact and fiction, documentary filmmaker makes his fictional debut with Last King of Scotland, and shows an uncanny visual eye. The opening shots of Uganda—shot on location in the African country—are richly textured, utilizing dense, vivid colour to show us how unspoiled the country was as Amin took over the reigns of power in a military coup in January of 1971. Then, as the dictator begins to destroy the very people he swore to protect, colour fades slowly and darker palettes take over. Stunning to the eye, Last King of Scotland boasts a tour-de-force performance by Whitaker, whose screen presence here is compelling through every frame in which the Actor appears. But McAvoy holds his own, going from youthful idealist to tortured soul, with breathtaking emotional maturity. Kerry Washington is also wonderful as one of Amin’s wives. Last King of Scotland is a compelling, masterful work, gripping and meticulously crafted by Macdonald. As for Whitaker, his stunning performance may well garner him the Oscar he deserves, and for his extraordinary performance alone, this King is well worth visiting.

PART 2

The Toronto Film Festival is in full swing, amidst the humidity and the ever prevailing sounds of cell phones and industry types, who flock here to see what’s hot—or not. Sometimes it’s a film we already expect to be good, while others sneak up on one. With over 200 films here, it’s impossible for any one journalist to see everything, not to mention conduct interviews, with publicists and studios desperately vying for media attention. On Day 2, the trick for me was to fill an already crazy schedule, catch up with an Aussie Oscar nominee and see two films that reflect the cultural diversity of contemporary cinema.

It’s a relief than even a small film such as Candy is highlighted. This Australian gem, from theatre director Neil Armfield, is one of six Australian features screening here. Marking the return to his native homeland in many years, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of a heroin addict in a self-destructive relationship with the beautiful Candy [Abbie Cornish] leaves you in no doubt as to why the actor was Oscar nominated for Brokeback Mountain. Here Ledger gives a ferociously raw and poignant performance, in this skillful, stunning film that explores the very depths and power of addiction. The film is enhanced by the exquisite Cornish and the monumental work of Geoffrey Rush. Ledger, who lives in New York , flew to Toronto for a few hours to promote the film which North American audiences will see soon. Agreeing to very few interviews and unaccompanied by an entourage or even a personal publicist, Heath spoke to me about the joy of returning to Australia and working on something in his own accent that is very special. In our brief but far reaching conversation, we talked about the impact of Brokeback and why he decided to play The Joker in the new Batman film, The Dark Knight. More on that interview soon.

Venus, from British director Roger Michell, is beautiful, richly evocative comedy/drama about beauty, aging and the inevitability of death, in this poignant, slice-of-life story revolving around a pair of veteran actors whose routine lives gets turned upside down after they meet a brash teenager. Peter O’Toole has been a force of nature since his Lawrence of Arabia of the early 60s, and for the first time in a decade, O’Toole is back, in a performance that can only be defined as flawless. Starring O’Toole as a once legendary actor now resorting to playing the odd corpse on British TV, his life changes when he meets a feisty and endlessly angry young woman sent by her mother to look after her equally crotchety uncle, deliciously played by the wonderful Leslie Phillips. His infatuation leads to a relationship that is both comic and poignant. O’Toole is in his element here, aided by the glorious work of newcomer Jodie Whittaker. Directed with sensitivity by the always reliable Roger Michel, Venus is a masterful, deftly funny and wonderfully engaging film that only the Brits could pull off.

There’s a lot of buzz, predictably, for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow up to 21 Grams, Babel. While we know that Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are the top headliners, this remarkable, complex and very atypical American film is not about star power. The film opens in Morocco where a strained married couple [Pitt and Blanchett] have their holiday shattered when a stray bullet inadvertently hits Blanchett’s Susan. The film then follows the seemingly disparate journeys of deaf mute Japanese schoolgirl Chieko, dealing with growing sexuality and still coming to terms with her mother’s suicide, while in Southern California, a Mexican housekeeper takes the blonde children in her charge to Mexico for her son’s wedding, with disastrous consequences. Babel is a film of raw and emotional power, as it explores the stupidly of humanity and its impact beyond themselves. The film also shows what a simple act, even within the removed poverty of the Moroccan mountains, can impact other lives, seemingly disconnected. Babel is a monumental epic, but even at near 2 and half hours, it never ceases to impress. Director Iñárritu makes an unapologetic film about 21st century immorality and human foibles, casting an often cynical eye, it seems, on American politics. His is an often angry and depressing film about a society in turmoil, and it’s unflinching, raw and consistently gripping throughout. Performances are superb, apart from solid work by Pitt and Blanchett, the film’s strongest performance comes from Japan ‘s stunning Rinko Kikuchi, whose brave, magnificent performance is ultimately the heart and soul of Babel . A very adult film, Babel is destined to score mixed reviews for a variety of reasons, and Paramount Vantage has a challenge to market this highly intricate, but compelling, human drama.

There’s also much to admire about Copying Beethoven, a partly fictionalised account of Beethoven’s last years, culminating with his triumphant 9th symphony. Beethoven’s life is told through the eyes of aspiring composer Anna Holtz, brought in as a last minute copier to Beethoven who becomes a kind of collaborator. Purists will no doubt scoff at the creation of this fictitious character, and the problem is in the casting of Diane Kruger. An attractive actress, she lacks the depth and emotional fortitude to be pitted against Ed Harris’ towering Beethoven, and their scenes are all his, as she dramatically struggles. Having said that, Copying Beethoven, directed with visual flair by Agnieszka Holland, remains an effective look at artistic genius and obsession. Ed Harris plays the tortured artist with emotional range and even sly humour, and his performance is Oscar worthy, yet again. Harris inhabits this most iconic of figures with every pore of his being, and for his magnificent performance alone, Copying Beethoven is worth the price of admission.

A hit at Cannes and a likely commercial success when released is Guillermo Del Toro’s sublime and intoxicating fable, Pan’s Labyrinth. Set in 1944, in post-Franco Spain, a sweet little girl is taken up to the mountains by her pregnant mother, in order to meet her new stepfather, who is the fascist captain of a military outfit up there, sworn to fight the last of the rebels still hiding out in that territory. Lonely and book-hungry, the young girl finds herself transported into a fantasy world in which she meets creatures who attempt to convince her that she used to be a princess, as she slowly confronts the monsters from within her imagination and her reality. It was no surprise that the press screening for this in Toronto was packed out, and even rarer by a sedate media, was applause at the film’s conclusion. Del Toro has returned to his Devil’s Backbone, taking a historical landscape and fusing it with a world of torment, abhorrent cruelty yet an innocent and rich imagination. A film filled with sequences that are on the one hand, lush and rich, and on the other, intense and violent. Del Toro is a filmmaker who is a rare and committed artist, and Pan’s Labyrinth is not what you necessarily expect. Like the worlds he creates, his Labyrinth is full of cinematic contradictions and extraordinary complexity. It’s that rare beast: an intellectual horror film for grown ups, but its horror is both real and fantastical. Del Toro elicits a memorable performance by young Spanish actress Ivana Baquero, who at 12, gives a detailed and mature performance as Ofelia, while her antagonist, the barbaric captain, is played with visceral power by the brilliant Sergi López. Stunningly shot by Mexico ‘s brilliant Guillermo Navarro, who also photographed both Hellboy and Devil’s Backbone, and containing some exquisite visuals, Pan’s Labyrinth is, quite simply, a masterpiece, an original, bold and unique tale that remains with the viewer way past the film’s closing credits.

Following some brief interviews with the star and director of the Australian black comedy Suburban Mayhem, as well as the always insightful and hilarious John Cameron Mitchell talking about Shortbus, I also spoke to Billy Connelly who turns up as a zombie in Fido and confirmed that he may next play Albert Schweitzer on the big screen. No, not with a Scottish accent, he said.

Finally, as Toronto continues along its hectic course, is Australian director Phillip Noyce’s Catch a Fire. It is clear, from that the outset, that Noyce, whose first feature was the at times political Newsfront, has emerged as one of the most mature and skilful filmmakers of his generation. Here, the director breathes new life into the tragedy that was South Africa ‘s reprehensible Apartheid, seen through the eyes of family man and soccer coach Patrick Chamusso [Derek Luke]. A true story, the film takes an innocent man who has gone out of his way to avoid the political upheavals of his country, and transforms him into a rebel as a result of tragic circumstances. Tim Robbins plays Nic Vos, the anti-terrorist cop who will stop at nothing to protect what he perceives as his homeland. The perfect companion piece to Noyce’s magnificent Quiet American, again the director focuses on complex characters caught in political and social upheavals. More commercial to American audiences than his Quiet American, Catch a Fire begins with images that are visually breathtaking, as his characters sing and frolic with simple abandon. Noyce’s use of colour accentuates his initial theme of innocence and simplicity, but that imagery darkens as the narrative slowly and chillingly unfolds. Derek Luke is outstanding here, in a tough role, one which he handles beautifully and with a dramatic power he hasn’t had a chance to explore since Antwone Fisher. Tim Robbins plays the tough cop with a deft subtle power, infusing the character with a quiet humanity that underpins his own journey to self-destruction. Noyce has crafted a film that is both melancholy yet uplifting, breathtaking to the eye, and one can see in Noyce the work of an artist who has come a long way since his early Hollywood career. What a perfect film to end day 3.

In the next two days, I get to spend some 1:1 time with Penelope Cruz, the legendary Costa-Gavras, will check out Morgan Freeman in 10 Items or Less, be hopefully amused by For Your Consideration and even have time to visit the set of Hairspray.

PART 3

If you thought Stranger than Fiction was an original idea, then think again. Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam’s Waiter deals with a similar theme, in this off beat story about a fictitious waiter who manipulates his own destiny by entering the real world of the screenwriters creating him. While it’s unlikely the film will get a wide distribution outside of Holland and other European territories, pic has a more grounded and dramatic feel to it than its more mainstream Hollywood counterpart. van Warmerdam is the writer, director and star and handles all duties with crisp precision. Wonderfully observant, the film is bound to turn up at festivals and should be sought out.

In contrast, it’s likely that Sacha Cohen’s Borat will be a huge money maker for distributor Fox, and deservedly so. Possibly the funniest and most outrageous comedy to hit screens in a decade, Cohen’s mockumentary of his Borat, discovering America pokes irreverent fun at gays, Jews and Pamela Anderson. Calling the film politically incorrect is an understatement, as there are sequences that make R-rated comedies such as Wedding Crashers, tame by comparison. This is a hard R, yet while one squeams at the sight of him wrestling with his naked, overweight producer, one is also laughing uncontrollably at the sheer audacity of it all. Borat is a brilliant satire on cultural diversity, which never allows the audience to rest. From its opening credits, Cohen’s Borat is a comic force of nature, a`one-of-a-kind- character that is unforgettable and pure genius. If you are not offended by gags such as the Running of the Jews, then you’ll laugh till you cry at the monumental insanity and of the year’s funniest and most brilliantly outrageous film.

10 Items or Less, written and directed by the talented Brad Silberling is low budget independent cinema at its best. Not a great film, by any means, but a sprightly, delightful comedy with an adept Morgan Freeman as an actor doing research in a supermarket as he prepares to play a night manager of a similar establishment. A chance meeting with a tough cashier with loftier aspirations, changes both of their lives. This is not a sentimental film as it may sound, but a chance to see Freeman show how deft he is at doing comedy, and he works wonders here, opposite the luminous and talented Paz Vega of Spanglish fame. A very light-on-its-feet comic charmer, shot in about two weeks, 10 Items or Less is getting a US release later this year and is worth checking out, for its irresistible charm and moments of pure, genial comedy. It’s an unexpected treat.

Caught up with Penelope Cruz in Toronto ‘s Intercontinental Hotel, who talked about the ease of working with Almodovar on Volver. She played down her Oscar chances, spoke at length about the ups and downs of her career, and was charming, forthright and fascinating. Don’t miss my exclusive interview coming soon. I also attended a dinner for Pan’s Labyrinth, and sat near the formidable Guillermo Del Toro. What can one say about him that hasn’t been said: affable, charming, larger than life and never dull, though he did insult me for having coke, not a glass of wine, to toast his new movie. He also confirmed, along with Ron Perlman who was there, that Hellboy 2 will start shooting in April/May for Universal. Fans will be excited, but meanwhile, his latest film remains the must see of the year, when Picturehouse—which also generously hosted this dinner—releases the film in December.

Perhaps the most disappointing film thus far, was Christopher Guest’s unusually stilted For your Consideration. Throwing out the mockumentary format that proved so brilliant in his last three films, this time we have a more straightforward narrative comedy about an Indie film that suddenly attains some unexpected Oscar buzz. Here is a film with plenty of moments, but as a whole, it lacks the satiric bite that so beautifully defined Guest’s previous work. Of course, there are cast members who do their shtick with comic finesse, such as the wonderful Fred Willard as co-host of an Entertainment Tonight-type TV show, and occasional moments by Catherine O’Hara in the film-within-the-film sequences. Perhaps because one has high expectations that can’t possibly live up to Best in Show, the group’s best film, that For your Consideration doesn’t quite live up to its full potential. It seems that Guest’s direction needs tightening up and even some of the improv is less spontaneous. There are moments where one smiles, laughs a bit but it has a lack of energy that never gains the kind of comic momentum we expect. Perhaps this time around, Mr. Guest’s heart wasn’t in it.

PART 4

From Alzheimer’s to a Western, through to a disappointing drama set in 1968, Toronto buzzes and hums along with an eclectic array of films for the diverse, cinematic palate.

In her directorial debut, Sarah Polley’s Away from Her is one of the most delicate and exquisite films of the Festival. After Fiona (Julie Christie) is hospitalized for Alzheimer’s, husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) is left to face a lifetime’s worth of emotional complications, as well as a major new one after Fiona begins to fall for a fellow patient [Michael Murphy] after a month of hospitalization, during which time she was prohibited from having visitors. Polley directs this mesmerising and heart wrenching masterpiece, with a fluidity of grace and emotional resonance that allows this story to be told without resorting to undue sentimentality yet the film is very much a poignant and emotive masterwork. Seeing Julie Christie here, there is an agelessness about her that is extraordinary, and her performance is one that is hauntingly delicate and full of emotional depth. Christie reveals so much with so little and reminds one of how utterly brilliant and effortless she is as an actor. Her co-star, Canada ‘s Gordon Pinsent is also a wonderful presence, under the gifted and sensitive direction of Polley, whose career as a filmmaker is well and truly assured here.

Spoke to Ed Harris shortly after the above screening, who laughed off all the Oscar talk surrounding his hypnotic portrayal of Beethoven in Copying Beethoven. Harris confirmed that he would be returning behind the camera, to shoot what he describes as “a classical Western”. He hopes to start shooting by early next year, while the formidable Guillermo Del Toro, spoke with great passion about Hellboy 2, which he says will be quite different from the original. Watch for these interviews coming soon.

Dixie Chicks—Shut up and Sing, directed by the hugely talented Barbara Koppel and co-director Cecilia Peck, have crafted an illuminating and thoroughly entertaining documentary with strong commercial appeal and a possible Oscar nod for documentary. The movie beautifully explores the experiences of the Dixie Chicks over the last three years, chronicling the often bizarre consequences of singer Natalie Maines’ anti-Bush wisecrack on a London stage. Maines ’ statement is captured in this sometimes funny and provocative film, as are the meetings where they plot how to circumvent the core country audience and, eventually, how to reroute a tour and cancel shows due to poor ticket sales. An intelligent film about celebrity and politics, the film shows us the human side of this extraordinary trio that supports each other through births and political missteps. It’s a film that shows the often narrow mindedness of Middle America , the Chicks’ core audience, and the impact that the Christian right can play. But the film is also energetic, captivating and compelling, offering mainstream audiences a unique look into the world of three complex musical artists. This is a must see!

Then there’s the much awaited Bobby, written, directed by and co-starring Emilio Estevez, in this multi-character drama, set in the Ambassador Hotel, the night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. There are 22 characters here, played by a variety of A and B-list stars. William H. Macy plays the manager of the famous hotel and Sharon Stone plays his wife and hairdresser of the hotel. Heather Graham plays one of switchboard operators with whom Macy is having an affair. Demi Moore plays Virginia Fallon, the alcoholic lounge singer who is set to introduce the doomed candidate of the presidency, with Estevez portraying Moore’s husband and manager being tormented inside by his wife’s addiction. Lindsay Lohan plays Diane, a young bride to be, who is marrying her boyfriend’s brother to keep him from going to Vietnam , with Elijah Wood as the future and very grateful husband. Freddy Rodriguez and Jacob Vargas play Mexican kitchen staff members whom are working a double shift and are in search of equality. Laurence Fishburne is Edward Robinson, an older black kitchen staff employee who is teaching his staff members about offering more to life than anger. Joshua Jackson and Nick Cannon are campaign managers for the infamous Bobby, while real life father of Estevez, Martin Sheen is Jack, a depressed older man who marries a younger woman portrayed by Helen Hunt. Christian Slater is Timmons the very racist kitchen staff manager who is not subtle about his feelings towards minorities, while veterans Sir Anthony Hopkins and Harry Belafonte are John Casey, the owner of the hotel and Nelson, an old friend reminiscing of the old days in the hotel. Bobby is like an over-stuffed Xmas stocking with too much going on, for too little reward. Hampered by an over abundance of characters, some more interesting than others, the movie is hit and miss. However, Estevez does show talent as a director, with some key sequences quite impressive, including a visually memorable LSD moment which is rather stunning. Some sub-plots merely don’t work or are not as dramatically engaging as others. The weakest are the Lindsay Lohan sequence. Her fabled partying and negative PR would be fine if the girl concentrated on her acting, but in this she squanders her screen time, and is insipid and uninteresting, so that sequence should be cut down at best. Sharon Stone looks awful, but Demi Moore is a revelation and is wonderful in this film, one of the only female cast members to be interesting.

Anthony Hopkins and Harry Belafonte give elegant performances and their storyline is consistently engaging, as is the sublime work by Fishburne and Rodriguez, with Estevez slyly and intelligently commenting on race in America post-Martin Luther King. Estevez is a talented filmmaker, and Bobby has moments of eloquence and audacity, but for release, the film needs tightening and an objective re-examination of what are the paramount themes he wants, and what works as strong, dramatic narrative. But it’s nice to see Emilio back in the saddle with a flawed, but still fascinating, film.

Seraphim Falls is a visually grand and striking Western set at the end of the Civil War. Liam Neeson is magnificent as a southerner who vows revenge on a Northerner [Pierce Brosnan] whom he blames for a major act of atrocity that occurred at the tail end of the war. An impressive directorial debut by David Von Ancken, who also co-wrote the script, pic looks gorgeous, as it shifts from the harshness of the snow-capped mountains to the blistering desert. A film that is purely visual with minimum dialogue, both Neeson and Brosnan give arresting performances, powerful and emotive. Brosnan especially is as removed from his Bond persona as you can get, delving deeply into the soul of a tortured character. A film ultimately about forgiveness, it works splendidly as a visceral chase movie, stripped of the technologies of the contemporary world, thus making it a fiery character piece, but it lets itself down with a rather clumsy ending that needs re-shooting if the film is to work in a mainstream setting. Yet with that flaw, the film is still a majestic and glorious work, featuring two great performances by Neeson and Brosnan.

I also caught up with Forest Whitaker, already tipped for an Oscar nomination for Last King of Scotland. Have known him for years, and he remains an energetic, highly intelligent and fun guy. In our interview, he discussed the challenges of playing Idi Amin, his disappointment for not getting an Emmy nomination for The Shield, and he spoke at length about his 5 episode arc on E.R. Lots to discuss and that interview will run in the next few weeks. Also spoke to Toby Jones, the new Truman Capote who has not seen the other film, and looks uncannily like the real guy. An interesting actor, quietly reserved, he talked about getting into that character and how it all came to be.

Tomorrow is my last day and full of interviews: an exclusive half hour chat with Emilio Estevez is on the table, plus one on ones with Laura Linney, Pierce Brosnan, Ron Perlman and the exquisite Julie Christie. Final thoughts on Toronto 2006 coming soon!

PART 5—FINAL THOUGHTS

This last day at Toronto for this weary journalist was spent in the walls of the Intercontinental Hotel. It was a day of final interviews, all one exclusives. The biggies began with the legendary Julie Christie, star of Sarah Polley’s critically acclaimed, stunning directorial debut, Away from Her, which has just been bought by Lions Gate. Christie agreed to do very few interviews, so it was fortunate that the star of classics such as Dr Zhivago, Darling, Don’t Look Now, McCabe and Mrs Miller and Shampoo, agreed to chat to me. In our far reaching interview, Christie talks about this latest film, as well life as the 60s ‘It’ girl. Fascinating, eloquent and a ferocious intellectual, meeting Ms Christie was a major high point during a frenetic festival.

If it’s Toronto , it must be time to interview regular attendee Laura Linney, here with the Australian film Jindabyne, which Sony Classics will release later this year. But Laura also co-stars with Robin Williams in Man of the Year, a rare mainstream Hollywood film for her, and in that interview, to run next week, Linney talks about both of those films.

It was also great to meet the two directors of Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing, Barbara Koppel and Cecilia Peck. They did craft a wonderful film that is continuing to get rave reviews, and they talked about working with the trio and the process of making a documentary such as this.

Then spent nearly half an hour with Emilio Estevez, who described his absence from the screen as the result of Hollywood being unforgiving for his past box office failures. But Estevez is back with a vengeance as star and director of Bobby, a complex pierce with 22 major speaking roles, and the director confirmed he has at least two other projects ready to go.

It’s always great catching up with Pierce Brosnan, playing a disheveled soldier on the run in the dark Western, Seraphim Falls . Brosnan did confirm that he is definitely doing a sequel to Thomas Crown Affair, with the working title The Topkapi Affair, that is expected to shoot on location in Istanbul . Brosnan told me about the blessing and curse of Bond and his regret at not doing Casino Royale. He was candid and charming, and another interview to watch out for.

That plus Jennifer Lopez saying hello to me, marked the perfect end to the Festival. And thus endeth Toronto for another, crazy year. Movies and celebrities were in abundance, the cell phones were heard in all directions, and once again some great movies were revealed here. Even the publicists were more of a pleasure to work with this year. Kudos to the International House of Publicity ‘[aka IHOP] for being the number 1 PR agency in Toronto again this year. After all, anyone who allows me to speak to Julie Christie and Penelope Cruz gets a gold star on my book.

Until we meet in the dark again, happy movie going!

‘DEATH’, ‘BELLA’ VIE FOR TOP TORONTO HONOURS.

By Paul Fischer at the Toronto Film Festival

FESTIVAL’S 2006 AWARDS HONOURS DISTINGUISHED CANADIAN AND INTERNATIONAL TITLES

10 days and 352 films, later, this year’s 31st Toronto International Film Festival comes to a close this past weekend with a highly-anticipated Awards Reception at the Hilton Hotel Toronto. Four out of the seven winners this year are first time feature filmmakers showcasing the freshest voices in international cinema. Covering topics including family, desperation, spirituality, politics, and globalization, the international landscape of the Festival is highlighted through the winners this year.

First this year came the inaugural Swarovski Cultural Innovation Award honouring the artistry, innovation and audacity of one of the Festival’s inventive Visions titles as selected by an international industry jury of major visual artists. This year’s award goes to Vzer Kiziltan’s Takva—A Man’s Fear Of God (Turkey/Germany), which follows a 45-year-old single man whose core belief in—and fear of—God is put to the test.

The highly coveted People’s Choice Award, voted on by Festival audiences, went to the American feature, BELLA, written and directed by Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, revolving around two individuals whose lives converge and turn upside down on a single day in New York City. Honourable mentions went to first runner-up, Patrice Leconte’s Mon Meilleur Ami (France), and second runner-up to the freshly entertaining Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck documentary. Dixie Chicks: Shut Up And Sing.

Joachim Trier’s Reprise from Norway is the recipient of the Diesel Discovery award. A comedic portrayal of two young men whose shared dream of becoming a writer is trampled upon by the harsh face of reality, Reprise is Trier ‘s feature filmmaking debut, while the Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) was awarded to Gabriel Range ‘s Death Of A President “for the audacity with which it distorts reality to reveal a larger truth.” This prize is annually bestowed upon a feature film directed by an emerging filmmaker, and made its world premiere at the Festival.

Other prizes went to Canadian feature, this being a Canadian film festival after all. The Citytv Award for Best Canadian First Feature went to Nokl Mitrani for Sur La Trace D’igor Rizzi, while the Toronto-City Award for Best Canadian Feature Film went to Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary Manufactured Landscapes, a portrait of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky.

Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.



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