It is always an incredible experience being in the city for the festival. Films, celebrities, and film critics routinely make the front page of the major papers. Yorkville, the hub of upscale Toronto and thus the festival, becomes overrun with celebrity spotters, international media types, and, to be honest, a lot of tacky women and sleazy looking men looking to party and eat beside people like Oprah. At work people from LA and NYC are constantly dropping in, and relaying what they think about the latest ten films they've seen... that day. Everyone is always talking about what party they were invited to, or who they saw at some gala. Basically for ten or so days the laid back, unshowy, casual Toronto I know turns into something more akin to New York City or Montreal. This is all amazing but a little disconcerting, especially when all the stars pack up and head home, and Toronto's papers are once again filled with news of boom out West and bust out East. I love the festival, not only for the films, but also for turning the city I love into a lovably egotistical place.
Map from Metro News
Last night I saw my first film, the North American premiere of Hana Makhmalbaf's Green Days. The film is a clandestinely filmed dramatisation of the events leading up to the 2009 Iranian election protests, or Green Revolution. Makhmalbaf, the 20 year old daughter of famed director Mohsen, filmed without a permit during the demonstrations leading up to the election. She weaves a story about a woman's attempt to put on a play and search for answers to her country's political situation around the demonstrations. She also intercuts footage of the post-election governmental violence and repression. This film is powerful despite Makhmalbaf's contrived and unsubtle plot involving the play director. The film's power comes from its disturbing post-election images (especially the use of the now famous footage of Neda/"voice of Iran" being shot), juxtaposed with the optimism of the pre-election Mousavi supporters. Everything that is fictional is sub-par, and feels distinctly like student drama and student film. Having recently graduated with a degree in Film and Drama I do not use these dreaded, horrible terms lightly. I swear to God there is a scene where three women dressed as mimes (white face, black clothes) are literally silenced by an offscreen presence taping over their mouths. Subtle? No. Cliche? Yes, and of the highest order.
It has to be said though, that everything that is documentary has a gravitas and power that far outweighs the narrative and technical shortcomings. I saw this film with a theatre mostly packed with people wearing green bracelets and armbands in support of Mousavi and the Green Revolution, and their response was very positive. When I arrived at the theatre it seemed like everyone knew each other, people were embracing everywhere and everyone was speaking Farsi. When the film ended there was a nice (not overwhelming) round of applause. This leads me to the conclude that they admired the politics, but understood its faults. Overall, a mediocre film with some very powerful scenes.
Tonight I'm seeing the Cannes hit J'ai tué ma mère, and I'm so excited. It's a Québécois film from a cute gay 20 year old which is enough to make me call it my favorite film of the year, without even having seen it.
The director/writer/star Xavier Dolan is even the current coverboy for Toronto's fag rag Xtra. I'll get back to you with my thoughts.