How entirely appropriated that during Calgary’s special year celebrating its considerable achievements in all of the arts (2012 Cultural Capital of Canada), that the opening gala for its flagship film festival takes a bold step into the limelight. For the first time since inception (2000), the First Night abandoned the cinema and set up shop in the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. Judging solely from the large, enthusiastic crowd on hand, the shift was a marketing and financial success.
Starting a mere 10 minutes behind schedule (a feat in itself given the first-time logistical surprises that inevitably pop up) newly appointed executive director Steve Schroeder welcomed the throng with unbridled delight: given that this opening event of the 10-day run was also a fundraiser, if the momentum keeps up then the remaining $50,000 deficit could be retired, allowing the books to quite literally fade to black.
A covey of funders and politicians were allowed their time at the microphone to offer congratulations, share stories, dabble in good-natured Western Canada jingoism and—to a person—remember Peter Lougheed’s (and equally supportive wife, Jeanne’s) trailblazing initiatives (not least of which is the Banff World Media Festival) for the cultural community at large.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi stole the show with his infectious exuberance for the growth of the festival, happy to have so many voters sharing in the reflected glory. When it was her turn to speak, director Deepa Mehta not half-jokingly pleaded for some political magic for her hometown (“Nab him [Nenshi] and take him to Toronto.”). After introducing one of the film’s stars, Anita Majumdar (cross-reference below), Mehta was customarily brief in her remarks, concluding by saying “…and if you don’t like it, don’t say ‘It’s interesting’ to me outside” [the post-screening party in the foyer].
Eventually (see surprises, above), writer Salman Rushdie addressed the audience via the big screen, dutifully thanking many of the funders in the room once the audio/video glitches were dealt with.
Alas for the review itself, a complete appreciation of what looked to be a brilliant visualization of Rushdie’s tale of parallel twin births (using the exact moment of midnight August 15, 1947 when India began life independent of British rule and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan drew its first breath along with two baby boys who were destined to live each other’s lives) must await another day. Sadly, maddeningly, the amplification system that worked so well for the earlier speeches wasn’t up to the many subtleties and ranges of sound required to absorb every word and aural nuance of the extra-ambitious screenplay. The “Jube” was ideal for the “gala” aspects (notably a full-featured red carpet) but “not so much” for the meat of the evening’s menu.
A few general impressions will have to suffice and no “verdict” offered until the film can be completely experience as intended.
Rushdie serving as narrator had an early charm but became too self-indulgent (understood lines or not) as time went on. With such a well-known voice (heard yet again in his introductory remarks) the conceit that he is Saleem Sinai is a non-starter. The humour seems forced, but may well improve on the second hearing. The ensemble collectively turns in fine performances over this multi-generational epic narrative. The magic sequences take an extraordinary leap of faith; the convening of Midnight’s Children is a marvel of cinematography (Giles Nuttgens) and editing (Colin Monie)—their past experience with Mehta likely has them setting up the shots and cuts before she even has to ask for them). As to the story itself, Rushdie appears to favour the political agenda over the human experience—more to say about that when the complete work has been allowed to speak for itself. JWR