JWR Articles: Preview - Toronto International Film Festival (Directors: Michael McGowan, Chris Abraham, Guy Maddin, Elida Schogt, Michael Dowse, Peter Lynch) - September 15, 2004

Toronto International Film Festival

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CANCON abounds

The 29th Toronto International Film Festival will be an eclectic mix of the familiar, the unusual and a healthy sampling of the bizarre.

Not surprisingly (but more so than in previous years when Canadian filmmakers were largely learning their craft) the ten day fest (September 9-18) will have a large homegrown component.

In total, 635 Canadian films were submitted (200 features, 435 shorts), 36 of which were international co-productions.

Two new programs have raised the bar and the flag of Hogtown’s annual celebration of “excellence in film and the moving image.”

Canada First! showcases emerging talent with ten features. It kicks off with Michael McGowan’s Saint Ralph (featuring Campbell Scott, and Jennifer Tilly), which tells the tale of a young boy’s (Adam Butcher) quest to win the 1954 Boston Marathon—the miracle required to bring his desperately sick mother back to health. Canadian veteran Gordon Pinsent plays the grumpy Father Fitzpatrick (just a bit of a leap from his decades-back brilliance as Will Cole in The Rowdyman, which is this year’s feature flick in the Canadian Open Vault presentation).

Other world premières include I, Claudia where first-time feature director Chris Abraham eschews togas for robes to tell playwright (and star) Kristen Thomson’s pre-teen angst-fest.

Mike Dowse’s It’s All Gone Pete Tong, in a storyline that could be an updated version of Beethoven’s life (see Beethoven’s Nephew, or Immortal Beloved), tracks the tragedy of DJ Frankie Wilde (Paul Kaye) who also gradually loses his hearing.

Canadian humour, eh? is never left behind. Who could resist Rob Stefaniuk’s Phil the Alien where an extraterrestrial being crashes into Northern Ontario and is taught by the local beaver (none other than Joe Flaherty) the joys of extraneous amounts of Canadian Club and the delights of gun ownership.

Special Presentations is highlighted by Don McKellar’s second feature, Childstar featuring talented Mark Rendall in a production that, hopefully, will have a better script than his last Canadian outing in Touching Wild Horses. Olivier Assayas’ much-anticipated Clean, starring Maggie Cheung and Nick Nolte will also have its North American première.

It wouldn’t be a festival without the shorts category. With 38 to choose from there is most certainly something for everyone. Not to be missed are triple-Cannes winner Ryan (mixing animation and documentary to depict the horrific results of cocaine and alcohol dependence) and Guy Maddin’s (Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary) four-minute wonder Sissy Boy Slap Party, destined to achieve instant cult status at all serious circuit parties.

With documentaries doing huge box office lately, there will be more focus than usual on this year’s Real to Reel and Wavelengths programs. More sobering than Fahrenheit 9/11, Peter Raymont’s Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire will be a hot ticket. The film chronicles the Lieutenant General’s revisiting of Rwanda in April 2004. Previously—as commander of the UN peacekeeping contingent—he witnessed the unspeakable horror when over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus were systematically killed. The struggle within his soul is riveting.

The discovery of a much different kind inspired Peter Lynch’s fascinating Whale of a Tale where the unexpected unearthing of a whalebone as Toronto’s streetcar system was being expanded in the 1980s raises a raft of questions, not least of which is how the huge salt water mammal ended up hundreds of kilometres from its natural habitat.

Visions, which features films by Canadian directors, will be notable for Elida Schogt’s ZERO the inside story. Largely shot in India, the concept of zero and its place in our psyche is explored. Also playing is André Forcier’s Acapulco Gold, a probing investigative piece that makes the bold assertion that “The Eternal Colonel,” currently residing in Mexico is Elvis!

David Weaver brings new meaning to the old adage “you can’t choose your family,” in Siblings, his entry in the Contemporary World Cinema section, which tells the story of the horrific reactions of four children to their straight-from-hell step-parents (Nicholas Campbell and Sonja Smits).

The talent and work of legendary celebrity interviewer Brian Linehan—in an evening hosted by Roger Ebert and featuring reminiscences from longtime friend Martin Short—will make September 17 especially memorable.

And for film fans everywhere, the inauguration of Director’s Dish is sure to be a hit. Newcomer Rob Stefaniuk (Phil the Alien) will post an interactive daily multimedia journal to the festival’s blog site where he will share his experiences as a neophyte director from opening media conference to closing bash. Be sure to join in the fun! JWR

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