I’m sitting in an Industry Suite surrounded by many other industry professionals (distributors, sales agents, producers, exhibitors, etc.), and that’s the bubble I’ll be in all week.
I’ve been coming to this festival for 31 years (!) and I do miss the excitement of the public screenings, and their extremely enthusiastic and intelligent audiences (it always amazed me how much I learned from listening in on people’s film conversations while on movie lines). The enthusiasm can be notoriously deceptive; distributors may sense from an ovation and festival buzz that a film is going to be a hit, outbid their rivals for the rights, then see the film sink in the cruel indie film marketplace. In spite of this, thankfully, festivals remain a utopian realm for the appreciation of cinematic art, defying the multiplex marketplace.
So many industry pros make the trek to Toronto that the organizers have created a parallel festival of screenings just for those of us with industry or press badges. It’s great, because the lines aren’t massive and it’s easy to move between the fourteen Scotiabank Theater screens and see five or six films a day. The experience, though, can be the opposite of the public screenings. Industry people are too cool for school when it comes to responding with laughter and other signs of enthusiasm. They also walk out a lot, which is disconcerting, but may very well be because they are sampling each film and don’t want to miss the start of another one.
That happened during London Road, a lavish film of a British stage musical with a remarkable Steve Reichian avant-garde score. The actors sing the words of actual working class Londoners responding to a serial killing in their neighborhood. It’s a neo-realist movie musical and I’ve never seen anything like it, and I loved it.
Other films that impressed me a lot, and are prospects for our upcoming festival of arts films, include Gillian Armstrong’s The Women He Undressed, about the gay Australian costume designer Orry-Kelly. It’s great to see Armstrong (director of wonderful features like My Brilliant Career and Hightide) back in the saddle, and having so much playful fun with the documentary form. I was also impressed with the new Chet Baker biopic, Born To Be Blue, starring Ethan Hawke in an impressive, committed performance. Just yesterday, I was talking with another programmer about how awful biopics tend to be, and then this fine one comes along, that barely hits a wrong note.
My next industry screening will be Wavelengths, the nightly avant-garde program, curated by the amazing Andrea Picard, that’s a combined industry and public screening. It’s a privilege to see the challenging, totally un-commercial films in Wavelengths projected with exquisite sound and image to a packed, appreciative house of cinephiles. If you’re curious, check out Houston-based critic Michael Sicinski’s knowledgeable appreciation of this year’s crop.
Wavelengths will be followed by Janis: Little Girl Blue, a film about the glorious singer from Port Chester, Texas, that could be a perfect choice for one of my few remaining HCAF slots.