Thoughts from the Toronto International Film Festival

Over eleven days in September the city of Toronto played host to a film festival that is not only rapidly becoming as prestigious as its French counterpart in Cannes, but is also the most important cinematic event of the Autumn period. Operating as a public and non-competitive event, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) provides an ease and welcome which Cannes, in all its exclusivity and glamour, fails to instil within many aspiring directors. Conveniently held just a few months before the main awards’ season begins, the TIFF is undoubtedly the festival of choice for those filmmakers who wish to garner some serious plaudits for their creations in anticipation of the Oscars. Over three hundred films are screened throughout its duration, serving to brilliantly showcase the breadth of filmmaking as an art form in its own right.

Emerging from the festival were plenty of new films to look out for, from the next iconic teen movie Easy A, fronted by relative new comer Emma Stone, to the mandatory Hollywood remake; in this case it was the fate of the recent Swedish film Let the Right One In to suffer a reimagining. The remake in question, Let Me In, despite its highly questionable necessity, is sure to reinforce its lead actress’, Chloë Moretz, fixed position on the young talent radar.

Fans of more established actresses were well satiated by the attendance of Nicole Kidman and Natalie Portman in order to promote their respective films, Rabbit Hole and Black Swan. Each star has earned praise for their individual performances, with many members of the press already asserting that Portman’s name will be on all the forthcoming short lists for best actress. The film itself, directed by Darren Aronofsky (of The Wrestler and Requiem for a Dream fame), is a psychological thriller set in the world of ballet. Promising from its premise and trailer to be a heavily twisted film laced with balletic beauty, a flurry of swan feathers, and an unrelenting confusion of reality, Aronofsky looks set to deliver another stirring masterpiece. The film is inspired by Dostoevsky’s novella The Double and charts how Nina (played by Portman) gradually becomes her own worst enemy as she strives to embody the duality of the Black and White swan in a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

Kidman, however, settles on more emotional and poignant ground as the character of Becca starring alongside Aaron Eckhart in John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole. The film tells the story of a couple in mourning struggling to cope with the traumatic strain of losing their son. Although applauded by the film’s cast and crew for her performance, Kidman’s tumultuous relationship with the box office may limit the film’s overall distribution.

British cinema was represented in force, with films such as Mike Leigh’s Another Year gaining a positive reception. Sally Hawkins along with Dame Helen Mirren and Rebecca Hall are amongst the British talent with at least two films each to showcase at the TIFF. Hawkins’ drama on women’s rights, Made in Dagenham, is out now and headed by a strong female cast. Additionally, the upcoming Submarine, which sees Hawkins play the mother of the fifteen year-old protagonist Oliver Tate (played by the young Welsh actor Craig Roberts), is also one to look out for. The film is based upon Welsh poet Joe Dunthorne’s first novel of the same name and is directed by Richard Ayoade, better known for his roles in The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd. Making its premiere in Toronto, the film is essentially a coming-of-age drama complemented by a distinct sense of quirk, charm, and beautiful cinematography, at least according to the initial film stills and clips. With Ben Stiller as executive producer, and attracting positive feedback from the viewers, the film was picked up by the Weinstein Company in Toronto and will hopefully make it to our screens soon.

Further riding the wave of British success is the eagerly anticipated adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s (celebrated author of The Remains of the Day) novel Never Let Me Go, starring Academy Award nominees Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley alongside Andrew Garfield. To be released in late January next year, the film attempts to recreate the pervasive note of understated tragedy that permeates Ishiguro’s work. Whether this will be satisfactorily achieved is debatable; there is always a delicate challenge facing any director when converting revered pages into film. It thus falls to director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) to bring the script, penned by experienced screenwriter Alex Garland (Sunshine and author of The Beach), to life. Ishiguro’s presence and support at the press conferences in Toronto should, however, give the wary a certain degree of optimism. Moreover, Garland has been personal friends with Ishiguro for years, and has frequently read over and discussed the original manuscript with its author months before the book’s first publication in 2005. This intimate connection with the story, which covers themes he is undoubtedly familiar with exploring, should give the film a firm foundation from which to develop.

As far as there can be runaway winners at events such as these in the absence of a jury or box office numbers, the biggest success of the festival had to be Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, which was the recipient of the People’s Choice Award. This award is based upon the ratings each film received from the thousands of film viewers present; past winners of the award have included Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, Sam Mendes’ American Beauty, and most recently Lee Daniels’ Precious. Hooper’s film stars Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush, each of whom have been tipped in advance for mention at the Oscars given their performances. Set against the backdrop of King George VI’s ascension to the throne and the outbreak of the Second World War, it tells the story of how the eponymous George (Firth) overcame his socially crippling stammer. Screenwriter David Seidler displayed his unreserved commitment and personal enthusiasm for the project when he candidly informed those at the TIFF press conference that the inspiration for the film partially stemmed from his own victory over a stutter. A combination of professional and personal obstacles meant that Seidler’s initial idea was constantly placed in the void of many projects labouring in development. Now, after over thirty years in the making, the film is due for a general UK release on the 7th January, 2011.

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