My Overdue TIFF Report

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A Useful Life

My apologies to our readers that this has taken me several days to post my TIFF favorites. Upon returning to Seattle I literally ran to bag claim where I met the marvelous Miguel Gomes, whom I’ve been showing around town until 4:30AM this morning when he departed for Cambridge, MA. Such is the life of your film programmer. A life that might sound luxurious to you, a life that does have perks, but I’m rather exhausted and just starting to re-settle into the grind. Anyway such matters bore in comparison to the cinematic spoils of my Northward journey. I missed some of the bigger titles in TIFF this year because they screened after I left, but I hope to catch up with them in Vancouver or elsewhere.

Here’s a brief list of the handful of films I hope will make their way to Seattle at Northwest Film Forum or otherwise.

THE FOUR TIMES by Michelangelo Frammartino : Shot in the charmingly quaint village of Calabria (of Fellini fame), this was by far the best discovery of the festival. This four-part ode to man and nature connecting the dots among man, animal, vegetable, mineral — and dust. It is an observation of life starting with a goat shepherd and ending with the methodical burning of a tree. It has all the makings of a biblical play in the trappings of contemporary time. Another blurring of the lines between documentary and fiction, as Frammartino describes it “It took us almost five years to shoot the film, and it was plagued with problems. Then we returned to Calabria, where the film is set, various times, to film the tree in different seasons”. The tree in question is one of the films main protagonists, as are a dog, a baby goat, and a goat herder. Utterly original, this film will make its way to town I assure you.

CURLING by Denis Côté : Straight from his deserved winning of Locarno’s best director prize, Denis Cote steers us into the arctic prairie of the Quebec Provence delivering a portrait of a father and daughter utterly lost in the sea of white snow drifts, their hermetically contained home, and the deep bowling lanes where the father’s employed. A new spin on family dysfunction, the film stars Emmanuel Bilodeau and Jean-Francois, a single father who shields his daughter so much from society that even at 12 he has never let her attend school. Filled with bundled white bodies adrift in a sea of frigid snow, you’re convinced  that these harsh conditions and the characters rural isolation provide shelter from the most brutal forces of humanity.

SUMMER OF GOLIATH by Nicolas Pereda :  Winner of the Orizzonti prize in Venice, this is yet another exploration of the boundaries between fiction and documentary Perada evokes the atmosphere of a hot summer in the rural Mexican community of Huilotepec. The presence and visual absence of Mexico’s drug cartels haunt the residents of this forested community.

A USEFUL LIFE by Federico Veiroj : Described to me by all of my programming colleagues as a small must see film, this tale of the Montevideo cinematheque and its denizens is the latest cinematic reminder that venues like our own beloved NWFF are an endangered species. Shot in beautiful black and white, Veiroj depicts the efforts a small group of cinephiles struggling to keep open this increasingly antiquated venue. As a programmer the film held familiar echos of our own battles and pleasures of running these important cultural institutions. Instead of a slide show before each screening, patrons are treated to the repeated tape recordings of the venues programmer repeating “You love good cinema.  You need the cinematheque.” How true!

NOSTALGIA FOR LIGHT by Patricio Guzman : Using the vast Atacama Desert, its astronomical musings and its archeological and anthropologically pristine treasures as the latest entry point to Pinochet’s reign of terror, Guzman offers up the most varied discussion of Chile’s haunted past yet. Also wandering this desert landscape are the women of Calama who have four decades been turning the sand over in search of remains of their loved ones.  A blend of science, philosophy, and politics, NOSTALGIA is the most urgent film I saw in Toronto.

BLESSED EVENTS by Isabelle Stever : What happens when your one night stand turns into a life-long commitment. This portrait of a woman whose unexpected pregnancy brings her quickly into the life of the mysterious doctor and father of her unborn child is the most psychologically riveting exploration of pregnancy I’ve ever seen. Tense yet restrained, Stever is someone to watch.

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