Saturday, September 08, 2007

TIFF Day 3 – 9/8/07

Celebrity Sightings:

Jody Foster, here with the Neil Jordan film “The Brave One,” in which she portrays a one-woman vigilante force.

Michael Moore, presenting the World Premiere of “Captain Mike Across America,” his strategically-released attempt to mobilize voters in anticipation of the 2008 presidential election. (As I write this from the press room, I’m actually watching Moore, via video, in his press conference.) The controversial filmmaker says he “visited 62 cities in 45 days, holding large rallies on college campuses.” He dubbed it “The Slacker Uprising Tour”!

Kenneth Branagh, here for his highly praised remake of “Sleuth,” starring Jude Law and Michael Caine. Probably won’t catch this one, as the release date is next month. I remember seeing the Anthony Shaffer play at A.C.T. in S.F. decades ago. Harold Pinter adapted the new version, which provides an added bonus.

Well, off to catch Sean Penn’s greatly anticipated “Into the Wild.” The famed actor penned and directed the film based on the book by Jon Krakauer, about a wealthy young college graduate, Christopher McCandless, who gives his inheritance away to OXFAM and, in the tradition of Thoreau and London, takes off into the wilderness of Alaska. We already know of his tragic demise, but, as they say, what a wild trip it was.

Ciao for now!

Cross-posted at "The Santa Cruz Sentinel":–day-2-the-buzz/

Friday, September 07, 2007

TIFF Day 2 –– 9/7/07

Wow, this place is jumping! The Press Room is packed. So far this morning, I’ve met a Brazilian filmmaker; a Turkish entrepreneur from Stanford, whose DVD-on-demand business is based in Palo Alto (“Need any writers,” I ask, expectantly. “I happen to have written my doctoral dissertation on Auteur Cinema.” [We’re meeting for coffee later in the week; keep your fingers crossed!]; a French film journalist from Paris Match; a representative of, and a young Swiss Festival volunteer, who is a dead-ringer for Eric Bana. Not bad for the first hour.

Saw three films yesterday “Ulzhan,” “Secret Sunshine” (South Korea, Dir. Lee Chang-dong), and the excellent neo-noir “Jar City” (Iceland, Dir. Baltasar Kormákur), plus an evening screening of “Persepolis,” that I mentioned in my last post.

“Ulzhan” (see yesterday’s preview)

The fact that Jean-Claude Carrière penned the script for Volker Schlöndorff’s film excited me even more. This emotionally wrenching story revolves around Simon Charles (Philippe Torreton), a man who, the film slowly reveals, lost his beloved wife and two sons in a car accident in France, and desires nothing more than to walk into oblivion. The film opens in exotic Kazakhstan where Simon’s Peugot runs out of gas and he takes off on foot with a satchel, which holds the bare minimum of his belongings. This middle-aged man is definitely on a mission to meet his Maker, but life has other plans and throws a series of diversions in his path. These interruptions range from the ridiculous (a “cowboy” poolhall, Kazak-style and a tour (including a runway fashion show) of Astana (“Brasilia in the desert”), a city with a two billion dollar facelift) to the sublime (a meeting with a con artist/trickster-shaman (David Bennent, the boy from Schlöndorff’s 1979 film, “The Tin Drum”), who “sells” words and a young female teacher named Ulzhan (the gorgeous and transcendent Ayanat Ksenbai).

A LITTLE MIRACLE: I know this sounds too good to be true, but I swear it is … just this minute, as I wrote “the gorgeous and transcendent …” I looked up and six feet away from me stood Ayanat Ksenbai! No time right now to write that up (check back in a week or so for our interview), but just to say that Ayanat is grateful to “Borat” for enlightening the masses about Kazakhstan’s existence! However, she believes that “Ulzhan” presents a “more accurate image of the true Kazakhstan.” Well, you heard it hear, Live at Toronto.

Ciao for now!

Cross-posted at "The Santa Cruz Sentinel":–day-2-the-buzz/


Thursday, September 06, 2007

TIFF Day 1 –– 9/6/07

2007 marks my second year at Toronto. And I hope to cement this as an annual trek to one of the major international film festivals (right up there with Cannes in May and Berlin in February). Last year I saw 43 films in seven days. (Impossible, you shriek? Not if you cram 16 films into the first two days, as I did. After arriving on a Thursday, on Friday, I hit the press office at by 8 A.M, and the Varsity screening complex within the hour. At two o’clock the next morning, I staggered the three miles back to my friend’s tiny flat, the attic of a 200-year-old charming row house. Her walk-in closet served as my office/bedroom and I slept on an inflatable twin mattress, which had a slow leak. By morning, no air separated my aching body from the floor. Sometimes “free” comes at a price.

My plan, after checking in at the press office first thing on Thursday morning: Sneak off to Niagara Falls for a couple hours. My only experience of this natural wonder is the 1955 Marilyn Monroe vehicle in which, as the betraying wife of Joseph Cotton, she pays the ultimate price when he tosses her off the local bell tower (not unlike Kim Novak in “Vertigo”). Well, we’ll see…

Celebrities on hand this year: Sean Penn (director of "Into the Wild"), Brad Pitt ("The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford") (both in attendance last year), George Clooney, Jodie Foster ("The Brave One"),

Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal (yes, they’re a couple), Terrence Howard, Viggo Mortensen, the Coen Brothers, Woody Allen, Collin Farrell, Joaquin Phoenix, and three actors and a director I’m most interested in meeting: Cate Blanchette, Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, and Gillian Armstrong.

As a member of the Press Corps, I’ve been invited to a few special opening night screenings, including Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis,” about a young woman's experiences growing up in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the black-and-white animated feature was inspired by her bestselling series of graphic novels, which I taught in my Arts in a Multicultural Society course at UCSC. Since I’m hoping to interview Ms. Satrapi, who now lives in Paris, this is the one I’ll probably attend.

Okay, sufficiently apprised of this year’s offerings, I’m off to my first screening of the Festival: “Ulzhan,” by German director Volker Schlöndorff (“The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum,” 1975, “The Tin Drum,” 1979, “Swann in Love,” 1984, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” 1990), about a middle-aged Western man in Kazakhstan, who abandons his car, which has run out of gas, and starts to walk across the vast steppes of Central Asia. In this intriguing-sounding exploration of one man’s journey within a journey, he occasionally encounters people and the trappings of civilization, but he never lingers long or veers from the course that leads to his unknown destination.

Cross posted at "The Santa Cruz Sentinel":