"Hey, did you hear that Martin Scorsese is shooting a movie in Toronto?"
"No, what is it?"
That's a fitting joke for North America's most beautiful, elegant, and glittering megalopolis. Newcomers to the annual Toronto Festival of Festivals (renamed the Toronto International Film Festival in 1994) can't help expressing their astonishment at the lawlessness and abiding nature of this beautiful Canadian city. In response, Torontonians shudder and hang their heads in shame, sadly wishing for more filth and crime.
On the other hand, nobody shows anything but the pride associated with the Toronto Film Festival, which in its quiet 19th incarnation, September 8-17, has proven to be the best festival it can be. Critics, filmmakers and Toronto audiences all agree: this is the Western Hemisphere's sharpest, brightest film, fusing the contemporary modernity of Sundance and Telluride with the intellectual seriousness of the New York Film Festival.
At any time of day, at least five top-notch films are shown simultaneously, mostly North American releases, and there are midnight movies for those who haven't had enough cinema or have decided to skip the festival night. parties. Everyone who's anybody is there with their movie, so what's not to like about Toronto?
Well, distributors and PR firms too ubiquitous for one (or two) to start believing they are the real writers, keeping filmmakers in their hotel rooms with back-to-back interviews, grabbing journalists' arms and practically demanding conversations with their clients. . there's no question: Toronto filmmakers whose films are not distributed receive little attention when it comes to meeting with the press. The press is tired of interviews scheduled with movies hitting theaters. Also, newspaper and magazine editors, a bunch of adventurers, publish articles only about movies that come out. So why waste time interviewing someone, no matter how good the movie is, when you can't publish a story afterwards?
Needless to say, a number of documentarians, often with exceptional films, top Toronto's rarely interviewed list. And 1994 was a stellar year for documentaries, with nearly 30 major nonfiction films among Toronto's 200-plus films. This festival prides itself on its selection of documentaries, handpicked by experienced Toronto programmers.
"We're always looking for documentaries," Fest director Piers Handling said in a private interview.I WENT. "That's because they are rarely shown except on TV. But the kind we want are not TV documentaries. They are personal or socially conscious documentaries or ones that use documentaries in interesting formal ways and have a feel for the medium. I think the form of the genre is in jeopardy. Fortunately, there is a long tradition of documentaries in this country, starting with Grierson and the National Film Board. Canadians are form-sensitive and there is an audience for them."
Handling recalled several well-known documentaries that were screened or premiered at Toronto Fest, includingletters from home, hearts of darkness,year 1993 TThe Wonderful and Terrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. And arguably one of the documentary's best moments came in 1988, when director Michael Moore brought Telluride in days after it opened.roger and meNot only did audiences love the film in Toronto, but Moore's personal parody at the Toronto showings accelerated Moore's scandalous distribution deal with a major Hollywood company, Warner Brothers.
While proud of his Toronto debut, Handling wanted to make it clearI WENTFestival readers like to consider the documentaries (featured on cassette) that were screened elsewhere earlier in the year. Handling: "I don't care how many festivals they've been screened at, I think documentaries should be screened as often as possible."
At the 1994 festival, there was no doubt which premiere of the documentary drew the most attention. It wasmiga, a 119-minute portrait of the controversial San Francisco cartoonist Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat, by Terry Zwigoff, a friend of Robert Crumb's for 25 years and who once played in Crumb's band, the Cheap Suit Serenaders. Zwigoff filmed Crumb with almost unlimited access and complete confidence over a period of six years. Rarely has an artist exposed himself so openly and unabashedly, sexual neuroses and obsessions and all, and with many tongue-in-cheek visits to Crumb's truly bizarre family. WorddysfunctionalI can't even begin to explain Crumb's crazy mother and two totally trapped and deranged brothers. Yes, in this family R. Crumb is the "normal". and after seeingmiga, the artist's unique vision - Hieronymus Bosch meets Jefferson Airplane - makes a lot of sense.
A second successful documentary in Toronto was that of Jean LabibMes, a 143-minute, 35mm tribute to the late Yves Montand, a singer, actor and political activist who is as much a cultural icon of post-World War II France as Beauvoir and Sartre. The film follows Montand from his beginnings in show business as Edith Piaf's lover to his 1950s roles in such existential classics aswages of fear, and maintains his legendary romance and marriage with Simone Signoret for a while. I'm sure she was France's Bogart and Bacall: cool, smooth, sexy, smart. Their marriage survived Montand's famous affair with Marilyn Monroe, also in the film. Montand, who died in 1991, participated in this documentary. The out of place comment is his and comes from his autobiography.
Toronto 1994 was the scene of another documentary coup: the joint premiere (with Venice, in the same week) of Claude LanzmannIED. It's a five-hour tour of the Israel Defense Forces, working and reflecting as servicemen vividly remember the Yom Kippur War: what does it mean today for those who fought? In Toronto, Lanzmann spoke shortly before the screening: "Of course you have to see the film in its entirety," he told the audience. "Otherwise you'll miss the whole idea. I wish you a safe trip and good luck."
Most of the Toronto audience completed the "good trip", staying until the end and seeing Lanzmann's historical connections between current Israel history and the history of Jews in World War II brought together in the final hour. But some jaded viewers felt that the themes dealt with here are a little more esoteric and emotionally difficult to feel than those in¡Schoa!, Lanzmann's monumental dissection of National Socialism.
Of the¡Schoa!- Influenced documentaries have also been shown in Toronto with notable success. ForzedekIn a three-hour French play, author and filmmaker Marek Halter, as imposing a screen investigator as Lanzmann, searches modern Europe for 36 "Schindlers," those who saved Jews from Hitler. He asks her, "Why?" And angrily: "Why didn't other people do the same?" Halter travels from Berlin to Sarajevo and encounters incredibly moving stories. Why 36 of them? Because in the Talmud, Rabbi Abaye said, "The world is based on 36 righteous people."
Forsilent witness, Quebec-based filmmaker Harriet Wichin also finds her fair share when she travels with a movie camera (and a great cinematographer, Polish Janusz Polom) to investigate what remains of Hitler's death camps in the present day. She interviews Christians and Jews who have dedicated their lives to guiding tourists and ensuring that the events at Dachau and Auschwitz are never forgotten. These people are heroes. But what about the Carmelite nuns who established convents on the outskirts of these camps? Are they creating a bridge between Catholicism and Judaism? Or are their motives blasphemous in nestling themselves in the place of Jewish suffering because of their own Christian martyrdom?
To Within's credit, she admits that audiencessilent witnessdecide for themselves which Carmelites can speak on camera. Still, it is undeniably creepy to see nuns singing uplifting religious songs in a room where the Nazis hanged many anti-fascist freedom fighters.
Other Canadian documentaries shown in Toronto were included.Ali Nazimis Narmada: A Valley Rises, a moving film about a Gandhi-influenced protest march in rural India against the building of a hydroelectric dam, a demonstration that led to the World Bank withdrawing funding, a rare ecological victory; andres mungersmake noise, an energetic and personal look at Toronto's vibrant and articulate rap scene; darrel vargashunters and gatherers, a humorous collection of mini-interviews with lovers of American memorabilia, showing the idiosyncratic objects they are dedicated to; and Peter Mettlerlight images, the most successful - and famous - of the Canadian documentaries shown in Toronto. Arguably Canada's most respected young cinematographer, Mettler has taken his camera to the Canadian Arctic to see the brilliant Northern Lights and meet the eccentric people who live year-round under the world's greatest show in the sky.light imagesis a philosophical road movie immersed in snow, stars and darkness, a non-fiction story as gripping as Werner Herzog's classic documentaries of the 1960s and 1970s.
Finally, it is worth mentioning two remarkable documentaries from England.
ForTracking Down Maggie: The Unofficial Biography of Margaret Thatcher, documentary veteran Nick Broomfield (Soldier Girls, Aileen Wuornos: Selling a Serial Killer) plays a super-sleuth who follows in the footsteps of a former British Prime Minister who is on a book signing tour. Although Broomfield is filming this documentary for Britain's Channel Four, Thatcher always avoids an interview. You can spy on an opponent, and so it goes: Broomfield arrives, Thatcher flees. It's a sassy, sardonic piece of work, a classic example of a documentary filmmaker gleefully throwing "objectivity" to the wind.
dream girl, a BBC film co-directed by Kim Longinetto and Jano Williams, offers an incredible tour of Japan's Takarazuka School of Music. There, 40 out of several thousand ardent applicants are selected each year for rigorous training that eventually leads to acting in Takarazuka's revue with singing, dancing, and women (including male roles). Those who enroll in the school are trained to look like "femme" or "butch", to use Western terms.
And here's the amazing part. The "male" leads of Takarazuka's Las Vegas-style musicals, parading across the stage and boldly laying hands on the "female" leads, are becoming big morning stars in Japan. The ones who swoon over them, the ones who bring flowers and fall head over heels in love and scream like it's 1964 and they're watching the Beatles, are straight young teenagers. Thousands and thousands of them.
What is happening? mass hysteria? Mass lesbianism? It would take teams of anthropologists and psychologists to unravel Dream Girls, that rare gem of the documentary genre.
Gerald Peary teaches film in Boston at Suffolk University and Boston University. More recently, he has worked as a story editor for documentarian Errol Morris.