It feels great to be home after 18 days on the road covering the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. I saw a lot of fantastic films over the last few weeks, and a few that were a little ... well, not so great. After the peace and tranquility of Telluride, it took me a little adjusting to get accustomed to Toronto. Now that a couple weeks has passed, I can kind of look back with a sense of humor on my day spent traveling to Toronto. It went something like this:
7AM -- Load up suitcases into rental car (stylin' Ford Escape) and drive the three or so hours to Gunnison, the airport from which I will be departing.
9AM -- Get stuck on a mountain pass behind three semis hauling livestock, a rental RV hauling a car, and numerous cars between me in a no-pass zone that stretches for miles. And miles.
11:20AM -- Whip into Gunnison Airport parking lot. Park the rental car and go to find a luggage cart. The airport, in spite of serving Crested Butte, Telluride and other ski areas, has no luggage carts, so I must simultaneously get all my stuff out of the rental car and into the airport, by myself, without violating the security rule about leaving bags unattended. It feels like I've stepped into a logic puzzle at a Microsoft interview.
12:30PM -- Because you don't have to have one until after December 31 to travel by plane to Canada, I didn't get a passport for this trip. I hate long flights, so I never travel where I'll need one. Spend considerable time convincing the 20-year-old kid working the counter that the certified copy of my birth certificate, along with photo ID, is all I need. After three or four calls to Homeland Security or whatever, he finally figured it out.
12:39PM -- Gunnison is a tiny airport. The kid who couldn't figure out how to print my ticket? He's now working the security line, keeping us safe from terrorists. Yup, just about time for that Xanax.
12:50 -- Take a deep breath and force myself to board the claustrophobically small prop plane that will deliver me to Denver.
1:45 -- Safe in Denver. I want to kiss the ground when I get off the plane, but decide people might think I'm weird.
3:50 -- Settle onto the Air Canada plane for the ride to Toronto. A Seinfeld episode dubbed in French is what's playing for "in-flight entertainment," so I opt for my self-hypnosis CD and a nap.
9PM -- Because I am an honest person, when it asked on the customs form if I'd shipped anything ahead of me (I had -- our Cinematical tshirts) I checked "YES." This flagged me to get sent down the path toward immigration, where I had to go through two more rounds of questions about my business in Canada -- would I be taking a job away from a good Canadian? -- just how long was I going to be in their country, anyhow? Clearly, the shipping of t-shirts flagged me as a troublemaker. My anxiety was kicked up because Customs Officials, like motorcycle cops on the highway or random sightings of Catholic priests or nuns, always make me feel guilty, even if I haven't done anything wrong.
10:30PM -- Arrive at the hotel, where Cinematical's EIC James Rocchi meets me and graciously helps get all my crap to my room. And yes, you do need a suitcase just for shoes when you're traveling for three weeks. Duh.
10:32PM -- I frantically call Rocchi on his cell -- I just realized the red suitcase I have IS NOT MINE. It has the luggage tag of the girl from Calgary who sat next to me on the flight out of Gunnison. Jeepers.
11:34PM -- Arrive back at the airport to return the wrong bag and claim my own. As I'm walking, I glance down and realize her bag, interestingly enough, is missing the emblem from the front -- just like mine.
11:36PM -- Recheck the airport luggage tags (which I knew I'd checked at baggage claim when I retrieved the bag). Sure enough, they say "VOYNAR." Oh, no way. No. Way.
11:38PM -- Peek into front pocket, and -- 'lo and behold! -- there are my books. It was my bag all alon; someone at Gunnison must have put this girl's luggage tag on MY bag. Strongly suspect the 20-year-old fresh-faced counter lad/ace security expert.
1:00AM -- Make it back to hotel room. Take a hot bath to steam the disbelief from my head. Sleep.
And then, after recovering from the minor nervous breakdown I had the next day, I got down to the serioius business of seeing 20+ movies and coordinating our team's interviews. There was, as Martha noted, a fair amount of grumbling from TIFF regulars and press folks that this year's TIFF slate was not up to its usual luster. I saw many of the fest's better films the week before at Telluride, but there were still some shining moments. Here are the top five highlights of the fest for me -- and one lowlight.
1. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan -- I must confess that I was not a huge fan of Sacha Baron Cohen before TIFF, but after seeing Borat, I was sold. The film's first 20 minutes or so were funny enough to bring me back for the next night's re-screening, scheduled because the projector broke at the premiere. Cohen's political humor is absolutely great. The people Borat meets along his road trip from NYC to Los Angeles were a slice of Americana, and made me both proud and very, very sad. And if you've seen the film already, you'll understand when I say: I laughed so hard during the hotel fight, my ribcage hurt the next day. If you haven't seen it, well, trust me, when it gets to that part you'll flash back and think, "Aha! So THAT'S what she was talking about!"
2. Deliver Us From Evil -- This powerful documentary about a pedophiliac priest took me several days to recover from. The enormity of Father Oliver Grady's moral and legal crimes against hundreds of children whose families he was supposed to be serving as a man of god is almost overwhelming, especially given director Amy Berg's unique access to a man who was willing to talk on camera about his crimes. Even worse than "Father Ollie's" pedophilia, though, is the way the Catholic Church, in particular Cardinal Roger Mahoney, unabashedly lied and backpedaled through depositions about how O'Grady, who was repeatedly accused of inappropriate conduct with young children, was simply shuttled from parish to parish in northern California in a blatant attempt to sweep a gargantuan problem under a rug. Chilling, riveting, and deeply affecting. I'll be shocked if Berg doesn't get an Oscar nom for this incredible documentary.
3. Brand Upon the Brain! -- What an amazing opportunity: To watch Guy Maddin's intricately edited, black-and-white, silent film about a man returning home to the island where he was raised by a suffocating and paranoid mother and reclusive-scientist father, accompanied by a live score played by an 11-piece orchestra, live foley artists, a singer, and a man in a balcony melodramatically narrating the film. My senses were almost overwhelmed trying to keep up with the heady combination of sensory input, and I'm still flashing back to scenes from the film. You just aren't ever going to get an experience like this at your local metroplex. I love film festivals.
4. Pan's Labyrinth -- A highlight of the fest for me, this was one of my favorite films of the year. A young girl, caught up in the turmoil of post-Civil War Spain, finds refuge in a fantasy world as dark and dangerous as the real one from which she seeks desparately to escape. I love del Toro's dark fantasy vision (as he noted in the pre-show intro, "you can probably tell from my movies that I had a fucked-up childhood"), and I particularly like how he, as a friend noted, never looks down on his genre. He brings horror/fantasy up to the realm of art. James Rocchi's interview with del Toro, in which the great director pulls out his personal sketch books for us to flip through and film, is a film nerd's wet dream.
5. Fay Grim -- When I heard there was a sequel to Henry Fool, Hal Hartley's 1997 dark comic about Simon Grim (James Urbaniak), a socially repressed, nerdy guy who works as a garbage man to support his mother and nymphomaniac sister Fay (Parker Posey), my little film-geek heart did somersaults of glee. Henry Fool is one of my favorite films ever (Thomas Jay Ryan, who was also great as Satan in Hartley's 1998 film, The Book of Life, made his screen debut in Henry Fool to critical acclaim), and to finally get a sequel, this time focusing on Posey's character, with political intrigue and international terrorism thrown into the mix? Priceless. Besides Pan's Labyrinth, this was my favorite film of the fest.
The Biggest "Meh" Award of TIFF goes to Darren Aronofsky's tragically disappointing The Fountain, which was booed in Venice and only moderately better received in Toronto (and I'd bet that's partly because those Canadians are just so gosh-darn polite to boo, even if they think your film stinks like the odor wafting up on every other street corner from the Toronto sewers). From the trailer, this looked to be a very promising film, and visually it's quite lovely, but the story is a big mess, with way too many threads that Aronofsky attempts to weave into a harmonious whole. The big lead-up to what's supposed to be the penultimate moment of the film, accompanied as it is by the bloated, melodramatic score, was a huge "so what?" The one bright spot of the film is that, thanks to the fact that Hugh Jackman spends about a third of the film bald, meditating and levitating, like some futuristic clone of philosopher Ken Wilber, I'm now actually mildly curious whether this was intentional and if Aronofsky is a Wilber fan.