For Film Fans, Toronto Offers Glamour, Size And Variety
The Toronto Film Festival is as good as Telluride, but the two are nothing alike.
Telluride is a film lovers’ paradise; it's small, cozy and elegant; it nestles in a jewel of a mountain town that's grown chic and pricey, but still dazzles people when they get out of a movie and look around them. The Toronto festival is big and sprawling. It’s just one of hundreds of events in a great city with crowded streets, traffic, countless tiny ethnic restaurants, and the hubbub of business and commerce.
Telluride shows fewer than 30 new films; Toronto shows more than 200. Toronto is where films are launched for North America, not the big Hollywood pop films, but pretty much everything else.
Between acting and directing, James Franco may be the busiest guy in movies in America. He does both in The Sound and the Fury. The film is based on William Faulkner's novel that takes place mostly in the minds of three siblings of the once-powerful Compson family, now rotting away in Faulkner's mythical Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.
Bruce Kawin, the fine film historian at CU-Boulder, has written that while Faulkner's screenplays seem like novels, his novels are cinematic. In the past, filmmakers have missed that and turned Faulkner stories into dreary conventional movies. Franco is the first to see the spirit of Faulkner's writing. He lets moments in time tumble over each other and connects scenes by visual associations -- a color, a gesture -- instead of typical chronological progressions. The movie honors Faulkner's dislocations in time, which is how his characters experience their own lives.
In the story, there are four Compson children, three boys and a girl. The boys are obsessed about their carousing sister Caddy, even Benjy (played by James Franco), the son of limited mental capacity who moans and bellows throughout the movie. Meanwhile, the pretentious father makes useless pronouncements on just about everything, while over and over the film shows the grand Compson plantation house looking ever more like an ironic memorial to empty greatness.
As I came out of one early morning movie last week, a friend immediately dragged me into another, which turned out to be the surprise of my five days in Toronto. It's a documentary about the growers and makers of organic wines in the Tuscany region of Italy, by Jonathan Nossiter called Natural Resistance. People like to say that documentaries should show "both sides" of an issue. It's a silly idea. What do you do if an issue has three sides? Non-fiction films don't have to be unbiased either -- they just have to be honest and show viewers where they're coming from.
Natural Resistance is a ferociously one-sided film. It shows magnificent landscapes of Tuscany -- hillside vineyards, gorgeous homes hundreds of years old, the fabulous light in that part of the world. And the point is that all this beauty and agricultural richness is going to disappear if ignorant people keep putting chemical herbicides and fertilizers on it. The farmers and vintners in the movie condemn the European Union for regulations that serve only big commercial organizations. One winemaker shows how wines have a range of color according to the weather when the grapes are growing, but the EU demands that color be altered chemically for uniformity. Another describes how the regulations require a rigid standard for the vines, when they should be allowed to develop their natural diversity from plant to plant. A third talks about the effects on root growth of the methods of mass production. And through the film, what's at stake is culture and landscape beloved all over the world.
The Toronto Film Festival itself is a statement against monoculture and in favor of diversity. It may be too big and unruly, but the festival shows film from just about everywhere, big budget and low budget films, mainstream films and the avant garde.
Some are good, some not so good -- and that too is a good thing.