Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | September 20th, 2020
The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was founded in 1976. In 2018 and 2019, our Christopher Llewellyn Reed received official accreditation and attended the festival in person. This year, TIFF ran (virtually and otherwise) from September 10-19, and with the severe restrictions on press access, Chris did not receive accreditation (along with many other normally accredited critics). However, a new critic of ours, Melanie Addington – who is also the Executive Director of the Oxford Film Festival in Mississippi – attended TIFF (virtually) with an industry pass. Prior to the festival’s start, she wrote a wonderful curtain raiser for us. Now she is back with a list of her Top 10 picks. And since Chris received screeners to some of the films, anyway, from various publicists with whom he frequently works, he here includes brief recaps of 5 films he recommends, as well (and stay tuned for more such festival recaps, as he did receive accreditation to the 2020 New York Film Festival).
Seven days immersed in films without leaving a couch is the current “normal state” of film festivals. At TIFF, the hybrid model allowed people outside Canada to still feel a part of the experience. Industry, media and buyers were part of a five-day conference and given access to a variety of titles, some available only to certain types and some restricted by country.
Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg): Four high-school teachers start an experiment on just how drunk they can be to improve their social skills at work, and the film goes as you might expect when four middle-aged men drink way too much, but with Mads Mikkelson as lead, you can’t keep your eyes off their journey.
Get the Hell Out (I-Fan Wang): This is hilarious, bizarre, and fantastic at all levels and is amongst my favorite late-night screenings and one that I regretted not experiencing in a packed theater. When parliament turns deadly due to a virus, one woman must fight her way through it. Directed by I.-Fan Wang, the film is a lot of fun from start to finish.
Limbo (Ben Sharrock): This stirring drama about a Syrian refugee awaiting his status on a remote Scottish island was the top pick for me at this year’s TIFF. It stars Kwabena Ansah as Abedi and Vikash Bhai as Farhad, roommates in a situation of just waiting in isolation, a film for 2020 if there ever was one.
Never Gonna Snow Again (Michael Englert/Malgorzata Szumowska): The movie follows a mysterious immigrant masseuse as he travels door to door in a walled-off community, learning the inner workings and secrets of the rich.
New Order (Michel Franco): This took Venice Film Festival by storm and played TIFF the same week. A dystopian thriller, that never slows down once it picks up the pace, about the ruling class taken over by a coup d’état of an authoritarian regime. Being good does not save you and the violence is not spared for anyone.
Nomadland (Chloé Zhao): The film perfectly blends truth and fiction into one perfect Americana movie about older people who lost retirement during the recession and work job-to-job and live off the land. Starring Frances McDormand in a quiet yet perfect performance and real nomads Bob Wells, Linda May and Charlene Swankie. It won this year’s People’s Choice Award.
One Night in Miami (Regina King): Originally a play by Kemp Powers, now adapted to the big screen by Regina King. With four actors playing four famous men in a fictional night with some factual elements, the screen is lit up with the stunning performances and Leslie Odom Jr’s powerful singing as Sam Cooke. What is set in the 60s rings real for today, and while it uses the words of famous men, Powers says they are the same as those spoken by his friends back in college about what it means to be a black man in America.
Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore/Ross Stewart): About a 17th-century hunter meant to wipe out the wolves who instead learns the power of a pack, it will soon be available on Apple+ and distributed by GKids in North America.
Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has never been much for idle chatter, always preferring to put big ideas into words. Though his tenure with the band would be more than enough to guarantee his place in the annals of musical history, he has continued since then as a solo artist, actor, filmmaker and now Broadway impresario, producing, in 2019, a staged version of his 2018 “American Utopia” concert tour. A bare stage bordered on three sides by curtains of white beads, the production features a diverse cast of musicians from multiple countries, who together form an exciting backup to Byrne’s engaging, philosophical tunes. Directed by the great and prolific Spike Lee (Da 5 Bloods), David Byrne’s American Utopiapresents the show from start to finish, combining moments filmed over multiple performances into one cohesive portrait of Byrne’s dynamic chemistry as an artist.
David Byrne’s American Utopia comes to HBO on October 18.
Class in the United States is often downplayed, the imperatives of the great myth of the American Dream demanding that we minimize the strictures imposed by the vagaries of one’s birth. We struggle with race and gender, as well, and they can certainly trump class as barriers, but at least we occasionally discuss them more openly than we do one’s socio-economic status. Yet though we perhaps lack a national filmmaker of the working poor at the level of the United Kingdom’s Ken Loach (Sorry We Missed You), in terms of body of work about the subject, that doesn’t mean that no one tries. Here, Riegel examines the strains of life in post-recession Ohio, from which she, herself, hails (the movie is semi-autobiographical), presenting us with a strong heroine who scrapes her way to a better future.
A remarkable moving-image document that takes us into the heart of our current global COVID-19 crisis, the new 76 Days is cinéma vérité at its observational best, following healthcare workers and their patients in Wuhan, China (where the first known outbreak occurred), from January 23 to April 8, 2020 – the 76 days of the title – as they confront the medical unknown. Whatever one’s feelings about the origins of the disease and what could/should have been done differently from the start, the on-camera subjects have nothing to do with any of that. They are just human beings, struggling to understand what is happening, how to protect themselves, and how to save those in their charge.
For those deeply involved in the electronic-music scene, whether as fans or creators, the new documentary from first-time feature director Stacey Lee, Underplayed, will no doubt come as a welcome wake-up call for better inclusion and diversity within that world. For the rest of us, the film doubles as a primer on the roots of the genre (too vast to be effectively defined by “genre,” in fact) and a journey through its main contemporary purveyors and mavens. From Rezz to Tygapaw to Alison Wonderland to Tokimonsta to Nervo and many more, these women DJs and music producers are here to change the way we hear and perceive the beat. Join them to your own eternal benefit.
In her new documentary (the second one out in just three months) The Way I See It, director Dawn Porter (John Lewis: Good Trouble) follows Pete Souza, official Chief White House Photographer under Barack Obama, as he travels both the U.S. and the world, discussing his current role as anti-Trump tweaker, and how he got here. We are treated to many of the countless amazing photographs taken over his life and career – he also worked as an impressive photojournalist in between the presidential posts – along with supporting archival video, including from the Reagan and Obama administrations (Souza also worked in Reagan’s White House). Though Souza explains that he was not a particular fan of Reagan’s policies, he grew to have real respect for the man, his warmth and his humanity, and the feeling was mutual: Nancy Reagan asked that he be the official photographer at the 40th president’s funeral in 2004. These anecdotes should, to anyone not in the cult of 45, bolster the notion that the mission on which Souza is currently embarked is not about Democratic bitterness, but real worry about the state of our nation. If one is gifted with a platform, then one should use it. And so he does.
The Way I See It was released by Focus Features on September 18.
Hopefully, by next year, we’ll all have this pandemic under better control and be able to attend TIFF in person. Until then …