Confessions of a TIFF Follower

Having attended TIFF with passion and devotion  and with my physical state intact for countless years, friends  ask me annually the same  question – why? Good question. It certainly is not economical to fly to Toronto and catch films which in many cases will arrive in Edmonton at some point in the near future. The cost of tickets this year reached the astronomical charge of twenty-four dollars for an individual film and for the galas which were selected to lead off the Festival forty – six dollars per. Perhaps it is the excitement that Torontonians bring to the city for the 11-day event. Or the long queues which stretched around the blocks for films (sometimes twice), not blockbusters or future draws in Edmonton but films preselected by TIFF’s programmers. Whatever it is, I was drawn in once again.

One of the challenges of the  39th year of the Festival is to discover the hidden treasures among the commercial hits as well as the low budget independents and catch them before the end of the Festival. And, of course, brag to friends upon returning to Edmonton of my discoveries.This year was no exception for films ranged from the sure fire titles like “The Judge” with the year’s biggest star, Robert Downey Jr. to the master Jean – Luc Godard at eighty-three years still impressing with “Good-bye To Language” in 3-D to small independent films like “Learning To Drive” on the unlikely relationship between a Sikh driving instructor and his student, both facing concerns about their marital relationships.

It was great to see stars taking chances on unlikely subjects such as Reese Witherspoon in “Wild” trekking for 1100 miles across wild vistas, Al Pacino as an ageing Shakespearean actor in “The Humbling” and Jennifer Aniston as a drug addict in “Cake”, Then, of course, there were the fresh new faces holding their own as in “The Imitation Game” with Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing , the World War II  code breaker, “Mr. Turner” with Timothy Spall as J. M. W. Turner, the master of light on canvas and “Theory of Everything” with Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking – all giving superb  Oscar worthy performances. The field for outstanding female performances was not as crowded this year, although Julianne Moore’s turn as a young professor who regresses into a rare Alzheimer’s stood out. And then were the disappointments, films like  Jason Reitman’s “Men, Women &  Children” was a failed attempt at documenting the impact of the internet and social media on family relationships.

Lastly, there  were the discoveries, the small independent films in addition to “Learning To Drive”. Films like “99 Homes”, Ramin Bahrani’s film on the impact of the U.S. economy on ordinary folk and several international imports. These included “The Lesson” from Bulgaria/Greece on the plight of a teacher in handling her economic plight coupled with her contrasting attempt to teach morality to her charges. “Theeb” was a beautifully shot film on survival in the desert during the Ottoman Empire and its effect on a young Bedouin’s coming of age. Closer to home, the NFB’s “Trick Or Treaty” serves as a reminder to all of us of the deception unleashed on the First Nations by Treaty 9.

Will I return? Definitely.

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