As I wrote last week, the various movie business trade publications are more concerned about the politics of the fall festival season than actual festival attendees are. A lot of attention was paid a week ago to the first wave of Toronto International Film Festival announcements, and to what the TIFF programmers did and didn’t book as a “world première.” But for people like me who are only going to go to Toronto this September (not to Venice, Telluride, or New York), what matters is the overall wealth of what TIFF will be screening, not whether the festival will be showing these movies first.
That’s why today’s announcement of TIFF 2014’s “Midnight Madness,” “TIFF Docs,” “Masters,” and “Vanguard” programs is even more important than last week’s “Gala” and “Special Presentations” list. The meat of what TIFF has to offer—and some of its real discoveries—are often found in these side programs, which combine the best of earlier international film festivals and a few funky premières. And it’s not like TIFF didn’t score some coups. Among the name filmmakers debuting new work in Toronto in September are Michael Winterbottom, Dave McKean, Peter Strickland (following up Berberian Sound Studio), and Kevin Smith (who brings his much-buzzed horror-comedy Tusk).
But just as exciting in today’s announcement is the return of some films that wowed Sundance (The Guest, What We Do In The Shadows) and Cannes (It Follows, Goodbye To Language), and the appearance of some of the most-anticipated Venice premieres (including Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act Of Killing sequel, and Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence). The fall festival circuit doesn’t just provide a platform for Oscar-contenders, it also confirms the films that people who love cinema will be talking about for the next year, and the more these movies screen, the wider that conversation ranges.
We’ll have more on the full TIFF lineup as the festival approaches, and further announcements get made. For now, here’s the list of today’s new titles, with descriptions taken from TIFF’s press release:
Bent Hamer, Norway/Germany/France (World Première)
When Norwegian scientist Marie attends a seminar in Paris on the actual weight of a kilo, it is her own measurement of disappointment, grief and love that ends up on the scale. Starring Ane Dahl Torp, Laurent Stocker and Stein Winge.
A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence
Roy Andersson, Sweden/Norway/France/Germany (North American Première)
Like a modern-day Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Sam and Jonathan, two travelling salesmen peddling novelty items, take audiences on a kaleidoscopic journey through human destinies. This is a trip that shows us the beauty of single moments, the pettiness of others, the humour and tragedy that is in us, and the frailty of humanity.
The Face Of An Angel
Michael Winterbottom, United Kingdom (World Première)
Why are we fascinated by murder? Inspired by the killing of British student Meredith Kercher in Italy, this film looks beyond the salacious headlines to explore both the media and the public’s obsession with violent stories, whether fictional or real. Starring Daniel Brühl, Kate Beckinsale, Valerio Mastandrea and Cara Delevingne.
The Golden Era
Ann Hui, China/Hong Kong (North American Première)
Xiao Hong, one of the most famous female writers, lived through the most turbulent times in contemporary China. Her estrangement from her father sparked a long quest for an emotionally satisfying life. She was rescued from poverty by writer Xiao Jun, but their competitive relationship brought her more heartache than joy. While escaping the Japanese invasion, she married novelist Duanmu Hongliang and fled to Hong Kong. Starring Tang Wei and Feng Shao Feng.
Goodbye To Language 3D
Jean-Luc Godard, France (North American Première)
The idea is simple: A married woman and a single man meet. They love, they argue, fists fly. A dog strays between town and country. The seasons pass. The man and woman meet again. The dog finds itself between them. The other is in one, the one is in the other and they are three. The former husband shatters everything. A second film begins: the same as the first, and yet not. From the human race we pass to metaphor. This ends in barking and a baby’s cries. In the meantime, we will have seen people talking of the demise of the dollar, of truth in mathematics and of the death of a robin.
Hill Of Freedom
Hong Sang-soo, South Korea (North American Première)
South Korean master Hong Sang-soo crafts yet another delightful, soju-saturated tale of love thwarted in this story of a heartsick Japanese man who travels to Seoul to attempt a reunion with the woman he still pines for. Starring Ryo Kase, Sori Moon, Younghwa Seo and Euisung Kim.
Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia (Canadian Première)
Kolia lives in a small fishing town near the Barents Sea. He owns an auto-repair shop that stands right next to the house where he lives with his young wife Lilya (Elena Liadova) and his son Roma (Sergueï Pokhodaev) from a previous marriage. The town’s corrupt mayor Vadim Shelevyat is determined to take away his business, his house, as well as his land. First the mayor tries buying off Kolia, but Kolia unflinchingly fights as hard as he can so as not to lose everything he owns. Facing resistance, the mayor starts being more aggressive. Starring Alexey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovitchenkov, Roman Madyanov and Anna Ukolova.
Im Kwon-taek, South Korea (North American Première)
A middle-aged man who has recently lost his wife to cancer indulges in fantasies about a young woman at his work in the new film from Korean master Im Kwon-taek (Chunhyang). Starring Ahn Sung-ki, Kim Qyu-ri and Kim Ho-jung.
Abderrahmane Sissako, France/Mauritania/Mali (North American Première)
Luminous, lyrical and poetic, set during the early days of the 2012 fundamentalist takeover of northern Mali and inspired by real people and real events, Timbuktu is a searing drama about the everyday woes and resistance of ordinary people in a city overrun by extremist foreign fighters. Starring Ibrahim Ahmed aka Pino, Toulou Kiki and Abel Jafri.
[REC] 4: Apocalypse
Jaume Balagueró, Spain (World Première)
Angela Vidal wakes up in a high-security quarantine facility, sole survivor and witness to the horrific events inside the building. But does she remember what happened to her? Is she carrying a virus? Distrust spreads through the isolated facility while new, even more deadly forms of evil spread even faster.
Jalmari Heleander, Finland/United Kingdom/Germany (World Première)
The fate of the most powerful man in the world lies in the hands of a 13-year-old boy. Plunged into a deadly game of cat and mouse, Oskari and the president must team up to survive the most extraordinary night of their lives.
Jonas Govaerts, Belgium (World Première)
Young, imaginative 12-year-old Sam heads off to camp with his Cub Scouts pack. In the woods, he stumbles upon a strange tree house and a masked, feral child. When his leaders ignore his warnings about the mysterious boy, Sam starts to feel increasingly isolated from the pack, and convinced a terrible fate awaits them all.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films
Mark Hartley, Australia (International Première)
Director Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood, Machete Maidens Unleashed!) continues his delightful documentary disinterment of down- market movie detritus with this chronicle of the rise and fall of 1980s action-exploitation juggernaut Cannon Films, whose contributions to the cinematic canon include American Ninja, The Delta Force, Death Wish II and Masters of the Universe.
Adam Wingard, USA (Canadian Première)
The follow-up to Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s wildly popular You’re Next, The Guest tells the story of a mysterious and devastatingly charming visitor, David (Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey) who arrives on the doorstep of a bereaved family claiming to be the best friend of their dead son, a young soldier who died in action. The Petersons welcome David into their home and into their lives, but when people start mysteriously dying in town, their teenage daughter Anna (Maika Monroe of It Follows) starts wondering if David is responsible.
David Robert Mitchell, USA (North American Première)
For 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe), the fall should be about school, boys and weekends at the lake. Yet after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter she suddenly finds herself plagued by nightmarish visions; she can’t shake the sensation that someone, or something, is following her. As the threat closes in, Jay and her friends must somehow escape the horrors that are only a few steps behind. With a riveting central performance from Monroe and a strikingly ominous electronic score by Disasterpeace, It Follows is an artful psychosexual thriller from David Robert Mitchell (whose The Myth of the American Sleepover premiered at Critics’ Week in 2010). The film also stars Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, and Lili Sepe.
Sion Sono, Japan (International Première)
Set in an alternate Tokyo of the near future, director Sion Sono continues his run of sensational films with the explosive street gang tale Tokyo Tribe. Tokyo Tribe is the first live-action adaptation of the best-selling manga series Tokyo Tribe 2, by Santa Inoue, which has sold two million copies and has been published in Asia and the west to great popularity.
Kevin Smith, USA (World Première)
Wallace (Justin Long) is a podcaster on a mission who thinks he has found the story of a lifetime in Howard Howe (Michael Parks), an adventurer with amazing stories and a curious penchant for walruses. When Mr. Howe’s true desires unfold, things take a dark turn and Wallace faces a terrifying transformation at the hands of his captor. As his friends Alison and Teddy (Genesis Rodriguez and Haley Joel Osment) search the backwoods of Canada to rescue him, they discover a nightmare from which there is no escape. Conceived from one of indie legend Kevin Smith’s own Smodcast’s, Tusk is an unprecedented tale that is equal parts hilarious and horrifying.
What We Do In The Shadows
Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, New Zealand/USA (Canadian Première)
Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Viago (Taika Waititi), and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) are three flatmates who are just trying to get by and overcome life’s obstacles—like being immortal vampires who must feast on human blood. Hundreds of years old, the vampires are finding that beyond sunlight catastrophes, hitting the main artery, and not being able to get a sense of their wardrobe without a reflection, modern society has them struggling with the mundane like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs, and overcoming flatmate conflicts.
Beats Of The Antonov
Hajooj Kuka, Sudan/South Africa (World Première)
Beats of the Antonov follows refugees from the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains in Sudan as they survive displacement and the trauma of civil war. Music, a cornerstone of their traditions and identity, becomes itself a vehicle for survival.
I Am Here
Lixin Fan, China (International Première)
During the summer of 2013, 12 young boys battle each other for the No. 1 spot in Super Boys, a decade-old American Idol-style TV talent show in China. They discover who they are and learn to love each other in the process. From the director of Last Train Home.
Samir, Iraq/Switzerland/Germany/United Arab Emirates (World Première)
Tracing the emigrations of his family over more than half a century, this riveting documentary epic from acclaimed expatriate Iraqi filmmaker Samir (Forget Baghdad) pays moving homage to the frustrated democratic dreams of a people successively plagued by the horrors of dictatorship, war, and foreign occupation.
Merchants Of Doubt
Robert Kenner, USA (Canadian Première)
Documentarian Robert Kenner (Food, Inc.) investigates the shadowy world of professional skeptics, whose services are bought and paid for by corporations, think tanks and other special interests to cast doubt and delay on public and governmental action on climate change.
Dieudo Hamadi, France/Congo (North American Première)
A group of young Congolese high-school students who are about to write the exam for their National Diploma in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo, gather in a maquis (communal house) to help each other prepare. It is common practice to be ejected from classes during the school year for failing to pay “teachers’ fees”, but the students are determined, and resort to all means at their disposal to earn a diploma, a stepping stone out of a life of poverty.
Frederick Wiseman, France/USA (North American Première)
Master documentarian Frederick Wiseman (Crazy Horse, At Berkeley) takes the audience behind the scenes of this London institution, which is inhabited by masterpieces of Western art from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. In a perpetual and dizzying game of mirrors, the film presents a portrait of a place, its inner workings, and its relationship with the world, its staff, its public and its paintings.
Jonathan Nossiter, Italy/France (North American Première)
A group of Italian vineyard proprietors live a life many can only dream of. In their converted 11th-century monastery and winery in Tuscany, Giovanna Tiezzi and Stefano Borsa find a way to grow grains, fruit and wine that create a link to their ancient Etruscan heritage. Ten years after Mondovino, the wine world has changed just like the world itself. The enemy is now far greater than the threat of globalization. But against the new world economy, these natural wine rebels offer a model of charmed and joyous resistance.
Gabe Polsky, USA/Russia (Canadian Première)
Red Army follows the most successful dynasty in sports history: the Soviet Union’s Red Army hockey team of the 1980s. Told from the perspective of its captain Slava Fetisov, the story portrays his transformation from national hero to political enemy. From the USSR to Russia, the film examines how sport mirrors social and cultural movements, and parallels the rise and fall of the Red Army team with the Soviet Union. An inspiring story about the Cold War played out on the ice rink, and the man who stood up to a powerful system and paved the way for change for generations of Russians.
Seymour: An Introduction
Ethan Hawke, USA (International Première)
Director Ethan Hawke explores the life and lessons of pianist, teacher and sage, Seymour Bernstein. Since giving up a career as a concert pianist at age 50, Seymour has dedicated his life to teaching his students about music, happiness and the power of detaching satisfaction from success.
Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait
Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan, Syria/France (North American Première)
The collaboration between exiled Syrian filmmaker Ossama Mohammed and young Kurdish activist Wiam Simav Bedirxan distills footage from thousands of clandestine videos to create a shattering, on-the-ground documentary chronicle of the ordeal being undergone by ordinary Syrians in the ongoing civil war.
Marah Strauch, USA/Norway/United Kingdom (World Première)
Sunshine Superman tells the story of Carl Boenish who pioneered and popularized the activity of BASE jumping (jumping from fixed objects with a parachute). Carl married Jean Campbell and together they travelled to Norway in 1984 to jump from the cliffs of Trollveggen. Against the backdrop of the midnight sun, tragedy strikes.
Tales Of The Grim Sleeper
Nick Broomfield, USA/United Kingdom (World Première)
Nick Broomfield digs into the case of the notorious serial killer Lonnie Franklin, known as the “Grim Sleeper,” who terrorized South Central Los Angeles over a span of 25 years.
The Look Of Silence
Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark/Indonesia/Norway/Finland/United Kingdom (Canadian Première)
Through Joshua Oppenheimer’s work with perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide, a family of survivors discover who killed their son. The youngest brother is determined to break the spell of silence and fear under which the survivors live, and confronts the men responsible for his brother’s murder.
This Is My Land
Tamara Erde, France (World Première)
This film follows several Israeli and Palestinian teachers over one academic year, observing their exchanges and confrontations with students, their debates with their respective ministries’ curriculum and its restrictions, and offering an intimate glimpse into the profound and long-lasting effect that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict transmits onto the next generation.
The Yes Men Are Revolting
Laura Nix and The Yes Men, USA (World Première)
For two decades, The Yes Men have pulled off hilarious and spectacular media hoaxes to expose corporate crime. In this intimate portrait, they are now approaching middle age and struggle to stay inspired as the worst crime of all threatens the planet. Can they get it together before the ice caps melt?
Fabrice Du Welz, France/Belgium (North American Première)
When Gloria and Michel meet on a dating site, nothing suggests the destructive and murderous passion that will be born of their crazy love. Alleluia is inspired by a 1947 article about nurse Martha Beck and swindler Raymond Fernandez, who became involved in a deadly, tragic affair.
The Duke Of Burgundy
Peter Strickland, United Kingdom (World Première)
Peter Strickland’s eagerly anticipated follow up to Berberian Sound Studio and Katalin Varga is a gorgeously dark melodrama following two women who test the limits of their unsettlingly intense relationship. Starring Sidse Babett Knudsen (Borgen) and Chiara d’Anna.
Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, Austria (North American Première)
In the heat of the summer in an isolated house in the countryside between woods and corn fields, 10-year-old twins wait for their mother. When she returns with her head wrapped in bandages after surgery, nothing is as it was before. Stern and distant now, she shuts the family off from the outside world. Starting to doubt that this woman is actually their mother, the boys are determined to find the truth by any means.
Gerard Johnson, United Kingdom (International Première)
Michael Logan is an anti-hero for our times: a natural predator, a high-functioning addict, and corrupt police officer. But his dark world is evolving: a recent influx of ruthless Albanian gangsters is threatening to change London’s criminal landscape. Michael’s razor sharp instincts have always kept him one step ahead, but now his increasingly self-destructive behavior and the sheer brutality of the new gang lords send Michael spiraling into a descent of fear and self-doubt.
Dave McKean, United Kingdom (World Première)
Renowned artist and filmmaker Dave McKean (MirrorMask) brings his distinctive blend of live action and gorgeously wrought animation to this dreamlike reverie about four people – Grant, Christine, Dean and Freya – whose long weekend in an isolated house by the sea brings up old resentments and the life of a dead child is revisited in a series of strange dreams.
Over Your Dead Body
Takashi Miike, (Japan International Première)
A star, Miyuki Goto (Ko Shibasaki) plays Oiwa, the protagonist in a new play based on the ghost story Yotsuya Kaidan. She pulls some strings to get her lover, Kosuke Hasegawa (Ebizo Ichikawa) cast in the play, even though he’s a relatively unknown actor. Other performers Rio Asahina (Miho Nakanishi) and Jun Suzuki (Hideaki Ito) lust after Miyuki. Off stage the cast’s possessive love and obsessions exist as reality. Trapped between the play and reality, the cast’s feelings for each other are amplified. When it becomes clear that love is not meant to be both on and off stage, love turns into a grudge and crosses the blurred line between reality and fantasy.
Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel, Spain (World Première)
Spain, 1950s. Monste’s agoraphobia keeps her locked in a sinister apartment in Madrid and her only link to reality is the little sister she sacrificed her youth to raise. But one day, a reckless young neighbour, Carlos, falls down the stairwell and drags himself to their door. Someone has entered the shrew’s nest... and perhaps he’ll never leave.
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, USA (World Première)
A young man in a personal tailspin flees the US to Italy, where he sparks up a romance with a girl harbouring a dark, primordial secret in this edgy, romantic drama with a supernatural twist.
They Have Escaped
JP Valkeapää, Finland (North American Première)
A boy and a girl meet at a custody center for youth with difficulties. The boy has come to serve his obligatory civil service. The girl is one of the youths in custody, and she is constantly in trouble, with a fire inside her and a lust for life that can’t be quashed or controlled. The boy becomes infatuated with the girl. He is a quiet one; a stutterer. But there is a fire inside him as well. Rules, laws, punishment; the shackles of the hostile environment with no understanding around them can be broken. They steal a car and flee together. Thus begins a journey with endless escapes.
Pieter Van Hees, Belgium (World Première)
Leo Woeste is a homicide investigator living with his girlfriend Kathleen and her five-year-old son, Jack. Kathleen gets pregnant unexpectedly just as Leo must solve his most bizarre case to date: the ritual murder of a young Congolese man, which may or may not involve Leo’s hedonistic new colleague, Johnny Rimbaud. As the case’s complexity mounts by the minute, Leo is pulled away from Kathleen and his role as a father, and heads deeper and deeper into the Waste Land.
The World Of Kanako
Tetsuya Nakashima, Japan (International Première)
When beautiful straight-A high school student Kanako goes missing, her mother asks ex-husband Akikazu — a drifting, irresponsible former cop — to find their daughter. He embarks on a desperate search in the hope of reuniting his family by any means necessary. But as his investigation progresses, Akikazu starts to discover the darkness that lies behind his daughter’s impeccable façade. Clue by clue, revelation by revelation, he starts his descent into the hellish underworld of Kanako’s secret life.