Toronto: We Wish To Go To The Festival, The Film Festival

Sep 4, 2012
Originally published on September 4, 2012 8:45 am

Tomorrow at this time, I will be forgetting something vitally important as I pack my bags for the Toronto International Film Festival, where I will be for a week. Fortunately for my nerves and sanity, I'll be there with Bob Mondello, whose fall movie preview we put up yesterday, and Trey Graham, whom you may know from Pop Culture Happy Hour.

I've been working my way up to the madness of Toronto by covering the marvelous Silverdocs and South By Southwest festivals, but this is full-on immersion, and the options are far beyond what anyone could take in if I stayed for a month. Consider this: at TIFF, they boast of screening more than 300 films. In the time I'll be there, if I go all-out, I could see ... maybe 30. And that's the Insanity Plan. That's not the Occasionally I Get To Sleep Plan. It helps that Trey and Bob and I can spread it out, but it's still a big task.

For one thing, you can go a lot of different directions with your choices. You can go for the much-discussed "Gala" presentations: Ben Affleck's Argo, Robert Redford's The Company You Keep, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis in Looper, a marvelous cast in David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook ... very Oscar-baity stuff. Then there are the "Masters." This year, that would include Bernardo Bertolucci, Michael Haneke, and Michael Winterbottom, among many. How about the "Special Presentations"? There, you'll find perhaps the most eagerly awaited film of the whole program, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. But that's only one of many. How about the new Anna Karenina from the team of director Joe Wright and Keira Knightley, who worked together in Atonement? Or Spike Lee's Bad 25, or Cloud Atlas, or Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha?

Sound like a lot? We haven't even gotten started. We haven't even taken me out of things I know. We haven't gone to "Contemporary World Cinema," or "Wavelengths," or "Next Wave," or ... well, you get the idea.

I'm fascinated by so many things: Bill Murray as FDR! Joss Whedon's low-budget homemade Much Ado About Nothing! As If We Were Catching A Cobra, a documentary about the use of drawings and caricature for political protest! Another documentary, Stories We Tell, this one from the very talented Sarah Polley! It's just ... it really gives me a good opportunity to use the usually terrible expression, "I can't even."

Now, there are lots of schools of thought about what's most useful when you cover something like this. There's no one answer, from what I've been able to discern from the wisdom of others. Some believe it's most useful to give readers early thoughts on what they're likely to actually get to see and want to see — how's The Master? How's the Ben Affleck movie? How's the Noah Baumbach? Others believe it's most important to talk to readers about what they — and, in this case, I — might not otherwise see or even have a chance to see. I can see Argo later, after all. Heck, Looper is opening in a couple of weeks, on September 28. The Master is opening a week before that.

It might, on the other hand, be my only chance to see some of what's in Contemporary World Cinema. But on the other-other hand, if you can't see it, is it still interesting? On the other-other-other hand, if we don't cover what people might not get to see, don't we sacrifice the opportunity to champion a smaller awesome film that needs a boost so more people can see it? That's four hands. I have half that many. You can see the conflict. (One of my critic friends has pretty much given up on film festivals, in fact, having concluded that people don't want to read about movies they can't see yet.)

There's more going on than just films, too: we try around here to be a little bit eyes-and-ears at nutty gatherings like this, like I was at the Royal Wedding. Over in the sidebar, we say our goal is to be a friend to the geek and a translator for the confused. This is a good opportunity to serve that purpose. Any big cultural event like this is A Scene, and there are those stories to tell, too.

So that's what brings me to the question at hand. It seems fair to put it to you: What do you think would be most helpful? What would you get up in the morning and most want to read? We're careening into Oscar season, believe it or not: what's the right mix between much-buzzed-about and not-buzzed-about? (Before you answer, remember: Oscar Buzz can be quite fleeting.)

I certainly can't promise to respond to everyone's wish list, but I'd love to know what it is before I go.

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