TIFF 2013: For me, it all starts tomorrow morning …

TIFF Bell Lightbox at night_large

Tomorrow (Friday) morning, my colleague Jared Mobarak and I head north, and get started with day one — for us — of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. Three days seems sad when compared with all of the treats offered over the festival’s 11 days. Today, alone, sees screenings of “The Fifth Estate,” “Blue is the Warmest Colour,” and “The Past,” among others, three movies I will miss.

But I am thrilled to be able to attend at all, and it’s one of my most eagerly awaited events of the year. Leaving my family for a few days is difficult, but I always have a thrilling experience. Although I wish it was going to be cooler outside …

This year, I will be writing reviews for Indiewire’s The Playlist (they already have one ready to go from me, and I hope to file three from the fest) and The Film Stage (I have filed two, and will likely be writing one or two more). I will also be Tweeting and posting on FilmSwoon’s Facebook page. I will be writing on this site as much as I can during the festival, although it is likely the majority of my TIFF writing here won’t take place until I return home. Lastly, as I have for the last six years — this is my seventh festival — I will cap it all off with a feature in the November issue of Buffalo Spree.

It does not appear that I will be doing any interviews while I’m there, which actually makes the whole process much easier. Instead, I’ll be watching, writing, waiting, and, occasionally, sleeping and eating.

I have public tickets for two films: Catherine Breillat’s “Abuse of Weakness” and John Ridley’s Jimi Hendrix biopic “All Is By My Side” (I also have tickets for Francois Ozon’s “Young and Beautiful,” but a conflict has developed, and I’ll likely miss it.) And I am supposed to have a ticket lined up for a very special screening on Sunday night: Godfrey Reggio’s “Visitors,” accompanied by members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

The rest of my lineup is comprised of press screenings, and what makes those particularly exciting is the sheer unpredictability of it all. I have never NOT gotten into a press screening, since I tend to arrive early, but this year could be different. There are several “priority” screenings that I may or may not gain admittance to, and there are also some I will certainly arrive to later than I’d like. Plus, I don’t know exactly what time we are arriving tomorrow, or leaving Sunday night.

Anyway, here are the films I MIGHT be seeing — and it’s a stellar, albeit offbeat, list.

FRIDAY:

  • I will likely start with the documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” or, if I’m too late, the Cannes hit “Omar” or James Franco’s “Child of God.” (In a perfect world, I’d be able to catch “Like Father, Like Son” at 9 a.m., but that should prove impossible.)
  • Next up is one of my great TIFF conundrums: Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day” or Jia Zhangke’s “A Touch of Sin.” I lean toward Reitman in this case. Yes, his Joyce Maynard adaptation will be opening wide, but not until Christmastime, and it could be an Oscar player. “Sin” will be much more difficult to see … But I’ve been intrigued by “Labor Day” from the get-go. (Other options at this time are Ralph Fiennes’ “Invisible Woman” and Ron Howard’s “Rush.)
  • Now, things get even trickier. If I decide to try to attend the 6:30 priority press screening of “Prisoners,” I may not have time for a film in between — I am interested in both “All Cheerleaders Die” and “Letter to Damascus,” but wedded to neither. And if I miss “Prisoners,” my early evening options are limited at best. To make matters even more difficult, “Prisoners” opens in just a few weeks! But it is the best option at the time, for sure.
  • However that turns out, I will end the night by meeting Jared at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for “Abuse of Weakness.”

SATURDAY:

  • How the day will begin remains to be seen. My No. 1 goal is to get into the priority press screening of Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” at 9:30 a.m. Doing this means arriving early, and missing the morning’s other offerings, which include “Parkland” and “Attila Marcel.” If for some reason I do not get in, I may try to force my way into “Hateship Loveship” or “Horns” a few minutes late.
  • “Slave” should keep me from seeing “Dallas Buyers Club” at 11:30, unless I am able to sprint from the McQueen (it runs to 11:43 a.m.) and grab a late seat. It is more likely that my second film of the day, then, will be “Palo Alto,” Cold Eyes,” or “Bad Words” (another priority screening).
  • Next? I may have time for the acclaimed “Miss Violence,” but either way, I have a must-see (I am reviewing it) at 3:45: “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” After the Idris Elba-starrer, I’ll take a break and do some writing, before ending the day at the Elgin with …
  • “All Is By My Side,” starring Andre Benjamin as Hendrix. An interesting day, to say the least.

SUNDAY:

  • First film of the day? I have not yet decided between Daniel Radcliffe in “The F Word” and Elisabeth Olsen in “Therese.”
  • But I am certainly seeing “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner’s “You Are Here” at 11 a.m. It stars, oddly, Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Poehler.
  • I am reviewing “Here,” so I plan to give myself a bit of time afterwards. That means the middle of my day is seriously up in the air. I am interested in Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno” at 1:30, Ciaran Hinds in “The Sea” at 2, and Keira Knightly and Mark Ruffalo in “Can a Song Save Your Life?” at 2:15, but my likely play is to wait and catch Woody Allen in John Turturro’s “Fading Gigolo” at 3:45.
  • As long as the ticket comes through, “Visitors” at the Elgin is next. I’ll be working on my review of that film on the drive home, and perhaps the following morning.
  • Jared and I debated public tickets for “Night Moves” at 9, but as long as we still have the stamina, I’d like to end my TIFF13 experience with as wild a pick as possible: South Korean “Pieta” director Kim Ki-duk’s “Moebius.”

That’s how things may, or may not, shape up. Adding some screenrs I was able to watch online (and more I may watch next week), it’s a helluva year. And while I am missing some biggies, like “Gravity” (it screens in Buffalo soon), “Under the Skin,” “The Double,” “Only Lovers Left,” and many others, I am satisfied with my options.

If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t see ’em all.

Much more to come, here, on Twitter, on Facebook, and beyond. Happy TIFF!

Photo Credit: Maris Mezulis for TIFF

Claire Denis, Jia Zhangke, and Jafar Panahi are TIFF13 “Masters”

a touch of sin_01_small

The complete list for the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival has arrived, and it features — get this — 288 films. When all is said and done, between press screenings, public screenings, and pre-fest screeners, I’ll probably end up seeing around 10 to 15 of these, and dammit, I think that’s pretty good.

TIFF kicks off in exactly two weeks (!), and I have lots of reading and pondering to do before then. The public schedule is up, the press schedule dropped yesterday, and sites like Indiewire have helpfully put together complete breakdowns.

I’ll be talking TIFF quite a bit here over the next few weeks, and pretty much every film site in the world will be doing the same. One of my favorite “programmes” at the festival is the “Masters” lineup, which last year included Michael Haneke, Christian Mingiu, Abbas Kiarostami, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Olivier Assayas, among others.

This year’s Masters list is a bit less “sexy,” and lacks some of the names I was really, really hoping might still squeeze in. It was unlikely that the Coens or James Gray would end up here, but I held out hope … Instead, they’re joining Spike Jonze and Ben Stiller for a particularly explosive New York Film Festival lineup.

(I’ve actually been a little hung up on these titles that are NOT coming to Toronto, to the extent that I have not properly judged the films that actually WILL be there. I need to get over that …)

But there are some biggies here. Claire Denis has been on a fascinating run, and “Bastards” drew wildly mixed notices from Cannes, which excites me. Also featured are the latest from Jia Zhangke, Hong Sangsoo, Jafar Panahi … Some usual suspects? Perhaps. That does not make it any less impressive.

Here is a rundown of TIFF”s 2013 Masters programme, with descriptions from Tuesday’s press release:

“A Touch of Sin” (Tian zhu ding) (Jia Zhangke, China/Japan, North American Premiere) — An angry miner, enraged by the corruption of his village leaders, takes action. A rootless migrant discovers the infinite possibilities that owning a firearm can offer. A pretty receptionist working in a sauna is pushed to the limit when a wealthy client assaults her. A young factory worker goes from one discouraging job to the next, only to face increasingly degrading circumstances. Four people, four different provinces.

“Abuse of Weakness” (Abus de Faiblesse) (Catherine Breillat, France/Belgium/Germany, World Premiere) — An extraordinary collaboration between two legends of French cinema, Catherine Breillat’s brutally candid autobiographical drama stars Isabelle Huppert as a stroke-afflicted filmmaker manipulated by a notorious con man.

“Bastards” (Les Salauds) (Claire Denis, France, North American Premiere) — Supertanker captain Marco Silvestri is called back urgently to Paris. His sister Sandra is desperate; her husband has committed suicide, the family business has gone under, and her daughter is spiraling downwards. Sandra holds powerful businessman Edouard Laporte responsible. Marco moves into the building where Laporte has installed his mistress and her son, but he isn’t prepared for Sandra’s secrets, which muddy the waters. Starring Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni.

“Closed Curtain” (Parde) (Kambozia Partovi and Jafar Panahi, Iran, North American Premiere) — A house by the sea; the curtains are pulled shut, the windows covered with black. Inside, a man is hiding with his dog. He is writing a screenplay, when suddenly a mysterious young woman appears and refuses to leave, much to the writer’s annoyance. But at daybreak, another arrival will flip everyone’s perspective.

“Concrete Night” (Pirjo Honkasalo, Finland/Sweden/Denmark, World Premiere) — A 14-year-old boy in a stifling Helsinki slum takes some unwise life lessons from his soon-to-be-incarcerated older brother, in Finnish master Pirjo Honkasalo’s gorgeously stylized and emotionally devastating work about what we pass on to younger generations, and the ways we do it.

“Home From Home — Chronicle of a Vision” (Die Andere Heimat — Chronik einer Sehnsucht) (Edgar Reitz, Germany/France, North American Premiere) — Edgar Reitz tells this dramatic story of love and family against the backdrop of rural Germany in the mid-19th century, a time when entire poverty-stricken villages emigrated to faraway South America. The story centers on two brothers who have to decide whether they will stay or go.

“How Strange to be Named Federico: Scola Narrates Fellini” (Che strano chiamarsi Federico: Scola racconta Fellini) (Ettore Scola, Italy, International Premiere) On the 20th anniversary of Federico Fellini’s death, Ettore Scola, a devoted admirer of the incomparable maestro, commemorates the lesser-known aspects of Fellini’s personality, employing interviews, photographs, behind-the-scenes footage as well as Fellini’s drawings and film clips.

“Moebius” (Kim Ki-duk, South Korea, North American Premiere) — South Korea’s celebrated perennial provocateur Kim Ki-duk (“Pieta”) returns with this twisted family chronicle perched somewhere between psychological thriller, grotesque comedy and perverse ode to the pleasures of sadomasochism.

“Norte, The End of History” (Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan) (Lav Diaz, Philippines, North American Premiere) — In Philippine cinematic luminary Lav Diaz’s latest work, partially influenced by Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” a man is accused of murder while the real killer roams free.

“Our Sunhi” (Uri Sunhi) (Hong Sangsoo, South Korea North American Premiere) Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo’s latest follows an aspiring young filmmaker who becomes the object of desire for three very different men, in this smart, resonant dramedy.

Incidentally, Quebecois filmmakers Robert Lepage and Pedro Pires’s “Triptych” (Triptyque) was previously announced as part of the Canadian features lineup, and one additional title was announced in the Midnight Madness programme: the world premiere of Alex de la Iglesia’s “Witching & Bitching” (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi). I took a look at the other MM films a few weeks ago.

Photo from “A Touch of Sin” courtesy of TIFF