TIFF's Day 1: Bugs, Goats & Hardhats

The fest's first day includes an amazing extended shot, and a Jew with a plan

Is it too early to be fatigued and have sore feet?

The 35th Toronto Film Festival kicked off officially on Thursday night, but industry festivalgoers were on the streets hours earlier for the first day of “Press & Industry” screenings, which began at 9 a.m. and continued until TIFF officially launched 11 hours later with “Score: A Hockey Musical,” the cute little Canadian film that seems vaguely embarrassing (or at least irrelevant) to most TIFFers.

A few notes from theWrap’s first day on the streets and in the screening rooms:

Toronto is all about indie films, and awards contenders, and foreign art movies, right? So it makes perfect sense that the Scotiabank Theatre, the main location for P&I screenings, is … the loudest, busiest, noisiest multiplex imaginable, with not a trace of arthouse blood coursing through its loudly-pumping veins.

Scotiabank TheatreScotiabank (left) has flashing lights, loud décor and enough arcade games to fill a carnival midway; it’s the kind of place that was made to show “The Expendables” and “Transformers” and “Iron Man,” not “The Strange Case of Anjelica” and “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.”

But it’s got big theaters, and the bedbugs are apparently gone or were never there to begin with, and it’s just up the street from festival headquarters – so for the next 10 days, a bit of class will try to survive amidst all that glitz.

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Speaking of festival headquarters, the new TIFF Bell Lightbox, 10 years in the making, is sleek and modern and beautiful.

It’s also not open yet. Not quite.

The building, which houses offices, restaurants, exhibition space and eight state-of-the-art theaters, isn’t scheduled to open until Sunday, four days into TIFF’s 11-day run.

The building was originally supposed to be completed years ago, but delays and cost overruns were rampant. Workers have continued to toil in the Lightbox, with unfinished business causing a recent orientation session for TIFF volunteers to be moved to the Roy Thomson Hall.

But it needs to be ready to go on Sunday, because TIFF has a day-long block party planned.

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Sharon StoneEach screening at Toronto is preceded by several promos and commercials for fest sponsors (Bell, Cadillac) and for the festival itself. Drawing the most attention on the first day were the Cadillac ads, which start with a brief glimpse of a famous movie scene, then the line “some things you see once and remember forever” and a shot of a Cadillac.

Of the two versions of the ad I saw on Thursday, one showcased a glimpse of the Terminator’s head from “T2.” That one drew little response from the crowd – a marked change from the first ad I saw, which drew widespread laughter for the scene it briefly showcased:

Sharon Stone crossing her legs from “Basic Instinct.”

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David Ansen, the artistic director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, made the trip to Toronto and showed up Thursday morning for a P&I screening of “Le Quattro Volte” (“The Four Times”), a languid, mystical film from Italian director Michaelangelo Frammartino.

Writing in the New York Times after the Telluride Festival, A.O. Scott said the film’s “view of nature is among the most profound, expansive and unsettling I have ever encountered on film.” It’s hard to tell what the industry audience thought of Frammartino’s work, an 88-minute meditation with almost no intelligible dialogue; the first part of the film’s soundtrack is dominated by the coughing of an old man, the second part by the bleating of goats.

The result is oblique and completely uncommercial, but playful, fascinating and even mesmerizing – or, at least, trance-inducing. And in the middle of the film sits one of the strangest and most remarkable extended shots I’ve ever seen: the camera perches high above a street in a small Italian village, and for what seems to be 10 minutes follows the action below by slowly turning, but without a single zoom.

The Four TimesThe scene involves a dog, a woman, a group of men dressed as Roman soldiers, a religious procession, a car that rolls down a hill, and the aforementioned goats; though the pacing is glacial, there’s almost an element of slapstick comedy to it, albeit slapstick in which the real action takes place when the camera is looking the other way, and we only see the result. It looks haphazard, but is clearly a marvel of choreography.

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After the last screenings of the day, the new production company Braven Films took over Morton’s Steakhouse in Yorkville for an industry mixer. There, a small group of festivalgoers included Bob Berney, formerly of Apparition, and a smattering of filmmakers, publicists and journalists freshly arrived in town.

Among the common topics of conversation were Joaquin Phoenix and “I’m Still Here,” which has still left everyone guessing; “Black Swan,” clearly one of the most buzzed-about films of the festival; and the Rosh Hashanah holiday, which was causing many usual fest-goers to postpone their arrival until the weekend.

“I’m Jewish,” shrugged one publicist. “But I figure, we’ve got the Day of Atonement next week.”  

The beginning of another conversation was amusing, with a trio of recent arrivals from L.A. exchanging notes:

“I’m a journalist.”

“I’m a filmmaker.”

“I’m … an opportunist.”

The opportunist turned out to be a producer; would that they were all so honest.