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Toronto fest: Show and substance

The focus of the festival remains firmly on high-quality foreign films, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Sep 18, 2006 14:03 IST
Saibal Chatterjee
Saibal Chatterjee

As the 31st Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) begins to wind down, it cannot but be amply clear to even a casual observer why North America’s flashiest movie jamboree is so special.

Even as TIFF attracts a steady stream of high-profile Hollywood stars and big budget entertainers, the primary focus of the festival remains firmly on high-quality foreign language films from all corners of the globe.

The city’s remarkably multi-culture profile fuels that emphasis. There is no dearth of people interested in cinematic voices and modes of expression that are as unique as they are formidable.

This year TIFF has seen a veritable parade of heavy-duty stars from Dustin Hoffman to Russell Crowe, Jessica Lange to Demi Moore, Pnelope Cruz to Emma Thompson, and Senn Penn to Brad Pitt. And they are still coming. You name the star and he or she is there. It is obvious that the Toronto International Film Festival matters.

Director Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore (L) and Sharon Stone (R) at a press conference for the movie Bobby, during the Toronto Film Festival.

The red-carpet galas and the glitzy post-screening parties have held the city in thrall for ten days, but not for a second have the festival attendees – as motley a crowd as any you any would expect anywhere in the world – lost sight of the fact that this event is not so much about glamour and stardust as about the exciting new things that are happening in cinematic terms all around the world.

Where else would you find Emilio Estevez’s whimsical Bobby, which depicts incidents that occurred on the night of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, sitting cheek by jowl with Karan Johar’s fluff-peddling KabhiAlvida Naa Kehna?

Where else would you run into a sturdy and varied package that accords as much importance to horror genre allegories such as Black Sheepand Severanceas to the defiantly experimental storytelling of individualistic films like Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, and Miike Takashi unusually titled Big Bang Love, A Juvenile.

It is no coincidence that TIFF has emerged as one of the world’s premier film festivals. It has managed to get the mix right although some skeptics still believe that the trend towards over-commercialism might end up ruining the party if the organizers do not draw the line somewhere.

But there can be no denying that the festival is today a great platform for filmmakers and distributors that are exploring global buying and selling avenues as also for movie lovers thirsting for cinematic encounters that transport them to a plane far higher than what sheer entertainers can deliver to them.

From the standpoint of Indian cinema, Toronto can surely serve as an entry point to the vast and lucrative North American market. Sadly, however, events built around star-driven Indian films invariably get reduced to exclusively desi events.

The international press and non-Indian moviegoers give these films a wide berth because the screenings are run over almost completely by screaming, hollering, unruly Indian fans who have little interest in furthering the cause of cinema from back home. All they are bent upon doing is getting close to their favourite stars and grabbing a few autographs. As a consequence, the very purpose for which these films and the people behind them fly halfway across the globe is defeated.

First Published: Sep 16, 2006 16:49 IST