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Take Two: Festival Favourites

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Take Two: Festival Favourites

Film festivals are the lotteries of cinema. Hit the right numbers and first prize is a million emotions. Bonus benefits include enough memories to last a lifetime and renewed insight into why artistic expressions so profoundly define our humanity.

Now is the time to play this cinematic sensory game. Fall means movies get more serious, especially on the film festival circuit that flows from Montreal to Telluride, Toronto, New York, Vancouver, and so on, until the next snow-bound Sundance in January. This time of year means that you’ve survived the summer silly season. We desperately need some sombre second thoughts, cutting edge drama and fresh ideas.

The Big Chill (cast)

My own perspective on cinema has been nurtured and enriched throughout my 40 years of attending the Toronto International Film Festival. TIFF was originally co-founded, with a touch of arrogance and bravado, as the Festival of Festivals in 1976. I have attended every edition since year two.

12 Years a Slave (Chiwetel Ejiofor)

The sad part is that we have now seen the demise of two of the three co-founders. My beloved friend and mentor Dusty Cohl died of colon cancer in January of 2008. We lost the feisty William (Bill) Marshall in January of this year. The only survivor is Henk Van der Kolk, the quiet voice among the original troika. Life is precious. I plan to make every minute count at TIFF 2017.

Outrageous! (Craig Russell)

As for the TIFF lottery, I have won first prize repeatedly. Here are seven highlights. Note – this is not a best-of-the-fest list. Instead, the titles that I’ve chosen made an indelible personal impression.

Outrageous! (1977) – With Dusty Cohl as a driving force behind-the-scenes, Richard Benner’s film became a seminal Canadian production starring irrepressible female impersonator Craig Russell in a fictionalized version of himself.

The Big Chill (1983) – Lawrence Kasden did not just make a film that spoke directly to me, and my own obsessions, he also introduced me to William Hurt, now a beautifully complicated friend.

Antonia’s Line (1995) – Dutch director Marleen Gorris’ little-known masterpiece remains one of the finest, and most affecting, family dramas ever made. I cherish sharing it with friends.

Betty Blue (1986) – I raved about Jean- Jacques Beineix’s brilliant French film, in a brief six-line capsule review, prior to TIFF that year. Beineix called me with thanks. I apologized for the brevity of my analysis. “No,” he protested happily. “You said it all in six lines.” Good lesson.

American Beauty (1999) – As a collaboration between director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Alan Ball, this sardonic, sexy and savagely satirical film radically changed American cinema. And it triggered TIFF’s now-legendary ability to launch Oscar campaigns.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) – Not only is Danny Boyle’s India drama still a marvellous experience, it reinforced the power of festival audiences. Toronto’s rapturous response gave Boyle’s opus a distribution deal and an Oscar triumph.

12 Years a Slave (2013) – British filmmaker Steve McQueen brilliantly brought an American tragedy to vivid life at a critical time in U.S. history, although Americans obviously still have trouble learning from their mistakes.

Film critic, Bruce Kirkland’s career spans more than four decades, working at The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 35 years at the Toronto Sun. A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers. bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com

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