Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The People have spoken!

Toronto International Film Festival has ended and their awards have been announced. In the past few years, the winner of the People’s Choice award went on to be a major Oscar contender. Think Slumdog Millionaire, Precious and the King’s Speech. This year winner will have to go some to rise to that lofty level. The 2011 winner of the People’s Choice Award for feature film went to the Lebanese film, Where do we go now? This film takes us to an isolated village in war torn Lebanon. The local women decide to save their village from the inter-religious fighting that erupts after a television is installed in a neighbor’s home. This film, so far, does not have U.S. distribution but I assume that will change now that it has won this award. It will also be the official submission from Lebanon for best Foreign Film (many films are submitted as selections but only a few will get the nomination).

The People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary went to The Island President. In this political documentary, Mohamed Nasheed wins the presidency after a 20-year battle for democracy in the Maldives, only to face a bigger challenge: to save his island nation from global warming and rising seas.

Toronto is finished for another year…but never fear! This festival ends, another will soon begin!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Never Too Late for a Festival Wrap-Up!

Okay, so I have been very busy this year with all the reorganization of duties. I seem to have been remiss on writing about the big film festivals...all the majors have gone by this year without a word from me. Alas Alas. It takes the Toronto Film Festival going on (and me not being there) to remind me of that fact! So in case you missed them, here are the top awards that were given at the big film festivals this year:


Sundance Film Festival: or Bob’s Show as they used to call it. Started in 1978 by Robert Redford, the main focus of Sundance was to conduct a competition for independent American films; to highlight the work of filmmakers who worked outside the Hollywood system. Many complain that it isn’t as “independent” minded as it used to be but it is still one of the major festivals in the world.

The Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to How to Die in Oregon, directed by Peter D. Richardson. In 1994 Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. This film tells the stories of those involved with the practice today. (no release date currently)

The Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to Like Crazy, directed by Drake Doremus. A British college student falls for an American student, only to be separated from him when she's banned from the U.S. after overstaying her visa. (This film has an October 2011 release date.)

The Audience Award: Documentary was presented to Buck, directed by Cindy Meehl. A real-life “horse whisperer”, Buck shuns the violence of his upbringing and teaches people to communicate with their horses through leadership and sensitivity, not punishment. (Had limited release in June of this year, coming to DVD in October 2011.)

The Audience Award: Dramatic was presented to Circumstance, directed and written by Maryam Keshavarz. A wealthy Iranian family struggles to contain a teenager's growing sexual rebellion and her brother's dangerous obsession. (In theaters now, Irvine and Los Angeles)


Cannes Film Festival (Festival de Cannes): Cannes was started in 1946 as a rival international cultural event to the Venice Film Festival. (originally was to start in 1939 but had to wait until after WWII to have the first festival).

Palme D'Or : Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life. According to reports, many actually walked out of this film at Cannes. That’s Malick for you. People love him, people hate him but it seems the former were on the award committee this year! This impressionistic story of a Texas family in the 1950s follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father. (released in May in theaters, coming out on DVD in October).


Venice International Film Festival: Started in 1934 as a non-competitive film event, it is the oldest film festival currently still running. In 1949, the Golden Lion was first given as award for the festival.

Golden Lion for Best Film (Leone d'Oro): Faust, directed by Aleksander Sokurov (Russia). A version of the German legend in which a man sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge (no current U.S. release date).


Toronto International Film Festival: Started in 1976, TIFF is second only to Cannes in availability of high-profile films, stars and distribution deals. This year’s festival runs from September 8th to September 18th. I have not been to the other festivals but have been to Toronto several times. Each time I have seen amazing films, many that will never get U.S. distribution. Such is the value of the festival for film aficionados. Sure, having bragging rights about seeing high profile films first at the festival is definitely a bonus, but the real benefit is seeing great film that you would not have seen otherwise.

Toronto lacks a jury and is non-competitive; it doesn’t have a Golden Lion or Palme D'Or. Its highest honor, the People's Choice Award, is given to a feature-length film with the highest ratings as voted on by festival attendees. Last year’s winner was “The King’s Speech”. What will win the top honor this year?? The top forerunners this year seem to be either The Artist (Michael Hazanavicius’ mostly-silent ode to the death of silent film) or The Descendants (Directed by Sideways’ Alexander Payne, George Clooney plays the head of a storied Hawaiian family as they are forced to decide what to do with their last, vast parcel of land.) It could be either one of these or who knows? Some film that hasn’t even been screened yet may take the festival audiences fancy! I guess we will have to wait until next week to find out! (Check back as I will post the winner when it is announced).

For those that aren’t able to travel to these festivals, don’t forget the smaller festivals that happen closer to home. AFI Fest in Los Angeles is coming up in November (Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar starring Leonardo DiCaprio will open this year’s festival). Palm Springs International Film Festival is in January and Newport Beach Film Festival is in the spring. Need it smaller and even closer to home? The SoCal Film Festival will be here at the Central Library from Sep 28th to October 2nd.

Whew! I now feel like I have fulfilled my major cinematic festival duties for the year! Now get out there and take chance on a festival film!