There’s a lot more than a vowel separating TUFF from TIFF. The Toronto Urban Film Festival will see its share of line-ups but they’ll be on subway platforms where the short-listed one-minute films will be looping for the next week and a half. Eighty films in eight categories explore the urban experience from a variety of perspectives: The City is a Poem, The Emotional City and The Medium is the Message, are three of the quirkier themes.
Each category was whittled down and in a sense curated by a filmmaker who then passed their top 10 picks on to this year’s guest judge, Deepa Mehta, who selected overall winners. “In the past, the grand prize hasn’t always been chosen from the shortlist,” explains Toronto-based documentary filmmaker Min Sook Lee, above, who elected to screen the Urban Ideas and Politics category.
“What struck me was the populist messaging and I thought that was kind of cool,” says Lee. “There’s something about the platform itself that is really appealing and I think some people made work with that in mind.”
Few filmmakers know how to kick start a movie better than Toronto’s Brigitte Berman: the Oscar-winning writer/director dives into Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel with an uproarious remark by rocker Gene Simmons (a world-famous womanizer in his own right) that hooks the viewer with star power, humour and insight . . . not bad for the first 15 seconds.
Fortunately, Berman is able to live up to the promise of her opening with this fascinating, if longish portrait of the father of the sexual revolution. Some reviewers have taken Berman to task for going too easy on Hefner but the film balances praise from the Playboy founder’s supporters with recriminations from feminist Susan Brownmiller and Christian activists Jerry Fallwell and Pat Boone; Mike Wallace, Charles Keating and Dennis Prager aren’t Hef fans either.
“Hef says his life is like a Rorschach test,” notes Berman. “How people react to his story says more about them than it does about him. The film is the same way; some people say it’s even handed others say it’s totally unbalanced.”
The Toronto Film and Television Office has launched a valuable online tool for the city’s film community called simply Toronto Film Festivals. The new site features links and profiles to most of the city’s large and small festivals — more than 70 and counting — ranging from big daddy TIFF to newcomer the Queer West Film Fest.
The Film Office partnered with George Brown College, which unleashed the challenge of creating the site on its New Media Design students; the result is a clean, user-friendly site that presents the depth and breadth of Toronto’s film festival smorgasbord. My favorite feature is the calendar that lets users keep track of what’s coming up in the weeks and months ahead.
Film Commissioner Peter Finestone notes that not all festival pages include full profiles and he encourages those with incomplete entries to contact him with copy and logo files.
If you think protest music ended with the 1960s then the new rockumentary, Sounds Like a Revolution, should be on your must-see movie list. Made in Toronto by local filmmakers Summer Love and Jane Michener, the film opens at the Royal Cinema this weekend following an emotional world premier at the NXNE music fest last week. The movie examines a new generation of musical activists ranging from Michael Franti and Spearhead to Anti-Flag (left), NOFX, Ministry, Rage Against the Machine, Paris, Blue King Brown and many others.
“Unlike the 1960s, protest music today isn’t restricted to any one genre,” says Love, left (holding the microphone). “The artists who are featured in the film have more in common politically and ideologically than musically. Anti-Flag [a pop/punk band] was actually invited to the Power to the Peaceful festival in San Francisco.”
Sounds Like a Revolution is a rocking good movie featuring 38 songs that keep toes tapping while documenting a new outpouring of musical protest, much of it incited by the rise of the U.S. Republican party under George Bush, et al. The film also details the impact on music of corporate conglomeration by the major labels, Clear Channel and retail bully Walmart.
On Friday afternoon, I was lucky enough to enjoy one of the last guided tours of TIFF Bell Lightbox before the job site is closed for a last big push toward the grand opening on September 12. Designed by Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB), the Toronto International Film Festival’s soon-to-be-christened new home is an architectural riff on the Russian nesting doll, a series of boxes within boxes.
TIFF Bell Lightbox is the last of Toronto’s cultural renaissance projects to be completed and the building is the final piece of what’s being called the John Street cultural corridor, a stretch that includes Rogers Centre, CBC headquarters, Mirvish row (along King Street east from John), the NFB headquarters, CTV and finally OCAD and the AGO.