One of the most prestigious film festivals in the world is about to kickoff in Toronto Sept 8th-18th. With almost 400 films, many of them of interest to progressive viewers, TIFF brings out tens of thousands of film aficionados, with hundreds of special guests, directors, actors and writers, representing 266 film premieres with films from 83 countries!
Of course it’s no easy task to whittle down the list to a manageable number over the course of 11 days because many of the films that will be shown and premiered represent world issues with political, historical and social significance. It’s not only entertainment, for example, as the who’s who of the progressive film community signed a letter condemning the impeachment process of suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, including directors Ken Loach, Oliver Stone, John Sayles, actors Susan Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Allan Cumming, Stephen Fry, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Viggo Mortensen, and film writers, Naomi Klein and Michael Ondaatje to name a few. And many of them will be represented at TIFF.
Oliver Stone will screen Snowden, his new take on the famed whistleblower now residing in Russia. Rob Reiner will present his film on the former US president LBJ, and the prolific Chilean director, Pablo Larrain (The Club, No) will bring TWO political films to the festival, one called Jackie, about the former first lady, and Neruda, about the 1948 manhunt for famed Chilean communist poet and politician who was forced underground. And even our outgoing President Obama, will be represented in a biopic entitled Barry, about his college years in New York.
There are some highly anticipated films dealing with race that will be screened this year. Riding on a wave of victory as the first prize winner at Sundance, Birth of a Nation, by first time director, Nate Parker, will arrive in Canada. Taking the same name as the classic and controversial 1915 silent film by D. W. Griffith, this film rather deals with the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner, offering history seldom seen in American cinema.
A second film on the famous legal battle dealing with interracial marriage, the first being a documentary with the same name, Loving promises to offer an inspiring and emotional wallop, showing how far we’ve come, but how far we still have to go.
Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck, who made two films about Patrice Lumumba, this time brings us “a stunning meditation on what it means to be Black in America.” I Am Not Your Negro is based on text from James Baldwin’s last work. Peck is also in post-production on a film about the young years of Karl Marx, a subject whom unsurprisingly has been ignored in cinema until now.
Master film directors abound in a festival that respects the craft of filmmaking. The Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner, I, Daniel Blake, by British working class hero, Ken Loach, is another deeply human portrayal of workers as victims of a cruel capitalist system favoring profits over people. Quirky US director Jim Jarmusch, absent from the scene for awhile, brings a tale about the New Jersey city, Paterson. Famed German filmmaker Werner Herzog, comes with Salt and Fire, described as an ’ecological thriller’ starring two dynamic actors, Michael Shannon (99 Homes) and Mexican phenom Gael Garcia Bernal (Fidel, Even the Rain). Fast becoming the most awarded Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi (About Elly, A Separation) presents another human drama, once again dealing with universal marital issues and emotions.
Several politically relevant dramas will be presented at TIFF this year, including American Pastoral starring accomplished actors Ewan McGregor and David Strathairn in a drama about a family attempting to survive the tumultuous times from the 60s to Watergate. In Dubious Battle, based on the John Steinbeck’s Depression-era novel, deals with labor organizers and migratory workers in California, reminiscent of Grapes of Wrath.
But it’s always the Documentary Programme that offers the most bang for the buck. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, is not about Fonda but rather urban activist Jane Jacobs who saved New York neighborhoods in the 60s; it’s been awhile since we’ve seen a film about the revered muckraker, but All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone will once again raise the issue of truth in the media; the Canadian doc Black Code exposes how governments use the Internet to spy; the European refugee crisis is addressed in the Italian doc Fire at Sea; The Skyjackers Tale, a forgotten moment in history about a most wanted fugitive who fled the Virgin islands after losing a murder trial and skyjacking a plane to Cuba; an Israeli doc Forever Pure, revisits the signing of two Muslims to a popular Israeli soccer team and the ensuing storm of racism; Gaza Surf Club shows us Palestinians attempting to experience normal joys while living in the worlds largest open air prison; Off Frame AKA Revolution Until Victory is a stunning compilation of footage from the early Palestinian Film Group; Politics, Instructions Manualfocuses on the rise of the left wing Spanish Podemus Party; and The War Show covers the tale of a Syrian DJ and the aftermath of the failed Arab Spring.
This is just a taste of the best that the film world has to offer. If you can’t be there in person check out the films online at Www.tiff.net and look for my upcoming reviews.
[Bill Meyer is a musician, writer and producer of progressive multimedia events. A longtime political activist and aficionado of progressive cinema, Meyer usually writes on the culture pages of the People's World and other journals, and primarily reports on film festivals.]