A veteran photojournalist on the Toronto arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

EDITION #56 - WEEK OF AUGUST 24-30, 2015

TIFF at 40

The Hollywood North fest celebrates four decades in welcoming new films from Michael Moore to Deepa Mehta and two new programmes to its roster

Toronto International Film Festival 2015 Preview

Left-right: Idris Alba goes guerrilla in child soldier drama Beast of No Nations and Randeep Hooda goes gangster in Deepa Mehta’s Vancouver-set crime story Beeba Boys for the 40th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) next month.

There was a time when the Toronto International Film Festival was considered the biggest little film festival in the world when it made its quiet debut almost forty years ago as the now rather bold and egotistical The Festival of Festivals in 1976 in the Windsor Arms Hotel, now a boutique hotel and still playing a part of it in its own way; by William Marshall, Henk van der Kolk and the late Dusty Cohl and ruminated around in the tony Yorkville area for the better part of its existence, up until the opening of its Lightbox headquarters in 2010 and permanently settled in and around the downtown core.

Rebranding itself as the simplistic Toronto International Film Festival in 1994 then to just plain TIFF by 2009, it has grown from its initial attendance of 35,000 in its first year to 400,000 by the 2012 edition and earned a very, very hard-worked respect from the global film industry as a serious hub, in particular to the Americans of both the independent and Hollywood conglomerate machine who first thought local audiences of the world’s largest public-based film festival were considered too small-minded for highbrow film.

Today, TIFF generates not only Oscar-worthy buzz for big and little films that even Variety magazine had declared in 1998 that it “is second only to Cannes in terms of high-profile pics, stars and market activity” in predicting winners from Chariots of Fire and The Big Chill to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to 12 Years a Slave (five have gone on to win for Oscar Best Picture like The King’s Speech), but also contributes to the city’s economy with a C$189 million annually and gives a little spotlight for potential filming location(s) for Toronto and Ontario for filmmakers near and far.

Gone are the days when programmes that highlighted certain films like Planet Africa and Perspective Canada and the now-defunct Mavericks programme, outgrowing their mandates to stand out on their own within the roster, the organizers have focused in recent years with making it more accessible to the public with, opened just last year, the fest opening weekend Festival Street on the King Street West and Peter to University Streets, that will be returning.

And how its handled itself so well over the years from controversial matters from hosting Tel Aviv for its 2009 City to City Programme in the wake of the Gaza War earlier that year; choosing Life is Beautiful in 1998 for its People’s Choice Award winner and perhaps in its most telling moment, in continuing to press on with the festivities after the September 11th attacks in 2001 when the mood was less than engaging among the attendees of all stripes.

Clockwise, from left: Memories of TIFF – Brazilian producer/director Rose Lacreta holds up the very first TIFF promotional poster when it was known as The Festival of Festivals, 1976; A press conference cancelled at the Park Hyatt hotel just mere hours after the September 11th attacks on the United States, 2001 and the legendary film critic and regular TIFF media attendee Roger Ebert (right) with unknown fan at a screening, 2005.

Being this an exceptional year in TIFF now reaching middle age, the festival organizers are pulling out the red carpets as usual in celebrating the big 4-0 with the usual lineup of galas, special presentations and such – including the always annoying pirate “arrgh” heard at every screening just as the copyright piracy warning comes up before the film that’s become part of the fest experience – with a couple of new things added to the festivities starting September 10 to the 20.

“We are celebrating our 40th anniversary in 2015 and this first round of films offers a taste of the incredible lineup at this year’s Festival,” said festival CEO/Director Piers Handling. “Made by both established and emerging filmmakers from around the world, these films offer a global snapshot of our times.”

“This year we are thrilled to share a diverse array of filmmakers from Australia, India, France, China, the United Kingdom and the U.S.A.,” added Artistic Director Cameron Bailey, who himself started out covering TIFF as a film critic with local publications to now handling the festival. “We look forward to sharing these fantastic films with Toronto audiences — the most engaged and enthusiastic in the world.”

Left-right: Documentarian filmmaker Michael Moore returns with his long-awaited treatise on U.S. foreign policy Where to Invade Next; an unconventional Chet Baker biopic Born to Be Blue and Ridley Scott’s space thriller The Martian make world premieres at TIFF 2015.

Out of the 15 Galas and 34 Special Presentations making their way to TIFF, 24 will get their world premieres including opening night family melodrama Demolition; Deepa Mehta’s Indo-Canadian crime thriller Beeba Boys; ethical war drama/thriller Eye in the Sky, true-life academia period piece The Man Who Knew Infinity; Ridley Scott’s anticipated science-fiction adventure The Martian; a surprise fictional drama from blockbuster auteur Roland Emmerich (Independence Day; The Day After Tomorrow) Stonewall; the Indian courtroom docudrama Guilty; a Palestinian biopic on Arabic Idol winner Mohammed Assaf The Idol; the newsroom docudrama on sexual abuse from Boston’s Catholic Church dioceses Spotlight; the all-star political comedy Our Brand is Crisis; the Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light; Terrence Davis’ World War I romantic-drama epic Sunset Song; Canadian First Nations family drama Fire Song and the long, long-awaited return of provocateur documentarian Michael Moore and his stinging exposé on the Pentagon, Where to Invade Next.

Since we’re see more and more well-known actors and filmmakers fleeing to quality television programmes from Kathy Bates to The Warchowskis, it doesn’t come too much of a surprise that TIFF opens their first Primetime programme this year with the focus of six international television shows of varying episodes from Icelandic rising star director Baltasar Kormákur’s noir-thriller Trapped; rebooted superhero series Heroes Reborn; the International Emmy-winning French supernatural series The Returned; Academy Award-winning Morgan Neville’s (Twenty Feet from Stardom) rock god doc Keith Richards: Under the Influence for Netflix; the Argentinean eco-thriller CROMO to Canada’s Jason Reitman Hulu-based dating game series Casual.

Asked why this new embracement of this medium to the fest that once was considered a competitor in the pre-internet period, Festival Programmer Michael Lerman explained that: “Television has entered an artistic renaissance; we’re seeing, among other things, many filmmakers experimenting with that medium to broaden their forms of storytelling. The strongest storytellers are masters of change, and TV offers a narrative flexibility, a platform and a luxury for filmmakers to explore ways of telling longer stories that delve deeper into their characters.”

“The growing convergence and artistic equality between television and cinema has ushered in a new era of high-quality, small-screen programming,” said Handling. “(The) Primetime (programme) aims to spotlight the cross-pollination of these two moving image cultures, showcasing the bold and impressive work that’s being produced on an international scale.”

Also new is Platform, TIFF’s first-ever truly juried programme for twelve films ranging from dramas to documentaries to be juried by noted filmmakers Jia Zhang-ke, Claire Denis and Agnieszka Holland who will award the Toronto Platform Prize of C$25,000 to the best film in the programme, which will be announced at the Awards Ceremony on September 20. Among the following contenders will be Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story), a French teen sex drama; British dystopian thriller High-Rise, based on a J.G. Ballard novel; Argentine fact-based crime docudrama The Clan; Chinese rom-drama The Promised Land; the runaway dark comedy Looking For Grace from Australia to HURT, Alan Zwieg’s compelling documentary on the life and times of troubled one-legged runner Steve Fonyo who 30 years ago became a national hero for completing Terry Fox’s failed Marathon of Hope, only to sadly later fall from grace.

“We created this new programme as a way to sharpen our focus on artistically ambitious cinema in our fortieth year and we are thrilled to be able to put the spotlight on these twelve brilliant filmmakers this September,” stated Handling over this new addition to the festival. “They are major creative forces: the next generation of masters whose personal vision will captivate audiences, industry members and media from around the world.”

Bailey further added that: “Each of the filmmakers in the programme fearlessly transforms a wide range of compelling realities through their unique visual and narrative styles, and they do so with incredible command and precision. From a stark coming-of-age story, a retro-futuristic science-fiction and a lyrical post-western to an abduction thriller, a raw documentary and hard-hitting and topical dramas, this lineup reflects the diversity of international directors’ cinema today.”

For a little more glamour, the first annual TIFF Soirée, a special charity event and cocktail party which will kick off TIFF on September 9 at TIFF Lightbox that will feature a intimate on-stage conversation with Academy Award winner Natalie Portman, who is making her writing and directorial debut at TIFF with the North American premiere of A Tale of Love and Darkness; followed by musical performances and a cocktail.

“Audiences are sure to experience an unforgettable evening with Natalie Portman as our special guest at the first annual TIFF Soirée,” said Vice-President of Advancement at TIFF maxine bailey. “This inspirational and entertaining event will help (us) raise much-needed funds that allow us to continue our charitable year-round activities. TIFF provides vital mentorship, guidance and tools to people of all ages, circumstances and backgrounds so that they can express themselves creatively.”

This year’s City to City guest metropolis is London, with already 34 films coming from England for TIFF; smaller fares include 1990s crime drama Kill Your Friends, the screen adaptation of the groundbreaking British musical on the 2006 Ipswich serial killings London Road, coming-of-age story Urban Hymn and Afghan War drama Kilo Bravo Two, among others representing the programme as Chief Executive of Film London and the British Film Commission Adrian Wootton put it: “We have an excellent relationship with TIFF and it’s a real pleasure to be partnering on this year’s City To City programme. As ever, the lineup is incredibly strong, from the London strand to the wider programme which features films like High-Rise, The Program, LEGEND, The Danish Girl, Sunset Song and The Martian, all of which made use of United Kingdom locations, facilities and expertise. It is a fantastic year for U.K. film at the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the world’s best film festivals and it is set to be all the more exciting thanks to London House and the opportunity it gives us to showcase the U.K.’s incredible offer when it comes to talent, versatility and innovation.”

Amalgamating with the Wavelengths programme this year, the visual artistic component formerly known as Future Projections will include the latest installations by Indian-American filmmaker Shambhavi Kaul; a lecture-performance by Toronto-based artist Annie MacDonell and French artist Maïder Fortuné originally commissioned by Le Centre Pompidou’s Hors Pistes festival and TIFF’s first collaboration with the Art Gallery of Ontario to present Thai filmmaker/artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s installation on his native homeland Thailand’s current politics, Fireworks (Archives) plus will show his latest film Cemetery of Splendor at the fest, as well as a new work by Corin Sworn and Tony Romano.

Also the flurry of world cinema comes to TIFF with the machismo absurdist comedy Chevalier from Greece; Hong Kong master Johnnie To returning for his corporate musical-intrigue satire Office; a visionary reimagining on the disastrous World War I Gallipoli campaign 25 April; pre-Arab Spring Tunisian musician drama As I Open My Eyes; Wim Wenders’ 3D melodrama Everything Will Be Fine and the South Korean celebrity satire-fantasy Collective Invention.

***

Single tickets for TIFF 2015 go on sale September 6. For info, call 416-599-8433 or tiff.net/festivals/festival15.

Seriality and the Pop Art superstar

Meraj Dhir: Pop Art in Context (Revolver Gallery)

Andy Warhol: Revisted Gallery, 77 Bloor Street West

Thursday, August 20; 8 p.m.

Arts Feature

Trying to get into the headspace of Andy Warhol would take an excessive amount of time to consume on the man who redefined consumable art in the late-20th century for the masses. Crunching it to under a 90-minute timeframe within reason was Harvard-educated American art historian/critic Meraj Dhir who was in town on August 20 as part of the lecture series in the pop-up Andy Warhol: Revisited gallery to discuss the artist’s work in his forum, Pop Art in Context.

Quite animated in his persona and in the subject at hand, he went through the communicable experience of art and the public itself from medieval times up to Warhol’s own era with set examples surrounded by originals in the space, although Dhir spent the good first 60 minutes building a incredible backlog story on art history from that point of other pre-Pop Art artists from Da Vinci to Pollock and even his search for our own Pop artists drew a blank – and the funniest moment of the talk – where he jokingly said: “I wanted to add some Canadian content [to the slideshow], actually when I Googled ‘Canadian pop art,’ there was a picture of Justin Bieber that came up. So I figured there are no Canadian pop artists!”

In trying to justify all this prelude Dhir did put up a point that a work of art “exists within a kind of, you know, sort of a way that everyone could recognize it,” and Warhol did produce such art for most of his life which is much on display all around Revisted, from his repeated lithographs of Campbell Soup cans to Marilyn Monroe; copying from past artists from the kitsch era of the 1920s through to the post-World War II years in applying paint in various ways.

“What’s interesting in terms of the superimposition here, is the idea that art needs to open itself up to mass culture and what is mass culture in the (then-)age of television?” he explained. “And the televisual aspect in terms of almost of striving here in the visual field, which is very interesting among the elements.

“When Warhol painted all those Campbell Soup cans, for example, it was predetermined by the variety of soup cans, which was thirty-six; there were no more. So in a sense, it gave him the scheme he had to act and repeat (them), so he had this idea of repetition and variation becomes another one of his strategies within the neo-avant-garde. And what’s interesting is, that Warhol was a commercial illustrator for ten years before he entered the fine art world, but already here we see this impulsion toward ‘seriality’, his impulse toward repetition and variation, keeping the lids the same way [and he is thinking] ‘but how many times, how many different shapes can I organize them with?’ This was part of the significant breakthrough for Warhol and again, another way the neo-avant-garde was challenging the traditional notion of art…and this sort of idea that it’s unproblematically attained by the viewer.”

“Warhol wanted to become a fine artist and he realized that abstract expressionism was to become his own. So he took the kind of ready-made object, like commercial imagery, and introduced it here. But he also introduced various sort of sketchy elements that are likely abstract expressionist paintings, so he kind of conflated this commercial imagery with abstract expressionism.”

Continuing with the mechanization behind Warhol’s artistry Dhir also examined another side that’s present in his work. “There’s a dark undercurrent in Pop Art and here we see that where Warhol has repeated the image over and over again, but there are times when the image disappears,” which he presented a promotional photo of Monroe’s 1953 film Niagara. “Warhol has taken that silkscreen and repeated it multiple times and this was created on the eve of her death (in 1962), so there’s a true ‘mourning’ of recognizing the disappearance of this star, this icon of female sexuality.

“But there’s something almost a bit aggressive here too, about the defacement; the kind of iconoclasm of the star image that occurs. So there’s no one right answers to all these ideas or all of these themes in such works that are fascinating.”

Dhir did a very good and smart presentation, but too much build-up on past artists before Warhol kind of hindered it despite the importance of it all and left out his cinematic work, perhaps of time limits, that was supposed to be discussed in the talk. Still, there were a lot of thoughtful and interesting stories involved concerning the power of image in art in all aspects and their usage found not just in Warhol’s work alone and the conceptual elements involved in its developmental process.

***

Andy Warhol: Revisted continues through December 31. For tickets/information, call 647-347-5355 or warholrevisted.com.

Long-lost Suess Pet project a treasure

What Pet Should I Get?

by Dr. Suess

48 pp., Random House Children’s Books/Random House Canada

Hardcover, $21

Children’s Literature/Picture Book

Book Review

Theodor “Dr. Suess” Suessel Geisel long shuffled off his mortal coil back in 1991, but not long afterward his widow Audrey Geisel discovered a box of projects the famed author/illustrator of Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in The Hat had wanted to pursue but never got around due to time constraints and his perfectionist manner, which he would often work and rework on a project for decades.

Putting it aside and rediscovered by Audrey and Suess’ longtime secretary Claudia Prescott in 2013, a finished manuscript with original artwork, probably made sometime between 1958 and 1962; had some publishing potential and for the first time in 24 years after his death, What Pet Should I Get? has finally seen the light of day and it’s not a disappointment for young and old Suess fans alike.

Possibly seen as a youngster’s guide in choosing a companion animal – Suess was a lifelong animal lover – the book follows a brother and sister visiting a local pet store (it was common to get animals from them in the period the book was written, unlike today as animal advocates also encourage to look into animal shelters and rescue organizations) trying very hard to decide on what pet to take home. Simple as that plot might be, it’s a tough choice regarding compatibility versus what would be cooler to have and how one handles responsibility and commitment for an animal to be welcomed and cherished into the household.

The classical Suessian elements of anapestic tetrameter rhyme and art design are all there in Pet, including a cliffhanger ending to promote and provoke the imagination; all lovingly coloured courtesy of Random House Art Director Cathy Goldsmith who painstakingly related the colour scheme from his seminal 1960 work One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, considering the limited palette was made in that time and all of his post-1963 work. But here it works in grounding both that period to maintain the tradition while adding a little more earthen colour for a modern flair.

What Pet Should I Get? is a welcome addition to the Suess bibliography for all of its whimsical charm and wonder abound for all ages. The publishers’ notes at the end on how the posthumous book came to being is an additional delight to read in easy-to-understand language with no dumbing down involved. And if this is just the tip of the iceberg of other undiscovered treasures in those unrealised projects he had locked away for years, can there be, like, maybe one or two more works in the foreseeable future?