Art & Culture
Toronto International Film Festival
October 29, 2004
Following in the footsteps of the Sundance Film Festival in Utah and the Cannes Film Festival in France, Toronto rolled out its red carpet for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars this September. The Toronto International Film Festival, which ran from September 9th - 18th, was hailed as a major success by its organizers and all those who attended. Aside from a few significant omissions that included Charlize Theron missing her premiere due to a neck injury, an unprecedented Hollywood laden slate was secured. It included the likes of Sean Penn, Dustin Hoffman, Sandra Bullock, Penelope Cruz, Tom Cruise, Annette Bening and Warren Beatty, just to name a few.
This festival rejoiced Al Pacino’s directorial talents in comparison with his directorial debut, Looking for Richard, at TIFF in 1996. His experience with this Shakespearean film in general, was not a favorable one. Aside from receiving scathing reviews for his work, the power failed when he was introducing the film. “I’m in the dark here,” the star cracked, invoking his famous line from Scent of a Woman. His quick wit however could not save him from the critics. This time around, the stars were shining more brightly for Pacino and his experience was a much more positive one. His 2004 submission The Merchant of Venice received much more favorable feedback.
The list of films being shown at the festival ranged from political documentaries to the edgy and extremely sexual portrayal of a junkie hooker. This mosaic of converging views and real life portrayals expressed through film did eventually lead to some controversy. Animal rights activists protested the first public screening of Canadian Zev Asher’s Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat. The film explored the morals and motivations of a group of Toronto artists who videotaped themselves skinning a cat alive for an apparent art project. Despite the outcry by several organizations the film premiered with no incidents.
The festival also featured many European films that included Lila Dit Ca, billed as one of the Arab film’s brightest hopes, directed by Ziad Doueiri. The Lebanese director got his break working for Quentin Tarantino as a cameraman on several of his movies. His directorial debut, West Beirut, about adolescents dealing with the harsh reality of the Lebanese civil war was a real breakthrough. Doueiri’s second feature deals with “the idea and mythology of the sexually precocious woman and how her metaphorical power can help to explore society’s deepest fissures, including race and class.” As film critic Noah Cowen put it, “Doueiri is one of those rare filmmakers who is unafraid to show us ourselves in a mirror and still make us smile and think at the same time.”
Overall, the TIFF brought Toronto much needed exposure after a few years of devastation to the tourism industry brought about by the SARS outbreak. It is estimated that $75 million has been injected into the local economy, half of that from tourists streaming into the city for the 10-day event. It is safe to say that the success of this year’s TIFF has cemented it as one of the premier film festivals in the entertainment industry.