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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Bruce Kirkland, excerpt from The Toronto Sun
"The most fascinating films that closed the festival

In honour of TIFF’s 40th anniversary, we look back with wonder, and sometimes frustration, with some of the films that were Closing Night Galas. But first some thoughts on festival dynamics. All film events suffer from ‘End of Festival Malaise’. Many entertainment media have already abandoned TIFF this year, as always. That is exactly what happens in other cities including Cannes, the Grand Pere of filmfests.

Because of this phenomenon, producers, filmmakers and distributors want their prestige pictures to play in Toronto on the opening weekend. More impact, more media hoopla, better chances of coming out of TIFF with new sales or bigger box office or even an Oscar campaign underway.

“You’re right,” TIFF director Piers Handling says. “Every festival is front-loaded. It’s very difficult not to do that. There is too much pressure, because everyone feels that the press is here for the first week of the festival and they tend to kind of go after the Wednesday. But it still is a public festival — and obviously there is a large Toronto public that continues to go to the films. There are Galas and special events involving major names at the end, including our Closing Night Gala. But it does appear somewhat to be an irreversible trend.”

Handling says that TIFF is handling the situation “as best we can,” including offering a free screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 classic Vertigo on Sunday, 3:00 p.m. at Roy Thomson Hall. “It will be extraordinary — with the Bernard Herrmann score played live by the TSO (Toronto Symphony Orchestra) in RTH!”

As for TIFF’s Closing Night Galas, the first Festival of Festivals in 1976 showcased the Soviet film, Queen of the Gypsies (also known as Gypsies are Found in Heaven). Since then, some other fascinating films have taken the slot:

Divine Madness (1980): My first official Toronto Sun interview was Bette Midler for Michael Ritchie’s wildly entertaining musical and comedy doc. Great interview, great doc, great way to end TIFF 1980!
Threshold (1981): Richard Pearce’s medical drama, starring Donald Sutherland as a heart surgeon who pioneers artificial heart transplants, has never been given the accolades it deserves.
Children of a Lesser God (1986): With William Hurt and Marlee Matlin co-starring in Randa Haines’ romantic drama, Mark Medoff’s stage play became a worthy film about a deaf woman intersecting with a speech therapist.
Twist (1992): Celebrated Toronto documentarian Ron Mann still deserves a shout-out for his post-WWII popular dance doc. It focuses on the Twist — and what ‘60s youth can forget Chubby Checker?
Rudy (1993): David Anspaugh’s biopic about the runt of the litter who finally realizes his dream to play a few seconds of U.S. college football is a favourite of sports fans. But most forget it launched at the Toronto filmfest.
That Thing You Do! (1996): Tom Hanks made his feature directorial debut with this hep-cat rock ‘n’ roll drama. It got Toronto dancing in the aisles with Liv Tyler, Charlize Theron, Steve Zahn and Hanks in the ensemble.
Seven Years in Tibet (1997): I teased my filmmaking friend Jean-Jacques Annaud for casting Brad Pitt in the lead role, but this political film about an Austrian’s unlikely friendship with the young Dalai Lama is still visually striking.
Femme Fatale (2002): Brian De Palma, a festival habitue, delighted in screening his lurid crime drama at TIFF. Rebecca Romijn co-starred with Antonio Banderas.
Amazing Grace (2006): Based on reality, Michael Apted’s heart-felt film chronicles the desperate battle to take Britain out of the brutal slave trade late in the 1700s. The hymn’s guilt-ridden, anti-slavery origins story is told here.
Stone of Destiny (2008): Actor-filmmaker Charles Martin Smith delighted in telling this true-life tale about Scottish rogues who steal back the legendary Stone of Scone in the 1950s. But it missed its mark at the box office.
The Young Victoria (2008): Jean-Mac Vallee’s masterful Demolition opened this year’s TIFF. His first English-language success — a biopic of the young Queen Victoria with Emily Blunt — propelled his career into the mainstream.

Posted by Geoff at 7:46 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, September 20, 2015 7:49 PM CDT
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