TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2001 (PART II) Send This Review to a Friend
Once again stars gravitated toward the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the world's best, and fortunately enough of them visited the event before the horrendous terrorist attack in New York that grounded international air travel and prompted the Festival to cancel press conferences. It became impossible for plans to be fulfilled. But the star presence was impressive before that, and hearing directors and actors talk about their films held major appeal for the vast press corps covering the widely attended event.
On one occasion just star presence was enough. It was a treat to see the great French actress Jeanne Moreau arrive to attend the luncheon given by Unifrance, which had a large number of French films showing in Toronto. Moreau is the star of "Cet amour-la," in which she portrays French writer Marguerite Duras (See in Special Reports the Part I article on the Toronto International Festival 2001). Moreau created a stir when she arrived at the luncheon, which happened to be the very day of the World Trade Center bombing. The event was low key in keeping with the mood. Moreau still looked great as she held court at an outdoor table. It reminded me of another afternoon some years ago when she was the star at beachfront luncheon at the Cannes Film Festival.
One film that prompted interesting discussion was "The Business of Strangers," with writer-director Patrick Stettner, Stockard Channing and Julia Stiles participating in a press conference. The film is a power struggle between two business women, and a man is caught in the middle. The film can be interpreted as a women's issue film, as one woman manipulates another and an accusation of rape is called into question. But the panel was in agreement in denying that objective.
"I really don't think it is gender specific," said Stettner. "The world of business concerns power." He stressed that it could have been men involved. Channing, who plays the older woman lured into uncharacteristic behavior, described the business world of frequent travel, spending time in hotels and loneliness as "a very sterile environment." She cited a "power point" involving the women. "It's about business in general." Both Channing and Stiles expressed a career choice liking for parts not defined by men in the women characters' lives. As for the question of whether a rape took place, Stiles was concerned with the larger truth communicated by the film. She maintained: "When Paula [Stiles] breaks down and says she was raped, there's enough of a truth behind it all."
Any press conference with Steve Martin is bound to be entertaining. He was there for "Novocaine," a film noir with a modern bent, along with co-star Helena Bonham Carter and writer-director David Atkins. As you might expect, most questions were addressed to Martin, often with quick, very funny responses. Martin tends to think funny. Someone asked whether he would like to do an historical movie. "What would that be?" he pondered. "Warren Beatty?"
Asked whether there would be other areas of the entertainment world he'd like to explore, he replied, "Uma Thurman." Martin is a dentist in "Novocaine" and is lured into trouble by the drug addict played by Carter. Director and co-screenwriter Atkins is the son of a dentist, and he scouted his father's office as part of the research for the film. "I see this as a dark comedic thriller," he said, "to take people on a roller-coaster ride."
Another highlight was the unusual appearance of David Mamet, writer-director of the double-dealing action caper "Heist," with stars Gene Hackman, Danny Devito, Delroy Lindo, Sam Rockwell and Ricky Jay also present. Mamet, although soft spoken, can be acerbic, as when the issue of scamming in the film arose. "The older I get," Mamet said, "the more the world looks like a confidence game. Politicians can learn from professional wrestling."
Hackman said that when he read the script he didn't appreciate reference to his character as the "old guy." Retorted Mamet: "I'm still touched that you read the script." Hackman plays a veteran crook who wants to pull off one more lucrative job before retiring with his riches. Rockwell paid a tribute to Mamet for having written "fantastic dialouge, just exquisite--great to speak." But Hackman chided, "It's hard to get him to change anything."
DeVito was flip in some of his answers. In reponse to a question about whether it was fun working on the film, he commented, "Yeah, I haf a f-----g great time. I worked two weeks. I got to tell everybody off and get out of there."
The problem at many press conferences is that the questions aren't challenging enough. For example, at the session for the provocative film "In the Bedroom," someone asked Sissy Spacek whether she had advice for young actors just starting out. Spacek's response was better than the question. "My response to all actors when they're starting out is to save their money."
Tom Wilkinson, who plays the husband opposite Spacek in the drama about a couple's crisis when tragedy strikes, revealed, "I started out wanting to be a director and I became an actor." He's British, yet he has to speak like a New Englander in the American-made film. Difficult?
"A lot of British actors have a life-long affection for America," he noted, contending that being able to do an American accent was not that hard. But he did admit to getting help from a dialogue coach. Director Todd Field and Marisa Tomei, who plays a key starring role, also took part. One aspect not touched upon was the subject of vigilante justice, but there was a worry that getting into the plot with detail would spoil the film for those who had not seen it.
As has been the custom, there was a substantial contingent of European filmmakers to emphasize new developments, with a luncheon meeting titled "The Face of European Cinema Today," attended by numerous directors on the program representing films, some co-productions, from various countries, including France, Belgium, France/Israel, Denmark, Italy, Holland, Austria, Norway and Germany.
There were many more stars than mentioned above, a condition which has become customary at the Toronto event. This was the 26th annual Festival for the city. Its ability to attract major films and renowned directors and actors is a far cry from the early days of proving itself. There is nothing to prove now. The Toronto International Film Festival is high on the list of film gatherings with eager participants world-wide.