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Film Reviews: A TIFF Wish List

Arts Review2023-9-1By: Marc Glassman


A TIFF Wish List

Considering Seven Veils, Days of Happiness, Tautuktavuk, Boil Alert and Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got

By Marc Glassman


With less than a week to go before it all happens, Toronto audiences are bursting with enthusiasm for the return of their favourite festival, TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). Reports are rife with scandalous notes on social media informing us that scalpers are selling tickets for Galas such as Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins at over $400 a clip—and that’s true despite the lack of any big-name actors or directors due to the ongoing actors and writers strikes.  


In a canny strategic move, TIFF’s publicists have begun to focus on the opening weekend when King Street West will be closed from Peter Street to University Avenue for what the festival’s CEO Cameron Bailey calls “a vibrant celebration of art, culture and shared love of storytelling.” Instead of anticipating the arrival of movie stars, we are invited to a Night of Jazz next Thursday with actor-singer Raoul Bhaneja and legendary musician Dave Young. On Friday, Nickelback will be on King Street, playing “real good for free,” while also promoting their new rock doc TIFF Gala, Hate to Love. And there will be outdoor screenings of such fun family fare as Rocky, Clueless, Where the Wild Things Are and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure throughout the weekend.


TIFF has instituted a curious policy, which requires film critics to not review festival selections in advance of their first screenings. Some of us have seen films either at other festivals or via links or advance press screenings. But we’re not allowed to tell what we’ve seen until way into the festival. It’s a strange idea, which puts us into the awkward position of recommending films we may or may not have seen apparently based on press releases, catalogue entries and trailers—items that anyone might have viewed before TIFF. 


So here is a preliminary wish list of films that I think you should see at the festival, presumably based on surmises and good detective work.  


Seven Veils is the Atom Egoyan film I’ve always wanted to see. Of course, I’m just guessing on whether it’s successful because, if so, it’s a perfect film for Classical 96 audiences. Set during a production of “Salomé,” the acclaimed and still controversial Strauss opera, the film dramatizes what happens to the director played by Amanda Seyfried, who has been tasked to remount the production, which she had participated in while much younger. Egoyan’s finest films have always dealt with trauma and so did his version of Salomé, which he first mounted with the Canadian Opera Company in 1996. Mixing psychology with opera and a thriller plot, this is a film that should intrigue filmgoers and music lovers.


Days of Happiness (Les jours heureux) is another film that will attract attention from our audience. Call it—in advance—Tar light: it’s a drama about a female orchestra conductor who is mixing the personal with the musical in her life. Set in Quebec, we follow the burgeoning career of Emma, a brilliant young conductor, who has to deal with the demands of her father, who is also her agent, while managing a love life with a cellist in the Metropolitan Orchestra of Montreal. Best of all, for our listeners, is that music is handled by Maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who worked closely with the film’s director Chloe Robichaud. Naturally, we won’t know for certain that this is a fine film right now but it has the makings of a truly interesting one, with exceptional music.


We’ve anticipated seeing a film from Ontario and one from Quebec. Why not one from Nunavut? 


Tautuktavuk (What We See) is a hybrid film, both a work of fiction and a doc in its shooting style and choice of content. Inuit artists Carol Kunnuk and Lucy Tulugarjuk, who directed the film, play sisters who communicate via Zoom during the worst of the pandemic. Sagpinak (Kunnuk) spends her time during COVID in Nunavut with her family while hosting a TV show, in which elders perform ajaajaa songs. Her younger sister Uyarak (Tulugarjuk) is in Montreal with her daughters but she desperately misses life up North. The conversations between the two sisters have the capacity to become very intense–and I assume that will be the case when I can review it. The program notes indicate that major issues come up in the film: spousal abuse, childhood sexual assault, familial violence. While that makes it seem that the film will be hard to watch, I expect that won’t be the case. Inuit films tend to be slow-paced and possess a documentary feel, allowing the audience to understand what has happened to the two women but not in a salacious or overly dramatic way. Instead, from what I understand, there will be an overwhelming sense of love between the two sisters and an almost pantheistic acceptance of the abuses of the past coupled with the very real expectation that things will improve in the future. 


Boil Alert is yet another Canadian film that should attract attention during the festival and afterwards. It’s focused on the travails of Indigenous communities in Canada and the U.S., who lack the most essential element in life, clean drinking water. The film features a charismatic narrator and host, Layla Staats, a member of the Haudenosaunee people, who is deeply troubled by the environment, which is troubling Indigenous nations across North America. The film—from what I gather—travels from Six Nations of the Grand River to Neskantaga First Nation, who have had to boil their water for over 28 years; and then to New Mexico, where radiation has affected the earth and water; and back to Canada–to Grassy Narrows, and British Columbia. All of these areas have suffered from major ecological issues brought on by land exploitation by either the government or massive corporations. The Indigenous philosophy of loving and respecting the land—and water and animals—has been largely ignored by organizations and institutions that damage the environment and don’t solve the problems they’ve created. This is, at least by intent, a powerful film and it’s great to see that it’s at TIFF.

TIFF has a Classics section and it’s wonderful to see that Brigitte Berman’s Oscar winning film Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got has been restored and will be playing at the festival. In brilliant interviews, Berman was able to get the world-famous jazz musician Shaw to open up and talk about his life and career. Shaw was an intellectual who found the kind of superstar fame that Taylor Swift and Beyoncé have today to be totally unnerving. While he embraced it enough to make a pile of money and marry such Hollywood actresses as Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, Shaw actually wanted to write novels and quite quickly gave up his high life as a hot musician. Sadly, of course, his writing, though quite good, never approached the level of success he achieved as a great clarinetist and arranger. Berman captured the tragedy of Shaw’s life while evoking America in the from the Twenties to the Fifties through judicious use of archival footage and recordings accompanied by incisive interviews. Her film is truly deserving of an Oscar.



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