Engaging with the history of cinema is one of the most important roles a film festival can play. Each year, amidst the red carpet frenzy and obsession over world premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival, the TIFF Cinematheque presents an invaluable program of films across all eras and nations of cinema.
This year the selection was undertaken by a programming committee consisting of Brad Deane, James Quandt, and Jesse Wente. Deane, the Senior Manager of Film Programmes at the TIFF Cinematheque year-round, insisted that these films needed to screen alongside the dozens of contemporary works showing in the very same building of the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
“It’s impossible to understand the present without knowledge of our past,” said Deane. “I believe that any festival showing contemporary films is obliged to show classics because cinema is a continuum. It’s great to see contemporary cinema alongside the films that influenced them. The classics give us perspective because they still work so well.”
Among the titles in this year’s lineup was a new 35mm restoration of Frederick Wiseman’s legendary documentary debut, “Titicut Follies,” about a state prison for the criminally insane in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Wiseman himself introduced the film and did a Q&A, and having the artists present is part of the Cinematheque’s mandate. The biggest guest this year had to be Michael Mann, who presented his film “Heat” for its 20th anniversary with a print he assembled reel by reel from other several others. Mann engaged in a conversation with Jesse Wente and an enthused audience.
Other works included “Harlan County U.S.A” (accompanied by a live musical performance), ‘The Mask” (‘Eyes of Hell”), Marcel Ophuls’ “The Memory of Justice,” and Kelly Reichardt’s ‘River of Grass,” the restoration of which was crowdfunded on Kickstarter by distributor Oscilloscope Laboratories.
For ‘River of Grass,” Deane said, “it’s interesting, because most times people don’t think more recent films are as in need of restoration, when in fact they are often some of the ones most in need.” The low budget 16mm production has been neglected for two decades. “It doesn’t have a big studio tending to the elements or striking new prints,” Deane added.
Not all the guests are the artists who made the work. For example, Roberto Minervini, director of this year’s Cannes entry “The Other Side,” introduced Luchino Visconti’s masterpiece “Rocco and His Brothers,” and ‘Son of Saul” director Laszlo Nemes — another Cannes-heralded filmmaker — introduced Miklso Jansco’s ‘The Round-Up.” The program creates a forum and a dialogue for filmmakers and audience members to interact with. Best of all, the films in the selection are made free to the public, in order to encourage everyone to recognize the mastery and timeless value of these canonical and unsung classics.
It’s the latter that may be the most integral part of the TIFF Cinematheque program, to bring attention to films previously unavailable or wrongfully underappreciated. When asked about the true highlight this year, Deane emphasized the significance of screening Jacques Rozier’s “Adieu Philippine.”
“I have long been a fan of Rozier’s films but unfortunately they’re not very well known here in North America,” Deane said. ‘I think ‘Adieu Philippine’ is one of the great films of the French New Wave and it deserves to be seen by more people.” The programmer approached Rozier at Cannes earlier this year about preparing a new print in time for TIFF. “As strange as it sounds, I feel like this film, which is over 50 years old, will be a revelation to many,” he said.
Such revelations are the very goal of the program — and while a selection of nine films may seem quite small, it gives these masterworks the emphasis they deserve to stand out at festival as gigantic and overwhelming as TIFF. Now it’s up to the rest of the world to take notice.