TORONTO 2001: The Festival That Wasn't
by Anthony Kaufman
(indieWIRE/ 09.17.01) -- I would have liked to see the end of "Lantana," the closing night film of the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival, but it was during its final 20 minutes that news hit of the terrorist attacks. The screen went black, the lights went up and Lions Gate Films publicist James Ferrara walked in and said, "We can continue the screening if you like, but there has been a terrorist attack on the U.S. . . ." I remember saying, as everyone must have thought when they first heard the news, "You've got to be fucking kidding." When Ferrera's face remained unflinching and continued to explain what was happening, I got up and sprinted out of the theater in search of word from my loved ones.
There's no other way to consider this year's fest without first person accounts such as these. (Imagine ten years from now when we'll all say, "I remember when I first heard. . . ") And there's no way to look at anything last week without the shattering context of Tuesday's events. For all practical purposes, the festival ended that horrible morning and the rest of our days in Toronto were spent wracked with worry.
I still managed to see five movies after the devastating tragedies, mostly to seek respite from the ever-present TV news reports that loomed everywhere: bars, restaurants, lobbies, hotel rooms and the big television screen on Bloor Street that drew sidewalk crowds, looking up in horror. Of the five films (Jean-Luc Godard's "Eloge de l'amour," Bille August's "A Song for Martin," Pan Nalin's "Samsara," Steve Jacob's "La Spagnola" and Julio Medem's "Sex and Lucia"), I managed to stick it through only three: the Godard, "Song for Martin" and "Sex and Lucia," although during another time and place, I would have surely stayed through the lush landscapes of "Samsara." But during all of the movies, my concentration waned and images of the planes striking the World Trade Center would fill in the gaps. I'd miss dialogue, forget what I was watching and then struggle to catch up.
While watching Godard's demanding combination of text and images, exquisite 35mm black and white and saturated color DV, I busily scrawled notes in the dark to help me focus: "Memory has no obligations," "art works demand titles, like nobility and Wall Street," "pain-in-the-ass Americans," and the movie's final refrain, "Maybe nothing was said." When one of the characters accuses the U.S., a country "without history," of seeking history elsewhere (WWII Europe), I couldn't help but think that as of Tuesday, the character -- and Godard -- might have reconsidered their stance.
"Samsara" and "La Spagnola," both originally scheduled to screen on Tuesday, world premiered on Thursday, as the initial shock of the event transformed into a sustained fear and anxiety among many attendees. "Samsara" was a pleasant escape; set amidst India's Himalayan peaks, the film pays careful attention to the details of life in a Buddhist monastery and the charming story of one monk's journey outside, into earthly delights and sorrows. Director Nalin noted before the screening the film's title was apropos of current events, translated as "the cycle of life and death."
August's "A Song for Martin" distracted in another kind of way: the sadness of Alzheimer's Disease. A conventional melodrama, "Martin," nevertheless, featured strong performances from its older cast: Viveka Seldahl as a concert violinist who divorces her husband of many years to fall in love with and marry her conductor -- who she eventually loses to the debilitating disease.
The love scenes and narrative play of "Lucia" also drew my mind away from the violence. Medem follows "The Lovers of the Arctic Circle" with another Kieslowskian story of love, doubles and twisting fates. Medem also created a unique look (I think a combination of DV and film): overexposed beach-scapes and bedrooms, drained of color and evoking a dream-like world where his characters live between fiction and reality (one of the protagonists is a writer, creating perhaps half of what we see.) "Lucia" is too long, unfortunately, but its beginning is fresh and likeable. "La Spagnola," on the other hand, is a vicious comedy with unlikeable characters. It didn't help that before entering the screening, a colleague told me that his wife's office was evacuated back in New York, along with Grand Central Station. About 30 minutes into the movie, I left and went looking for my fianc