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When Are Films Political: The Brave Films of Toronto International Film Festival

When Are Films Political: The Brave Films of Toronto International Film Festival

Five brave films have made TIFF stand out in a very particular way for me this year.  Usually I, among hordes of others, am busiest chasing down the next Academy Award contenders, the high priced U.S. acquisitions or the major sleeper of the festival.  Those films are repeatedly covered by the trades, and my Rights Roundup will keep a running talley on all announced pickups worldwide of all the films.  

These other brave films are the films which motivate our best filmmakers to create works of art in the first place of filmmaking on my charts.

I already covered Annemarie Jacir’s newest film, When I Saw You (ISA: The Match Factory), about a young Palestinian boy in 1967 who, when placed in a Jordanian camp with his mother, insists on returning to his home to find his father. Annemarie is a beautifully determined Jordanian filmmaker who will make films which reflect our world’s diversity, speaking out for women and children who would otherwise have no voice. Although there are several films dealing with these refugee camps of Palestinians which were supposed to be temporary but have remained in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. for three generations, further marginalizing the dispossessed, this one stands out for me because it shows the woman and child in their own private spheres, marginalizing the male politics of the situation.  The child’s refusal to accept artificial barriers and borders triumphs in the end. That is the only hope for world unity.

Its opposite is realized in Costa Gavras’ new film Capital, where money and corporate interests know no borders, and the socialist dream is turned on its head. This film was supported by the French; When I Saw You was supported by Abu Dhabi film funds.  Both are important views of life in two vastly different segments of the world today.  Will either see wide distribution? The Match Factory who has the most films in Toronto of any sales agent is selling the former and Elle Driver is selling the latter.  We’ll watch the sales on these two issue oriented dramas’ sales.

Another film The Match Factory is handling is Hannah Arendt, directed by Margarethe von Trotta, another filmmaker who is fearless in facing deeply philosophical and important issue.  Hannah Arendt, one of the greatest political analysts of the XX° century, who coined the phrase, “the banality of evil” when she covered the Jerusalem trial of Adolph Eichmann in 1961, and, in so doing, lost many of her best friends, is here portrayed by Barbara Sukowa, who revives the 60s in the New York German Jewish intellectual milieu, reminding us of the days when the New School was tackling tough issues and New Yorker magazine was articulating issues of great importance which today are just as urgent as they were then. The nature of totalitarianism includes victims and oppressors in a cycle of silence which in turn, creates evil because no one speaks up to protest.  It took Von Trotta 10 years to make this film in spite of her winning the Venice Fest’s Golden Lion for Marianne and Juliane in 1981, a story sharing the theme that von Trotta uses throughout her works, that “the personal is political”, or Barbara Sukowa’s winning Best Actress for in Venice for the same movie and Best Actress at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival for her work in von Trotta’s film Rosa Luxemburg The New York of this story (“Paradise” as the most wonderful Barbara Sukowa named it in Hannah Arendt) is so well captured because Barbara Sukowa is not only the consummate German as seen in her roles in Fassbinder’s films but is also a longtime New Yorker, married to the artist Robert Longo.  In addition to those credentials, the scriptwriter is Pamela Katz who wrote Von Trotta’s Rosenstrasse is also a New Yorker married to the German DP Florian Ballhaus (The Devil Wears Prada), the son of the legendary Michael Ballhaus.  They all live in the same New York that they inherited from the very people they recreate in the film!

And yet another brave film about a brave woman is The Patience Stone (ISA: Le Pacte) by Atik Rahimi which was just picked up for U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics which will ignite a lot more sales for Le Pacte and which puts it into the Best Foreign Language Academy Award company for 2012. So far, Brazil is the only buyer registered on Cinando.  Watch the film on Cinando!  It is pure poetry.  Piers Handling himself recommended it and it was the buzz film of the festival.  It is a movie which Muslim fundamentalists would never allow to be made; and they will hate it.

The issue of religious fundamentalism was also treated with great delicacy in Mira Nair’s story of cross cultural belief systems at odds. The Reluctant Fundamentalist (ISA: K5 International who also sold the great sleeper, The Visitors) stars Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber and Kiefer Sutherland.  Riz Ahmed who also starred in Trishna is someone who you will want to see again, and I hope we see him soon!  He graduated Oxford University with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and later enrolled into London’s Central School of Speech and Drama.  He’s quoted in IMDb as saying, “[Oxford University] is socially unrepresentative about the real world.  The first person I met, I asked to borrow a phone charger.  She looked at me, laughed in my face, and told me with no irony or malice that I looked just like Ali G.”  Ironically, he reminds me of Gordon Warnicke who played Omar in My Beautiful Laundrette and who is British born of South American and German ancestry (and who is probably Jewish).  IFC snapped up North American rights to this outstanding film in which Pakistan and Wall Street unite and divide as a smart young Pakistani enters the Hallowed Halls of the Ivy League, Big Business on Wall Street and High Society via Romance until September 11, 2001 shatters the illusions of peace and prosperity we all had been harboring.

There are many more brave and wonderful films which screened this year at TIFF, but for me, these were the ones I was honored to catch.  I hope my readers get the chance to see these!

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