This year, I haven’t been running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off like almost everyone else, mainly because there isn’t anything that has played early on in the festival that I was super-excited to see and what I did see—other than a few key exceptions that I will detail later this week—failed to impress. All of the goodies wait at the end of this week’s rainbow for me, so for Day 2’s coverage we are looking at a decidedly mixed bag, sadly.
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As I mentioned earlier, it is practically impossible to decide how best to spend one’s time when so much is being offered at this festival. Do you see the big studio movies that will be released in December or later? Do you choose foreign indies that will never play on any even remotely big screen close to where you live? Do you opt for covering round tables and press conferences where you will be privy to the same rehashed, recycled information as everyone else? Or do you accept the task of conducting private one on one interviews, should you be fortunate enough to be chosen, during the middle of screening madness?
These are all tough questions, but there is an even more pressing conundrum that we writers here at TIFF must eventually face: to walk out of a film screening or not to walk out of a film screening. This is the eternal, burning question of every film critic here whose time and energy is precious. Today’s film writer has to be a juggler, and almost impossibly flexible, but when it comes down actually deciding to get up and leave a theater before the movie is over, what you have is a knotty ethical issue. On one hand, it is incredibly disrespectful to the people involved with making the movie. On the other hand, I’ve done it myself in the past and probably should have done it a lot more often considering some of the trash I have actually sat through.
“I regretted it immediately” says one of the two Swedish men facing each other in a dark studio and talking about their respective sex change operations. Mikael, the one speaking, is built heavy and low to the ground, with dark glasses and a certain Roy Orbison cast. Never comfortable in his own skin, he had the operation in the early 1990s and knew immediately that it was a mistake. Now, he looks eagerly to getting the surgery reversed, imagining that that is going to handle his insecurities and identity problems.
Tsking and tut-tutting from the facing chair is the substantially older Orlando—a physically delicate (but mentally tough) peacock with a blinding white hairdo and a glittering red suit that speaks of certain Las Vegas lounges circa 1974—who had one of the first such operations in the 1960s. Orlando also had his operation reversed (an eleven-year marriage went sour once his husband started demanding children) but seems to know that no matter what the surgeons add or cut away, you’re still left with yourself in the end.
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival’s opening night film came from HBO Documentary Films, showing again why they’re possibly the best producers of nonfiction film currently in the business. This powerful piece of work is by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, whose 2006 film Jesus Camp still stands as one of the great documents of the modern evangelical movement. Taking place entirely on one street in the town of Fort Pierce, Florida, 12th and Delaware tracks two utterly opposed viewpoints and the people who inhabit them: an abortion clinic and a pro-life center, located just across the street from each other.
Divided almost equally in half between the battling camps, Ewing and Grady’s film opens on the pro-life protestors, who pace in front of the clinic all day every day. They wave provocative signs (many covered with gruesome photos), pray the rosary, and try to talk the young women entering the clinic into changing their minds. The protesters are mostly older women, with one frightening exception: a bullet-headed biker type barely able to control his rage who seems on the verge of showing up on the evening news.
The Teacher, The Dead Khan, and The Wandering Poet. Through these three distinct sections of film, director Davoud Geramifard presents a small but loud chorus of dissent against the oppressive dictates of Tehran. In the first, a scholar of an especially secular jollity harangues his students into questioning their surroundings and assumptions. Anywhere else, his actions would be simply the daily work of an effective teacher, but under the looming gloom of Iran’s theocracy, they carry an extra weight of life-risking rebellion.
Geramifard’s middle segment is its most beautiful and also its quietest. The oblique narration and long, wind-swept silences tell the story of the country’s Ghashghai tribe, an entire nomadic culture swept away by the ruling mullahs after the 1979 revolution against the Shah—their Khan executed and people scattered in a program of extirpation that the narrator (his family tending their small herds of sheep in the desert vastness) likens to the Native American genocide.
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