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Simply a spectacular year at TIFF
September 18, 2010 | Peter Howell | Toronto Star
"Sure, the Lightbox is great. The films screening inside were pretty terrific, too

Settling into my seat for a screening this week at TIFF’s new Bell Lightbox, I couldn’t get over how comfortable I felt.

Not just with the plush seat, which was as embracing as a hug, but with the building itself. The Lightbox has been opened exactly one week now, but it’s already firmly set into Toronto’s cultural firmament. As if it’s been here for years.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. A friend visiting from Cannes, a veteran of many festivals, told me: “I have never seen a town take to a new palais as quickly as Toronto has to the Bell Lightbox.”

All credit is due to TIFF for the great design and organization. The festival spent a decade planning and building the Lightbox, always with an eye to making the moviegoing experience as rewarding as possible.

And the fest’s many wonderful volunteers pitched right in to keep opening-week jitters to a minimum. When a man fainted near me in the line for the Springsteen Mavericks session on Tuesday night, he’d barely hit the ground before volunteers were giving him aid. They also swiftly fixed a gap in the queue ribbon that had been caused by the commotion, preventing a possible jam of people crowding into the theatre.

The Lightbox’s debut had the good fortune of coinciding with one of the strongest festivals in years. The programming team led by TIFF co-directors Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey prepared a slate of nearly 300 films that included so many gems, it was almost an embarrassment of riches.

I saw close to 60 of them, prior to and during the festival. Few very were duds; a good many were great.

It was simply a spectacular year at TIFF. Here again, I’m not alone in this opinion. I talked with many fellow movie critics who expressed similar sentiments.

There were such likely Oscar contenders as The King’s Speech, Black Swan, 127 Hours, Blue Valentine, Biutiful, Another Year and Hereafter — and I know this list misses many other worthy possibilities.

There was a bumper crop of docs, including such personal faves as Werner Herzog’s enthralling Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Errol Morris’ hilarious Tabloid and Thom Zimny’s tunefully insightful The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town.

A strong Canadian selection ranged from the roller-coaster whimsy of Daniel Cockburn’s You Are Here to Richard J. Lewis’ rollicking adaptation of Barney’s Version to Denis Villeneuve’s pulse-quickening thriller Incendies. Incidentally, I would include these last two films in an expanded list of Oscar hopefuls.

Genres of every stripe were ably represented. There were coming-of-age films (Dirty Girl), historical dramas (The Conspirator), heist pictures (The Town), dystopian sci-fi (Never Let Me Go), vampire chillers (Let Me In) and serial-killer thrillers (I Saw the Devil).

Hey, for once I even liked the opening night film — although I was clearly in the critical minority by having kind things to say about Score: A Hockey Musical. It might have helped that I’m not a hockey nut and my expectations weren’t too high.

TIFF’s timing for a great festival couldn’t have been better. The movie industry is in a state of siege, with independent films and adult-oriented dramas being squeezed by a shortage of funds and screens.

Everything that falls between the extremes of Hollywood blockbusters and kiddie cartoons is having a tough time making it to theatres and finding an audience. Even such industry vets as Robert Redford, who directed the docudrama The Conspirator, came to TIFF looking for an angel in the form of a willing distributor.

There might be a cause-and-effect thing happening. Could it be that hard times make for better movies, since adversity weeds out the wannabes from the people who really have a story to tell?

Whatever is going on, it’s all the more reason why the Bell Lightbox felt so right, and right from the start. The very existence of this building is reassuring. It’s a statement that intelligent filmmaking is still a worthwhile pursuit in an age of endless Resident Evil sequels and skateboarding cats on YouTube.

It’s also tangible proof that festivals like TIFF are here to stay, no matter how easy it becomes to watch films on hand-held gizmos.

At the age of 35, TIFF finally moved out of its parents’ basement to its own place, and we are all beneficiaries of that belated act of maturity."
Peter Howell, Toronto Star, September 18, 2010