Toronto International Film Festival: An insider’s guide to babe magnets and albino alligators
Colin Firth was in town to promote his new film ‘The King’s Speech,’ while Werner Herzog intoned about albino alligators in his 3-D film ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams.’
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Herzog being Herzog, he also manages to work in a digression about twin albino alligators, which his executive producer has suggested is in the movie so that the great director, who also narrates the film, could intone the word “doppelgänger” on the soundtrack.Skip to next paragraph
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The distinction between documentary and fiction, between “subjective” and “objective,” is never clear-cut, least of all with Herzog, who for his entire career has shuttled back and forth between filmic forms. He tells me about the time he confronted a viewer who claimed that documentarians should be like “a fly on the wall.” “No,” he replied, “we should be the hornets who come out and sting!”
I was yanked away from the worldly otherworldliness of Herzog’s film by Davis Guggenheim’s documentary “Waiting for Superman,” about America’s failing public school system. Guggenheim wants to do for education reform what his “An Inconvenient Truth,” at least in theory, did for climate change reform. He has Bill Gates, who is interviewed in the documentary and thinks it “powerful,” in his corner. But Guggenheim’s denigration of teachers unions and his starry-eyed appraisal of charter schools brought forth a mass e-mail to journalists from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, who writes, “Is America ready to settle for a good education – for the few? That’s the unfortunate takeaway from [the film].”
Just in case Canadians are blasé about education reform – according to a 2006 international survey, Canada ranked 5th among 30 developed nations in teen proficiency in math and science while the United States ranked 25th – the film’s producer, Lesley Chilcott, told a panel audience: “My understanding is things are starting to slip here.” Cue the creepy music.
This was the year when the festival finally unveiled its new year-round home, Bell Lightbox, after a decade of promises and fundraising pitches and hard-hat tours. A five-story downtown complex set beneath a 42-story residential development, it features a three story atrium, twin escalators leading up to five public cinemas, two galleries, three learning studios, a bistro, a restaurant, and a lounge. Everything, it seems, but a heliport. And it all has that new-building smell. A temporary installation features a flurry of split-second clips from 100 “essential” movies ranging from “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (No. 1) to “Playtime (No. 100). Robert De Niro’s cabbie’s license, dating from the penurious days when he was a taxi driver instead of just playing one, is enshrined in a glass case. All in all, a movie nut’s mecca.
My favorite mishap at the festival: Jean-Luc Godard’s talky “Film Socialisme” was screened without much in the way of English-language subtitles. Since for decades his movies have been incomprehensible with English-language subtitles, I didn’t see what the fuss was about.
My favorite movie star encounter: chatting over dinner with Colin Firth, who plays the famously stuttering King George VI in the marvelous “The King’s Speech” (out in December). He said of the king, “He would rather have faced machine-gun fire than a microphone.” Geoffrey Rush plays the speech therapist, Lionel Logue, who saved him.
Firth is a fixture in Toronto and a babe magnet for women of a certain age – of any age, actually. He seems to have finally shucked the Mr. Darcy vibe that saddled him as surely as Gandhi’s once saddled Ben Kingsley. For all that, he remains impeccably well-mannered. I have no doubt he would be unfailingly polite even to twin albino alligators.