Film festival season is now in full swing. The Frame covered the Telluride festival last weekend, the Venice Film Festival just wrapped, and to cap the madness off we wanted to hear what’s happening over the next week in Toronto.
The Frame’s John Horn dialed up Steve Zeitchik, who writes about movies for the L.A. Times and is at the festival.
Compared to last Labor Day weekend’s Telluride Film Festival, Toronto is much, much bigger. There are hundreds of movies, probably more than a thousand journalists like yourself, and a lot bigger studio presence. And it’s also a sales market, where independently financed movies go looking for a distribution deal. So how would you compare Toronto to all the other festivals you attend and especially the ones right around it?
Most of the other gatherings — whether it’s Venice in Europe around the same time and then the New York Film Festival a little bit later — you really get less of a sort of rarified, curated feel and a sort of more is more philosophy. You pretty much have one premiere after another, often several of them going at the same time. And essentially they’re sort of announcing themselves to the world and to the film community for the first time. So how a movie is received here, both to the local audience, but more importantly I think by the film industry and journalist community, really does determine a film’s fate going forward.
What are filmmakers looking to get out of the Toronto Film Festival that they haven’t gotten so far?
It's really a sort of a North American announcement that you’ve arrived [and] in the awards conversation. Bloggers [identify] a best picture or best actor or best screenplay contender, and once it’s sort of solidified, I think it’s much harder to move a contender off that spot — which is why of course the competition is so fierce.
There are a couple of premieres from some Hollywood studios and their art house divisions at Toronto. Those include “Demolition” from director Jean-Marc Vallée, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. And then there’s “Trumbo,” about the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who is played by Bryan Cranston.
I’ll start with “Demolition” first because that is opening the festival. This movie is actually not coming out this award season, but [it's] still a movie high in a lot of people’s radar because Gyllenhaal gives a blackly comic performance. The script hovers between tragedy and comedy. He basically is an unhinged Wall Street trader. Jean-Marc Vallée, of course, directed “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Wild,” so a lot of buzz for that.
And then “Trumbo,” it’s a little tough to gauge what that movie is going to be. Jay Roach, known mostly for comedies, [is] stepping in with that. But getting a chance to see Bryan Cranston play a historical figure — he’s played L.B.J. of course on Broadway and on T.V. — and now to see him play Dalton Trumbo. Those movies — for those reasons and more — have a lot of expectation attached to them.
Unlike Telluride, Toronto can be a big market, kind of like the Sundance Festival. Are there any big acquisition titles that will be playing in Toronto this year?
There are. And it's funny — amid all the celebrity poses and awards buzz, films do screen for buyers and get picked up. Last year, “Still Alice,” Julianne Moore’s movie about an early onset Alzheimer’s patient, was acquired in Toronto and ended up winning her the Oscar. This year I think the Michael Moore film [is a distribution contender]. It’s called, “Where to Invade Next.” It’s kind of a secret film he [made] under the radar about American foreign policy. That one is going to be very much in the conversation.
Another movie that we haven’t talked about, which was up at Telluride and Venice [and] also up for acquisition here is Charlie Kaufman’s “Anomalisa,” which is a sort of animated, stop motion movie. Charlie Kaufman, the writer of “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich,” is making a return as a director. And so those are some of the movies I think people will be keeping an eye on.