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TIFF 2011: Concluding Thoughts on the Festival and People’s Choice Winner

September 19, 2011

By John C.

As always, Roy Thompson Hall was home to many of the gala premieres during the 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival

From the many great films screened and numerous celebrity sightings, right through to small pleasures like the promotional bottle openers and free pizza handed out at the 50/50 world premiere, the 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival was a success on pretty much all accounts.  After eleven days, it has come to a close.  But there is still plenty to talk about in the wake of the some 336 films that were screened.

A lot of people noted that there was a surprising amount of nudity in some of the films that were screened and even a fair bit of brutal violence, which might suggest that audiences are now open to many more things being shown at a mainstream festival.  But movies that used humour to deal with serious subjects were also one of the main themes of what I saw at TIFF.

During the festival, I had the privilege of publishing a total of ten very diverse capsule reviews.  When TIFF opened on September 8th, I raved about Ryan Gosling’s excellent performance in the tense thriller Drive, recommended Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, called Lucky a nice change of pace, shared my lukewarm reaction to The Odds and warned you to steer clear of Amy George.  A week later on September 15th, I highly recommended the riveting Canadian film Edwin Boyd, was wonderfully surprised by Your Sister’s Sister, enjoyed the believable performances of Like Crazy, had a good laugh with the hilarious Butter and called Jeff, Who Lives at Home a small masterpiece.  Please read them all here and here.

Although there was a lot of predicted buzz heard going in, this was still very much a festival filled with surprises.  The fact that the eleven days closed with the little known Lebanese film Where Do We Go Now? winning the Cadillac People’s Choice Award is perhaps the biggest evidence of this.  Of all the days I spent at the festival, I didn’t hear the film mentioned once in any of the lines that snaked around the block or inside any of the theatres.  The ones that everyone seemed to be talking about were The Artist, The Descendants and 50/50.  From all of the conversations I heard, if any unexpected choice had snuck in, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the award had gone to Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister.  But the award was ultimately not this easy to predict.  Not by a long shot.

Directed by Nadine Labaki, Where Do We Go Now? takes place in a small Lebanese village and has a few unique things to say about the clashes between religions.  The Catholics and Muslims often do their best to get along, but after a series of misunderstandings, religious tensions start to rise amongst some of the men.  It is ultimately up to the women to think of increasingly clever ways to distract them from fighting and desperately bring peace back to their quiet lives.  Aside from apparent comedy and some touching drama, perhaps the most surprising of the genres that it falls into is musical.  For me, the film is actually at its weakest during these seemingly random and usually silly interludes.

Although Where Do We Go Now? clearly isn’t perfect, it is thankfully a pretty good little film from a country that is increasingly on the public’s radar.  It wouldn’t have been my personal choice to give it the top prize, but I have to respect how much it must have meant to the three big audiences that saw it.  As TIFF co-director and CEO Piers Handling said, “that this film won is clearly a statement.”  Not just a possible political or religious statement, but also a representation of the genuine nature of having an award chosen by the audience.  For better or for worse, it will always represent how passionately audiences felt about a certain film as well as the time or place when they saw it.

Movies are obviously the basis of this festival, but one of the things that always make these eleven days truly special are the numerous celebrities who are in town to support their films. Aside from the many Hollywood stars who can be spotted around the city, it’s always great to see the look on the face of an independent filmmaker as they stand in front of a truly appreciative audience.  These are the kind of experiences that you can only really have at a film festival.  Although there were a few exhausting days for me, I still had a great time and look forward to seeing even more films when September rolls around again this time next year.

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