TIFF this. TIFF that. Around here, if you’re not TIFF’ing, you’re out of the loop, off the radar, more inconsequential than a TV critic at a film festival.
It’s a tricky relationship, this thing between film and television. Recently, the online BBC produced a list of the 100 best movies of the 21st century so far. I think I’ve seen 19 of them and of that number I saw precisely one in a movie theatre. The others I watched on TV. Movies are a different beast.
The Toronto International Film Festival shindig is massive, mind you. It is impossible to be unaware of it. Loads of great movies, armies of people roaming the streets, all excited about the movies and being very cheerful. Sometimes, one gathers, there are parties and movie stars show up to drink Champagne or vodka cocktails but are never seen eating. In the backrooms, somewhere, deals are done, money is invested and somebody’s little movie gets a big break.
Me, there’s only one movie I’d be very interested in seeing at TIFF, and that’s Maudie. Starring British actress Sally Hawkins as Nova Scotia folk-artist Maud Lewis, it’s directed by Irish filmmaker Aisling Walsh and written by Sherry White of Newfoundland. But I imagine it will be available on some TV service in due course, so I’ll wait.
And here’s the thing – I still don’t understand why a sliver of television has been inserted into TIFF. This is the second year the Primetime segment has been included to showcase a handful of TV productions and it remains a mystery to me. That is, why bother? “Tune in to Primetime,” says the TIFF website, which seems odd since when people go to a movie theatre, they don’t “tune in” to anything. Pedantic of me, perhaps, but the TV element of TIFF is so slight that it barely registers.
This year, again, several of the TV productions highlighted at TIFF are small-scale, intimate programs that would not benefit particularly from being seen on a big screen with hundreds of other people.
Transparent, which streams on Shomi in Canada, is part of the event. Creator Jill Soloway’s richly textured series, now entering its third season, about Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor), is a slow-burning, bittersweet comedy. It is best watched a few episodes at a time. Say, three. It builds from a seemingly lackadaisical style into something much more fierce about Maura and the LGBT community. It also pokes around, quietly and minutely, at the dynamics of family. Call me crazy, but I can only imagine that watching it in a movie theatre is a novelty, not a substantive experience.
The same can be said of nirvanna the band the show. It’s Canadian and coming to the Vice channel soon. On the evidence of the first few episodes, it is formidably charming, slyly engaging and a little gem. Certainly it is far more sophisticated than the Web series on which it is based.
Stars and creators Matt Johnson and Jay McCarrol are two twentysomething best buds, living aimlessly in Toronto. They’ve got a band – called Nirvanna, and note the two “n’s” to prevent being mistaken for Nirvana – and want to play at the Rivoli. Otherwise, the show is two guys doing silly things, smoking weed, having beers and telling yarns. It is deeply, deeply rooted in Toronto, this series. A good deal of one episode seems to be set at Honest Ed’s, and Queen Street West is the spine of the show. The dynamic is amiable, laid-back and seductive. And in the way certain great Canadian TV productions are – such as Trailer Park Boys and Letterkenny. But again, what role it plays at TIFF is beyond me.
The episodes of Black Mirror (seen here on Super Channel and coming to Netflix) screening at TIFF might be interesting to see on a big screen in a theatre. But how that would add to appreciation of the series is puzzling. Created by Charlie Brooker, who spent time writing a TV review column for The Guardian, it is emphatically anchored in the history of TV genres. Each episode is a blackly comic, twisted tale, a kind of Twilight Zone on acid. Expectations are upended, often chillingly so. The lavish production values could look splendid on a big screen, but the series belongs on TV.
I wouldn’t begrudge anyone the pleasure of seeing a handful of TV programs at TIFF. But does the Primetime program add to what you might call the cultural capital of TIFF? My views are probably inconsequential.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy, 11 p.m.) has former U.S. president Bill Clinton tonight, making his first-ever appearance on the show. The plan, we are informed, is for Clinton to sit down with Trevor Noah to discuss the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. This is where Noah needs to step up his game, if that’s possible.Report Typo/Error