I had two big moments at TIFF 2010. One was personal and a bit emotional. And the other was just a breath-of-fresh-air encounter with a mega-watt star, who after 50 years in this glitzy business, remains a swell, ordinary guy. I'll start with the latter.
The Oscar-winning actor/director Clint Eastwood gave a handful of journalists an unexpected treat last Sunday when – waiting for his film's Hereafter star and friend, Matt Damon to show up – he plopped down at the piano in the Windsor Arms Hotel to pluck out a lilting melody. The room was dead silent when Eastwood finished, then erupted with boisterous applause. Eastwood gave his famous slanted grin, waving it off. Then he casually strolled over to a booth for the half-hour interview, shaking hands, and introducing himself simply, "Hi. I'm Clint."
Last Monday at 9 in the morning, I raced to a screening of Nicole Kidman's family drama, Rabbit Hole, about a couple (Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) trying to cope with the debilitating grief after the death of their four-year-old son, killed after racing onto the street in pursuit of his dog. As a mother – and sister of a brother who lost both his boys in a car accident – I wasn't prepared for the emotional roller coaster this film would take me on. And I showed up at the interview with Kidman and her co-star, immediately following the screening, a bit shaky and wobbly-voiced. Kidman picked up on the emotional cues.
After our chat, I stood to shake hands. "I can't shake your hand," said the Australian actress, striding over to me. "I have to give you a hug." I left the room, equal parts embarrassed and grateful.
It's awfully rare but, sometimes, as the ink-stained navigate the labyrinth to sit down for that brief audience with fame, an interview actually evolves into a conversation. And so it did with director Mike Leigh, whose consistently fine films – the likes of Naked, Topsy-Turvy, Secrets and Lies, Vera Drake and now Another Year – should rank him high on any list of the world's auteurs. Yet Leigh has a rep for being prickly with critics. His inclination is to judge the people whose vocation is to judge him. Fair enough. We get beyond that and then, as the chat continues, something odd occurs. I happen to mention Eric Rohmer, and Leigh immediately interjects: "Oh, I like his films, and he told me he liked mine too."
Later, Robert Altman's name comes up. Same interjection: Liked him, he liked me. It didn't seem boastful or insecure so much as vulnerable and touching. Even at 67, with such an impressive body of art to his credit, he needs validation, needs to remind himself, far more than me, of what every real artist struggles not to forget: that he's good, and that he can do it again.
My favourite event at TIFF this year was a lovely, low-key dinner that Maple Pictures had for its film Made in Dagenham last Sunday night, mixing some of the cast, the director Nigel Cole, and the producer Stephen Woolley (a hero of mine) with some local female journos. Everything was off the record and everyone was drinking wine, so some juicy stories got passed around.
There's one I'm sure Cole wouldn't mind my sharing: After his 2000 film Saving Grace won the audience prize at Sundance, Hollywood came calling. So he set himself up at the Standard Hotel on Sunset Boulevard and took meetings. For several months, suits dangled a potential job in front of him: a Kate Hudson rom-com, the Holy Grail of chick flicks. He hung in there through several on-again, off-again cycles, his hotel bill getting bigger and bigger, until finally, he literally couldn't afford to check out. He eventually got a loan from his family to pay his bill. Hudson never materialized. But here he was, years later, on his own terms.
A few days later, Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance told his audience that he'd played his movie in his head every day for 12 years until he got here. Twelve years! And then I heard that one of the young stars of Dirty Girl had to cut TIFF short to get back to his day job: tour guide at Universal Studios in Burbank. I'd been feeling cynical about the festival, and these stories reminded me of what people, at every level, have to go through to get to TIFF. And I was glad that, for another year, we'd all made it.
"I reached a happy stage of my life where I have no expectations any more and I'm glad I'm not young any more," said Anthony Hopkins at the press conference for Woody Allen's You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. And then he quoted a favourite line from T.S. Elliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, perfectly phrased, in his slight Welsh lilt and as the words dropped like pebbles into a clear stream, the hairs on the back of our necks went up:
"I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, And I have seen the eternal footman hold my coat, and snicker, And in short, I was afraid."
Julian Schnabel, relaxed in a long-sleeved shirt and shorts, talked with the ease of an old high-school buddy and insisted on sharing the fruit platter. Kevin Spacey also became my old pal, with a lively handshake and clear-headed conversation about the nature of acting, while schlumping forward in a humble way to the edge of the restaurant table. But the most remarkable were the few minutes of quiet conversation with French film auteur Catherine Breillat. In her 60s and extraordinarily beautiful in that French way, she immediately raised the conversation to a higher level, mixing references to psychology and artistry, much like her films.
Her latest film The Sleeping Beauty, riffing off the fairly tale very loosely, is about the transition from the confidence of children and play-acting to the confusion of adolescence and sexuality. From the start, Breillat's work has been given socio-political labels, chiefly "feminist cinema." Yet that's what was so remarkable about our talk, as she brushed her bangs elegantly from her eyes, is that she doesn't care about the labels. Her work is forever being analyzed, and yet unlike so many other filmmakers, she's not openly concerned with the politics of the film community. Film technique and cinematic language are far more pressing. She's simply working for her art.
I can no longer count how many times I've crossed paths with Harvey Weinstein, the omnipotent film exec, in my years covering TIFF. Last year, I spoke to him for the first time; we were at the InStyle Hollywood Foreign Press Association event and his company had purchased Tom Ford's A Single Man in a seven-figure deal mere hours earlier. Congratulations were in order. I didn't expect him to remember me and indeed, I'm sure he didn't when we spotted each other last Friday night in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel. We were at opposite ends and he paused just long enough to do a quick scan (as in, "Do I know this person?"). Then he barks a single word "Glasses!" loud enough for many to hear. My eyewear serves as an occasional conversation starter, but never as such a brusque declaration. Unsure how to respond, I manage, "Nice to see you again Harvey," although likely too quiet for him to hear.
Later that night, I find him settled into a sofa at the Grey Goose Soho House pop-up lounge, a clubby retreat set up for five nights during TIFF. Forget Blake Lively, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Paul Haggis and Marillon Cotillard who were also there; I need to chat with Weinstein, if only for clarification.
"Apologies for interrupting, Harvey, but I'm curious to know what you meant about my glasses," I say.
His answer: "I think they're beautiful."
Really? Beautiful? That was the last word I was expecting Weinstein to use but I'll take it.