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TIFF 2017: The best, worst and most awkward moments of the festival

TIFF 2017

The best, worst and most awkward moments of the festival

Despite plenty of screenings this weekend, King Street is back to its usual tourist-trap self — leaving time for The Globe and Mail's arts team to reflect on the film festival

Actor Nicole Kidman arrives with her husband Keith Urban at the premiere of The Upside at TIFF on Sept. 8, 2017.

Although there are still plenty of TIFF screenings this weekend, most of the international press and high-wattage celebrities have left town and King Street is back to its usual tourist-trap self. But before we bid adieu to the festival for another year, The Globe and Mail's arts team presents the best, worst and most awkward moments of TIFF 2017.



Watching a screening of Faces Places, a documentary from the octogenarian Agnès Varda, I was expecting some gentle, late-career travelogue as the filmmaker trips around France with the artist and photographer JR, taking shots of the people they meet, enlarging them to giant size and plastering them on buildings. But mild anticipation gave way to a complete coup de coeur as I watched. The film cleverly teases out themes of self, work and death as Varda and JR ply their magic trade as storytellers and image makers everywhere from a goat farm to the port of Le Havre.


Are all single mothers really this dumb, I wondered to myself as TIFF began to compile the evidence against them. I spotted the stereotypical motif – stories about endangered youth triggered by inattentive mothers – watching A Worthy Companion, in which a lonely teenage girl is seduced by an emotionally unstable woman. It didn't seem to have occurred to the hard and distant parent in that film that she might discuss living arrangements with her teen before selling the house and moving in with her new boyfriend. Pyewacket also features another dim mother, a widow who moves her grieving teen out to an isolated cabin in the woods where the girl, now separated from her friends, concocts an occult revenge on the mother. It's a horror movie – no witless mom, no plot. Even otherwise solid films, including the Chinese neo-noir Angels Wear White and the Moroccan societal portrait Razzia, featured divorced mothers too busy chatting with their lovers to pay attention to unhappy girls who were getting into trouble. The fathers, for the most part, were conveniently absent. Apparently the current cinema has very little confidence in contemporary families.

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Actor Andrew Garfield arrives at the premiere of Breathe on Sept. 11.



Michael Shannon has an intimidating image, he being gaunt and towering with a postapocalyptic gaze and an in-his-own-world groove. A colleague told me he'd heard the actor, at TIFF for The Shape of Water and The Current War, was a "tough interview." He was not. He sat on a couch in the lotus position – of course he did – and we spoke about his folk-rock band, Corporal. After the interview, he saw me in the hall. "So you listened to the song Folklore," he said, pleased and surprised. When I said I'd listened to the whole album, he replied, "Wow, the whole thing. The whole kit and caboodle, as they say in the provinces." Then he shuffled into an elevator and asked me, without making eye contact, if I was going down. I stupidly said I wasn't. Who wouldn't want to go down with Michael Shannon?

Most awkward

I love Alan Zweig's new documentary There Is a House Here, but was worried about speaking with him about it because I had ruthlessly panned his previous film Hope. And I knew he knew that. Meeting him, I started things off on the wrong foot by praising him as the "Michael Moore of the North." He mentioned my review of Hope in passing, and dismissed it with no rancour. "It's okay, we don't need to talk about that." A gentleman, then. What could have been awkward was not, because of his best efforts and despite my worst.

Lady Gaga arrives on the red carpet for her film Gaga: Five Foot Two on Sept. 8.



The Fox Searchlight party on Sunday night at the Four Seasons Centre was one of those head-whipping affairs: Is that Emma Stone talking to Rachel Weisz? Did Sarah Silverman just walk by? Hey, Guillermo del Toro, Octavia Spencer and Michael Shannon are here. But the woman I made a beeline to talk to stood off to the side, in just a small knot of admirers: Billie Jean King. I was a kid when she competed in the Battle of the Sexes in 1973, but I remember it vividly, and I'm proud to say it shaped my "screw you, of course she can" world view. I asked her how she felt, now that she was a hero again to a new generation of young women. "I can't really process it," she said. "But it's about perseverance." We agreed that, maybe, if you stick around long enough, on the right road, your story can come back around and shape a few more world views. If you believe that art can lead to change, this might be how it starts.

Actors Jennifer Lawrence, left, and Javier Bardem pose on the red carpet for Mother! on Sept. 10.



On Tuesday, someone spilled a coffee on a table in the press lounge and, after some initial hesitation, I launched into action, snatching napkins and mopping up. A few others even joined me. I felt compelled to do this after seeing Palme d'Or winner The Square, which is all about bystander apathy and how responsibility (and even decency) become diffused in larger crowds. Who says you can't learn lessons – even broad, obvious, sort-of-self-evident lessons – from the movies? Not me! Not anymore. I am now a Good Person worthy of your esteem, worship, People's Choice Awards, etc.


As of this writing, I have not yet managed to see Manhunt, the new film by John Woo, which I've heard described, promisingly, was the "Woo-iest Woo that ever Wooed." I have also, less promisingly, heard it described as possibly the last film that the 71-year-old legend of Hong Kong cinema will ever make. Chalk this up to film-festival rumour and speculation, but the word on the Scotiabank escalators is that Woo didn't make it to TIFF because he is very ill. As the director of two of my favourite action films of all time (Hard Boiled and Face/Off), and as an artist who revolutionized the genre, losing Woo would feel major. It's a reminder of how, at a festival of red carpets and parties and master classes and extensive celebrity photo galleries, some stars are more conspicuous by their absence.

Most awkward

It was tricky to know when to laugh and when to squint scornfully during the barrages of racist and ostensibly "offensive" jokes being hurled in Joseph Kahn's rap-battle satire Bodied. But, as I was so often reminded, that's "the point." Yawn!

Actor Jason Mitchell poses on the red carpet for the movie Mudbound on Sept. 12.



I caught myself a few times this festival – during Sean Baker's The Florida Project and Chloe Zhao's The Rider – staring in awe at the movie screen. Mouth open, eyes wide. Those moments were reminders of what cinema, at its best, can do: catch us by surprise in the dark.

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Actress Kate Mara poses on the red carpet for Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool on Sept. 12.



RBC House's cast cocktails for Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool was also attended by Elvis Costello, who wrote its original song. Kudos to the DJ who got the party going with Pump It Up.

Singer Grace Jones, subject of the documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, arrives at the premiere of the film on Sept. 7.



Watching Grace Jones swan into a very small party given in her honour ahead of the premiere of director Sophie Fiennes's documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami was quite the sight. The near-70-year-old's entrance was pure theatre, choreographed to a "T" – her bearing was almost aristocratic, with an arched back that kept her face at a distance from those she greeted, and an extended velvet-gloved hand grasping a glass of champagne that she used to navigate the room. Oh, and of course the outfit, all Issey Miyake, one of four changes (!) she did that night, with shoes by the great Tunisian designer Azzedine Alaia, who confected some of her more iconic hooded looks during her heyday. When I complimented her on her towering footwear, she spurted back, "You're good!" from behind dark shades beneath a pleated cloche hat. The following evening, at another small soirée given for André Leon Talley, following the premiere of his doc, The Gospel According to André, directed by Kate Novack, I regaled the guest of honour over dinner with my observations about Jones, a friend of his – he was spot-on in likening her bearing to that of the divine Marlene Dietrich's.


I've got little time for this whole celebrity hiding in the corner business at postpremiere parties. Either walk around and greet those guests who have come to fête you – or stay home!

Ellen Page attends the premiere of The Cured on Sept. 9.



Reciting Canadian Heritage Minutes by heart with Ellen Page during our conversation about The Cured. (Director-writer David Freyne and co-star Sam Keeley were understandably shocked and likely awed by what they saw.)


Realizing there are millions of people who have no idea what a Heritage Minute is.

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