Is the Toronto Film Fest being held hostage to Hollywood's Oscar mania?
I'm staying close to home this year, but normally right now I'd be heading off to the Great White North for the Toronto International Film Festival, which is justifiably billed as the world's biggest public film festival. For a movie lover, it's pretty much like being in heaven. Not only do you have your choice of seeing hundreds of alluring films, but if you're staying in the right hotel, you also can find yourself riding in the elevator with the likes of Ang Lee, Kristin Scott Thomas or Pedro Almodovar.
The good news is that the festival is in full swing Thursday, loaded with more good films, some of which I'll be writing about as they make their debut in Toronto. The bad news is that the U.S. media seem to have forgotten that Toronto is an "international" film festival. As I've read the various curtain-raiser stories about the festival, I was struck by how virtually every story, whether from a mass media publication or a film-oriented website, seemed obsessed by one thing and almost one thing only: which Hollywood films playing the festival would figure in this year's Oscar race. Cinematical, for example, recently ran a piece listing 17 of the festival's most buzzed-about films -- only one of which was by a foreign filmmaker.
It strikes me as unbelievably myopic, not to mention depressing, that the American media have become so starstruck and Oscar-obsessed that even when they have access to a festival crammed with exotic fare from all around the globe, they can't find a way to introduce readers to the glories of international cinema. I only needed a brief glance at the festival website to discover all sorts of fascinating foreign film entries. This year's line-up includes intense dramas from Sweden, Germany and Iraq, a romantic comedy from Hong Kong, an unlikely superhero film from Australia ("Griff the Invisible"), not to mention a detective thriller from China with the irresistible title "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame."
There's also a film about geopolitical upheaval from Kyrgyzstan, an Israeli film set in the 1960s about a Holocaust survivor who makes ends meet by brokering marriages, and French filmmaker Xavier Beauvois' "Of Gods and Men," which is based on the real-life story of a group of Cistercian monks in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria who are confronted by Islamic terrorists. And there's a huge cache of films from Britain, including "Africa United," about a trio of Rwandan kids who walk 3,000 miles to the soccer World Cup in South Africa.
Every country has its own unique stories to tell. But American readers are getting the short end of the stick if basically all they hear about are the made-in-America Oscar contenders. I'm a huge admirer of filmmakers like Clint Eastwood, Danny Boyle, Robert Redford, Mark Romanek and Ben and Casey Affleck, but Japan's Takashi Miike is pretty damn cool too, even if his "13 Assassins" isn't destined to be a front-runner in any Oscar race. When it comes to movies, the production of which has become more internationalized every year, it's time the U.S. media opened their eyes to what's going on in the rest of the world.
Photo: Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike at the Venice Film Festival this year.
Credit: Claudio Onorati / European Pressphoto Agency