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Alongside a slew of great documentaries from around the world, North America’s premier film festival will showcase many epic dramas inspired by real-life cultural icons and history-defining figures
SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | Issue Dated: November 30, -0001, New Delhi
Tags : 38th Toronto International Film Festival | Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom | Walesa: Man of Hope | The Fifth Estate | The Switch | Shuddh Desi Romance | The Lunchbox | The World of Goopy and Bagha |

Amid the glitz and glamour of the 38th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which kicks off on September 5, movie lovers can expect many stories of real-life heroes and deviants to resonate well beyond the eleven days of the high-profile event. And we aren’t just talking the 22 films in the festival’s ‘TIFF Docs’ section that showcases the best non-fiction cinema from around the world.

Two major figures of contemporary world history are the subjects of Justin Chadwick’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and veteran auteur Andrzej Wajda’s Walesa: Man of Hope.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, an adaptation of legendary anti-apartheid fighter Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, is “an epic and inspiring” account of the leader’s life. British actor Idris Elba plays Mandela on the screen.

Walesa: Man of Hope chronicles how a Gdansk shipyard electrician and workers’ rights activist lit the fire of the Solidarity movement and eventually became the President of his nation.

The life and times of several other personalities who have shaped our world have inspired other films in TIFF’s 2013 programming line-up. Among them is the festival’s opening night film, Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate, which dramatizes the triumphs and tribulations of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. The role of the film’s protagonist is essayed by English actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

In Liberator, a Spanish-language film, Venezuelan director Alberto Arvelo turns the life of Simon Bolivar, the 19th century revolutionary who fuelled Latin America’s struggle for independence, into an enthralling epic adventure.

The influential historical character is played by Edgar Ramirez, who shot to international fame with his performance in the 2010 French-German biopic series Carlos and has since been seen in such Hollywood films as Zero Dark Thirty and The Bourne Ultimatum.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy (November 22, 1963), debutant writer-director Peter Landesman, in the indie film Parkland, has assembled a cast of stars (Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton) to recreates the hours and days following that history-altering incident. TIFF hosts a Gala Presentation of the film.        

The festival will also unveil Ron Howard’s Rush, a cinematic chronicle of the 1970s Formula One rivalry between flamboyant British driver James Hunt and legendary three-time F1 champion Niki Lauda.

Among other significant biopics that will be on show are All is by My Side, which tells the story of iconic electric guitarist Jimi Hendrix’s life; and Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s Kevin Kline-starrer The Last of Robin Hood, about the 1950s scandal that erupted over dashing Hollywood star Errol Flynn’s clandestine affair with an underage starlet.   

The Toronto film festival will, as always, attract a liberal turnout of Hollywood A-listers and an array of much-awaited films that are likely to emerge as Academy Award frontrunners.  

On its closing night, September 15, the 38th TIFF will screen Life of Crime, a thriller adapted from recently deceased crime novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard’s The Switch.

In the TIFF Docs section, the festival will host the world premieres of, among others, Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story, made by Barry Avrich, and Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney’s The Armstrong Lie, which explores the fall of the disgraced cycling champ after the 2009 Tour de France.

For movie lovers with literary inclinations, there are films like Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman, a drama about Charles Dickens’ little-known muse; Martin Provost’s Violette, about French author Violette Leduc and her mentor Simone de Beauvoir; and Charlie Stratton’s Therese, an adaptation of Emile Zola’s novel about obsession, adultery and vengeance set in 1860s Paris.

A host of Hollywood and British stars will be on the Roy Thomson Hall red carpet for Gala screenings of their latest films. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts will be in Toronto for John Wells’ August: Osage County. The cast of the film, besides Ewan McGregor, includes English actor and television’s latest Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch, who has three films in the TIFF program this year – The Fifth Estate, August: Osage County and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave.

Two younger movie stars – 24-year-old Daniel Radcliffe and 23-year-old Mia Wasikowska – have three films each in the festival. Post-Harry Potter, Radcliffe is out to prove his versatility as an actor. He plays Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings, a love-struck young man caught in an emotional cul-de-sac in The F Word, and a murder suspect who develops paranormal looks and powers in Horns. All three titles will screen in Toronto.

Half Polish Aussie actress Wasikowska has stellar roles in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, Richard Ayoade’s The Double and John Curran’s Tracks, which is a screen adaptation of Robyn Davidson’s memoir chronicling her nine-month odyssey across the Australian outback.

Scarlett Johansson has a brace of films in Toronto – Jonather Glazer’s Under the Skin and Don Jon, a comedy directed by and co-starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Jennifer Aniston (Life of Crime), Emma Thompson (The Love Punch), Keira Knightley (Can a Song Save Your Life?), Reese Witherspoon (Devil’s Knot), Jessica Chastain (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her) and Sandra Bullock (Gravity) will be among the phalanx of stars descending on Toronto this year.

The Indian presence

Two ends of the contemporary Hindi cinema spectrum will receive red-carpet Gala treatment at the upcoming 38th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

On the one hand is Shuddh Desi Romance, an unconventional love story produced by Aditya Chopra’s Yash Raj Films banner; on the other is Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, an independent Mumbai film that had its world premiere in Cannes earlier this year.

The Indian canvas in North America’s premier film festival, which runs from September 5 to 15, includes the world premieres of several other cinematic works of diverse hues, including the much-awaited Punjabi-language post-Partition drama, Qissa, directed by Anup Singh, and Pan Nalin’s documentary Faith Connections, filmed at the Kumbh Mela.

Also in the official selection is The World of Goopy and Bagha, a animated adaptation of the classic 1969 children’s musical made by Satyajit Ray. Directed by Shilpa Ranade, the film, produced by the Children’s Film Society of India, will play in the TIFF Kids section.

The festival catalogue describes Shuddh Desi Romance as a film “that feels remarkably fresh”. It adds: “For anyone raised on Bollywood’s classic love stories, this contemporary take may prove delightfully shocking.”

Written by Jaideep Sahni (Chak De India) and directed by Maneesh Sharma (Band Baaja Baaraat), the cast of Shuddh Desi Romance includes Rishi Kapoor, Sushant Singh Rajput, Parineeti Chopra and debutante Vaani Kapoor.

The Lunchbox, of course, comes to Toronto on the back of unstinted accolades garnered in Cannes. With the globally feted Irrfan Khan heading the cast of the film, it has acquired a profile much higher than is usual for a small charmer.

Irrfan, who also plays the lead role in Qissa, will, as part of the TIFF Mavericks programme, figure in “an in-depth onstage discussion of his storied filmography, which includes the Academy Award-winning features Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi”.

Qissa is among the more anticipated films at this year’s TIFF as much for the presence of Irrfan Khan (as a Sikh who is forced by the Partition riots to flee his village) as for its unusual yet accessible look and feel. In the words of TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey, Qissa is “beautiful, timeless, and touching the deepest human impulses” and “carries the spirit of a great folk tale”.

Bailey writes in the TIFF catalogue that “Qissa is a Punjabi story for the whole world” and that it is “a film that is immediately accessible to anyone sensitive to the conflicts that drive classic stories: fear versus hubris, individual need versus social codes”.

One of the screenings of Qissa, an Indian-German-Dutch-French co-production, will be followed by an extended question and answer session in which Janice Gross Stein, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs and an expert on conflict management, will speak about the film.

Besides Irrfan Khan, Qissa features Tilottama Shome, Rasika Dugal and Tisca Chopra in key roles.

Another Indian film with elemental appeal is Faith Connections, Pan Nalin’s cinematic journey to the heart of what is the world’s largest and most extraordinary religious congregation – the Kumbh Mela.

Explaining why he chose to turn the spotlight on the Kumbh, Nalin says: “In our times we are losing “real” touch with religions. Instead it’s all about power, politics, fanaticism and exploitation of faith… spirituality is packaged and exported, and then re-imported back as a lifestyle. Thus, only the poor of the world hold onto true faith – the spectacle of one such holding is the Kumbh mela.”

Faith Connections focuses on five different and profoundly moving stories involving a runaway child, a sadhu, a desperate mother looking for her missing son, a yogi who is raising an abandoned baby and a world-weary ascetic who seeks escape from his worries by smoking cannabis. It is a fascinating human tapestry held together by that one unfailing glue – faith.

Over to Bailey again: “Precious few films bring genuine curiosity and reverence to the subject of spirituality. Fewer still approach the subject with anything like the diligence of Faith Connections, a spectacular, openhearted documentary that explores the frontiers of devotion.”

The World of Goopi and Bagha, made by children’s content creator and animation teacher Shilpa Ranade, is aimed at a young audience and is set in the world of magic and music, food and frolic, served up in a entrancing new form that promises to transport filmgoers back in time.

Another Indian filmmaker in the TIFF line-up is Shambhavi Kaul, whose nine-minute short, Mount Song, is part of Wavelengths, which is devoted to “films that expand our notions of cinema” and celebrates “daring, visionary and autonomous voices”.

Indian-origin Canadian-born filmmaker Richie Mehta’s sophomore effort, Siddharth, which will screen as part of TIFF’s Contemporary World Cinema, is, like his first feature film, Amal, set in Delhi.

It narrates the story of a poor zipper repairer whose 12-year-old son goes missing after the family sends him out to work. The distressed and hapless father, fearing that the boy has been abducted and trafficked, launches a search that seems completely futile, given all the obstacles the man is up against.

Rajesh Tailang plays Siddharth’s father while Tannishtha Chatterjee essays the role of the mother. Mehta’s film is a modern-day fable about loss and the futile quest for answers – it seeks to remind viewers that in today’s complex world, nothing is anything like what it might appear to be, especially for those that do not have the power to manipulate the system.

The Discovery section of this year’s edition of TIFF has two fiction films that will be of some interest to moviegoers who have roots in the Indian subcontinent: Iram Haq’s I Am Yours and Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly’s Beneath the Harvest Sky.

Haq, of Pakistani descent, is an Oslo-based singer, actor and filmmaker. I Am Yours presents a lively portrait of Pakistani-Norwegian single mother, played by the Nepalese-born Amrita Acharia.

Beneath the Harvest Sky, on the other hand, is the debut feature of the American documentary filmmaking couple, Gaudet and Pullapilly. It is a teen drama set in a dreary industrial town in Maine.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017