TIFF 2011: What Will You Be Watching?

In cinematic circles, it is said that the Toronto International Film Festival — or TIFF — is second only to Cannes. But in terms of numbers of films presented, industry connections and stars attending, I would dare say it’s too close a call. Last year, while I was there to cover a film screening and spent a record 24 hours at the festival, I was impressed by the kindness of their publicists, as well as the unbelievable accessibility to the filmmakers and actors. For such a big city, Toronto feels like a small, accommodating village during TIFF, albeit one filled to the rim with superstars, filmmaking wonders and really polite fans. OK, so they did have to call in the cavalry to hold back the crowds that gathered in front of the Winter Garden Theater for a peek at Robert De Niro, but then the elusive Mr. De Niro always requires serious police backup. He’s just that big a star.

This year, TIFF 2011 offers what seemed like a zillion movies, before I finally set aside an afternoon to read through the program. There are jump-off-the-page names like Pedro Almodovar, reuniting on screen after 21 years with his star Antonio Banderas for his deranged thriller The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito), George Clooney wearing the director’s cap for the sexy political drama The Ides of March, fellow Italian Nanni Moretti with Habemus Papam – his satirical take on how the Pope is chosen — Catherine Deneuve and real-life daughter Chiara Mastroianni in Beloved (Les Bien-Aimés), Ralph Fiennes’ interpretation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and The Lady, a film where Luc Besson explores the inspiring true story of Burmese pro-democracy activist and political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi.

Yet, perhaps more than any other year, for me this TIFF belongs to Arab cinema, to Iranian filmmakers and to stories of the displaced from MENA, which were not even half as plentiful in past editions. A fact that conveniently proves my very personal theory that cinema is a reflection of our deepest needs and, as such, could be used to create bridges where accusations and wars have so obviously failed. (CONTINUED)


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