Dr. Phillip Moss, Chair of the Fine and Performing Arts Department at University Liggett School, takes a group of students every year to the Toronto International Film Festival for a weekend of premieres and fun. But it’s also an educational trip. Here, Moss explains how.
Film Works, part of the student-run Players theater organization, has planned trips to the Toronto International Film festival for three years. The project grew out of a desire to explore independent film culture while diving into the “festival circuit.”
Amanda Conti Duhaime, Ron Howard, and senior Henry Duhaime at the opening of Howard’s new film “Rush” at the Toronto International Film Festival.
This school-sponsored trip provides students from our directing and production, introduction to film, stills to screen, and theater performance classes with the opportunity to experience the world of the “red carpet” and world premieres. Students volunteer for the trip each spring and spend the summer researching the films that have been selected for the festival. In August the group selects which films to see and purchases tickets. The Players/Film Works group has seen the world premieres of “The Artist” and “Argo” which went on to win Academy Awards. This year there are high hopes among the group for “12 Years A Slave” as a possible award winner.
Following up on this kick-off activity, the students in Film Works develop trips to our own DIA Film Theatre to continue their explorations of the world of film. Each month, the student-led group selects films and arranges to meet at the DIA for special events. The highlight of the year is the February showing of the Academy Award-nominated short film selections. In addition to seeing films, the Film Works group is also active in producing and is a major force behind the student-led film festival in May.
What follows are reviews of movies seen at the Toronto International Film Festival by our students.
12 Years a Slave, reviewed by Nicholas Wu, Class of ’14
Slavery has left an indelible black mark on American history, but very few films have actually covered that time period. Films that do involve slavery tend to gloss over its brutality or take the film’s violence to the extreme level as in “Django Unchained.” Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” however, is able to present slavery in a way that is both mortifying and moving without becoming numbing. Set before the Civil War, the film is the true story of Solomon Northrup, portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Northrup was a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, toiling for 12 years on Louisianan plantations.
As Northrup tries to survive his bondage with some semblance of independence and humanity, all the injustices of the pre-Civil War period are thrown into stark relief. That moral depravity is best presented by Michael Fassbender’s character, a plantation owner who strips away at his own heart with every lash he takes to his slaves. The excellent acting from most of the cast as well as the sound design truly help to transport the viewer to a world that seems almost otherworldly in its turpitude, even though we are merely 150 years removed. “Twelve Years a Slave” is a movie that will provoke introspection in all who see it, and it is a must-see when it is commercially released.
Only Lovers left Alive, reviewed by Jewell Evans, Class of ’14
This vampire romance film, featuring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, and Anton Yelchin, was a stark yet beautiful depiction of love and its continuity in a place and age where love seems to be dead.
Named after the first lovers, Adam and Eve (Hiddleston and Swinton), two ancient vampires, love in the deserted areas of Detroit (Yes I said Detroit) and eventually near Morocco. Though the plot is slow and difficult to grasp due to its subtlety, the dialogue and filmic technique are worthy of scholarly discussion. The film is definitely on the higher end of conceptual. It is food for the mind of thinkers. On a more personal note, it was lovely to see familiar places on the big screen. Some shots were taken within driving distance of my house! I do hope to see more cameras in the city of Detroit.
Concrete Night, reviewed by Anna Rose Canzano, Class of ’14
Visually, “Concrete Night” is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, with its stunning black and white imagery. About identity, opportunity, and what we pass on to younger generations, it tells the story of Simo, a teenage boy who lives in Helsinki. His brother is going to prison the next day, and his mother leaves them on their own. Throughout the course of the day, what Simo sees verges from reality. After a slow beginning, the film includes a misread encounter with a photographer, a violent climax, and prophecies involving scorpions.
I left the theater unsure of what I thought of “Concrete Night.” But after ruminating a bit, I realized that it is a work of art. Like director Pirjo Honkasalo said during the Q&A, she left only the essential to expose the layers underneath. The minimalism allowed me to see profound meaning. For example, the film asks what is the one thing we should be afraid of: hope or fear?
Attila Marcel, reviewed by Anna Rose Canzano, Class of ’14
As I watched “Attila Marcel,” I could not stop smiling. The contagious happiness spread to the rest of the audience too, and the theater was full of laughter. The film tells the story of Paul, a mute pianist man-child who befriends an eccentric neighbor. There are ukuleles, hallucinogenic herbal tea, twin aunts, and a band dressed in frog costumes. It is comic and colorful; it is fun and magical.
From the first shot to the last, “Attila Marcel” is pure charm.
Cannibal, reviewed by Joe Pas, Class of ’15
When I entered Manuel Martín Cuenca’s “Cannibal,” I wasn’t expecting much. I’ve had a long-standing, albeit misguided, prejudice against foreign films, so I was prepared for the worst. Much to my surprise, “Cannibal” turned out to be my favorite film at the festival.
The film focuses on a Spanish tailor named Carlos (played by Antonio de la Torre) who also happens to kill and eat beautiful women. Eventually, a Romanian woman (Olimpia Melinte) moves in upstairs, and Carlos promptly befriends and eats her. When her sister Nina (also Olimpia Melinte) comes looking for her, Carlos begins to plot his next move. Over time, however, Carlos realizes he has fallen in love with Nina, and he is unable to bring himself to murder her.
I came out of “Cannibal” thoroughly impressed. The film made masterful use of the camera, and the lack of a soundtrack added to the uneasy feeling of the entire work. The contrast between Carlos’ life as a tailor and his secret life as a cannibal is striking and illustrates the fact that evil can lurk just below the surface. The movie captures you, and at the movie’s climax, Carlos’ plight may even elicit a pang of sympathy from the viewer. The movie does have weaknesses, such as an unexplained sub-plot involving Carlos’ work as a tailor, but overall, the movie is excellent, in terms of film-making, storyline, and quality of acting.