The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) starts today but looks very different than in years past. It’s virtually virtual! This is certainly a big shift for one to the world’s most famous film festivals given that since its inception (1976) it has grown to attract close to half a million attendees annually. Due to COVID-19 restrictions TIFF has incorporated an online streaming component, but executive director Joana Vicente and artistic director Cameron Bailey are including elements of a physical festival with social distancing constraints in place. Much like the Venice International Film Festival recently has done.
TIFF (or rather ‘tiff’ as it is stylishly referred to), is a charitable cultural organization, whose mandate is to change people’s perspective of the world via film. A mission it tends to regularly live up to. Last year alone TIFF featured some of the most talked about influential movies of the year. Many of which I wrote about including, Joker, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Ford v Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit, Just Mercy, Knives Out, Parasite, The Lighthouse, Marriage Story, Uncut Gems, Judy, and The Personal History of David Copperfield to name a few.
Another film spotlighted at TIFF in 2019 that I haven’t yet written about but watched on my London- Calgary flight in March (the last time I flew) is the movie entitled A Hidden Life. This epic creation by famously reclusive director/screenwriter/producer Terrence Malick is such a beautifully made film with the most exquisite impeccable acting rarely seen in today’s flicks. This astonishing historical drama with stunning cinematography is based on the true story of Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) who refused to fight for the Nazis during World War II resulting in imprisonment and the threat of execution, with his wife (Valerie Pachner) and family openly shunned and chastised for his courageous resistance. Like many of Malick’s films this movie unfolds slowly with a number of spiritual and philosophical undercurrents so it might not be for everyone. That said, very few films have ever mastered the art of conveying such expressions of raw emotion via body language (rather than verbal dialogue) as exceptionally well as this film has done. Bravo! Unfortunately, A Hidden Life was unjustly snubbed at Oscar time, but 76 year old Harvard graduate (Oxford Rhodes Scholar) Terrence Malick is not one to contest such decisions. Though no one can deny his ability to produce visually spectacular cinematic gems (e.g. The Tree of Life) even if the top brass continues to overlook his incredible talent. With this in mind, time will tell what masterpieces will be revealed this year at TIFF 2020 and how such films will fair at Oscar’s next go-round. BTW Malick whose educational background is philosophy, never finished his Oxford thesis on Kierkegaard’s world (meaning of our existence) perhaps this is why his prolific movies are so entrenched in mysticism; deep down he’s forever trying to finish his work!
Given that this movie blog post is intended to be more about TIFF and less about the picture A Hidden Life I will offer up just a fleeting account of the film’s takeaway message – though it is important to acknowledge as this movie projects an intense reflective transcendental life lesson. In a nutshell, let your moral compass be your guide and never compromise your personal convictions. Period. Conforming vs. Defying – the rebels of today may just be the heroes of tomorrow. Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti got it right when he stated, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Wise words to live by then, now, and always. Amen.
P.S. Toronto is a very popular hub for film-making in Canada. Us Harts even flew to T.O. to film some of Vice Media’s Dark Side of the Ring Docuseries Episode (Owen Hart’s Final Days) that aired in May. Doing so saved the large VM crew from flying to the U.K. (with tons of equipment in tow) to film Oje who’s finishing his Masters in International Human Rights Law at university in London, England. Oje and I had a lovely time while in T.O. and celebrated the wrap of the project with dinner and an in-depth discussion with VM crew members Oscar nominated American producer Evan Husney and renowned Canadian director/producer Jason Eisener – two fabulous filmmakers on the rise and ones to watch for at future film festivals worldwide including TIFF.