Naked Men & African Cinema + John Kerry Vietnam War & 'Crash' Title Battle: Toronto Controversies & Winners

by Andre Soares
Naked Men image Kinsey movieNaked men – or at least semi-naked – in sex-focused Kinsey movie and modest male nudity in movie poster.

Toronto Film Festival: Naked men & Oscar Wilde

The 2004 edition of the Toronto Film Festival, to be held Sept. 9–18, will showcase nudity and sex – check out the naked man in the Kinsey poster to the right, and the film's tagline “sex: the measure of all things” – in addition to Oscar Wilde, metaphysics, Bobby Darin, AIDS, Jean-Luc Godard, and temperamental stage actresses along the lines of Bette Davis in All About Eve.

Alfred Kinsey and male sexual behavior

Among the Toronto Film Festival's 100 world premieres is that of Bill Condon's Kinsey, in which Liam Neeson plays controversial sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, whose book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male sparked shock, awe, and moralistic outrage in the post-World War II United States. Also in the Kinsey cast:

  • Academy Award nominee Laura Linney (You Can Count on Me, 2000) as Kinsey's wife, Clara McMillen.
  • Chris O'Donnell (Scent of a Woman, Batman & Robin).
  • Peter Sarsgaard, apparently one of the film's “naked men,” whether physically or psychologically.
  • Academy Award winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People, 1980).
  • Two-time Academy Award nominee John Lithgow (The World According to Garp, 1982; Terms of Endearment, 1983).
  • Katharine Hepburn's niece Katharine Houghton (Hepburn's daughter in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner).

TIFF 2004: From Oscar Wilde to Bobby Darin

Also at Toronto 2004:

  • Mike Barker's A Good Woman, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan starring Best Actress Academy Award winner Helen Hunt (As Good as It Gets, 1997), Scarlett Johansson, Stephen Campbell Moore, and Mark Umbers.*
  • David O. Russell's metaphysical comedy I Heart Huckabees, featuring a (near) all-star cast that includes Jason Schwartzman, Naomi Watts, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, and Tippi Hedren.
  • The Kevin Spacey-directed Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea, starring Spacey as the '50s-'60s actor and pop singer, and Kate Bosworth as Darin's wife and sometime co-star Sandra Dee.

Jean-Luc Godard, South African movies

Among the 2004 Toronto Film Festival's other highlights are the following:

  • Jean-Luc Godard's latest effort, Notre musique.
  • István Szabó's Being Julia, based on a work by W. Somerset Maugham, and starring Annette Bening as a stage diva, Jeremy Irons as her husband, and Shaun Evans as an ambitious social climber.
  • A series of films set in South Africa, including Tom Hooper's Red Dust, featuring Oscar winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry, 1999), Jamie Bartlett, and Chiwetel Ejiofor; and Darrell Roodt's AIDS-themed drama Yesterday, starring Leleti Khumalo in the title role and reportedly the first film to be shot in the Zulu language.

All in all, the ten-day 2004 Toronto Film Festival will screen 321 features and short films from 61 countries.

* Previous movie versions of Oscar Wilde's classic play include:


Toronto Film Festival website.

Kinsey naked man poster: Fox Searchlight.

John Kerry Vietnam War movieJohn Kerry Vietnam War movie 'Going Upriver.'

John Kerry Vietnam War movie, 'Crash': Toronto Film Festival controversies

September 13 update: Besides Charlize Theron's no-show and Kevin Spacey's “show” sporting a dyed scalp, the 2004 edition of the Toronto Film Festival, which runs until Sept. 18, has had its share of controversies thanks to a trio of entries: the John Kerry Vietnam War movie Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry; writer-director Paul Haggis' Los Angeles-set, all-star ethnic-clash drama Crash; and Zev Asher's animal torture documentary Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat.

'Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry': Iraq War parallel

Directed by George Butler, Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry revolves around U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's seemingly never-ending Vietnam War years. Butler told the Associated Press: “I truly believed the moment I saw him: This guy's going to be president. Nothing in the intervening years has changed my view. He had real bearing, he had a presence. It was beyond his years even then.”

Perhaps hoping for the sort of controversy that has catapulted Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 to the top of the box office charts, Butler added, “In 1965, a thousand people had died in Vietnam. In 2004, as of last week, a thousand people had died in Iraq. … Overwhelmingly, this film's metaphorical purpose is to remind people what they might be getting into in Iraq. The errors of it and the parallels just seem very striking.”

Not surprisingly, some are expecting a backlash against Going Upriver once it opens commercially south of the border.

Now, it's unclear whether the Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry controversy will erupt because Butler is comparing Iraq to Vietnam, or because – in that particular quote – the director failed to include as “people” the 10,000+ Iraqis who have died since the beginning of the American-led invasion.

Paul Haggis' 'Crash' vs. David Cronenberg's 'Crash'

As for the controversy surrounding Paul Haggis' generally well-received Crash, that's a direct result of the fact that the ensemble drama shares the same title – but not the same plot – as the 1996 David Cronenberg movie about car crashes, mutilations, and kinky sex. According to the Toronto Star, those behind Cronenberg's work are now threatening to take legal action against the producers of the new Crash.

Besides Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe, Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, and Brendan Fraser, Crash also features Jennifer Esposito, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, Michael Peña, Loretta Devine, Tony Danza, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, William Fichtner, and Shaun Toub.

By the way, Crash director and co-screenwriter Paul Haggis also wrote Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, starring Eastwood, Hilary Swank, and Morgan Freeman, and which opens later this year. Haggis' Crash screenplay collaborator was Bobby Moresco.

For the record, based on J.G. Ballard's novel, writer-director David Cronenberg's 1996 Crash stars James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, and Peter MacNeill.

Crash Holly Hunter'Crash' with Holly Hunter.

Animal torture at the Toronto Film Festival

Also at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival, Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat has drawn protests against – and lots of free publicity for – a documentary about three Canadian men who, as reported on CNN, in May 2001 videotaped their hanging a stray cat from a noose, and then proceeding to “slit its throat, before beating, disemboweling and skinning” the cat, posthumously named Kensington by animal-rights activists.

Director Zev Asher's documentary doesn't show the brutal 17-minute cat-slaughtering video, which was supposed to have been “an artistic experiment” intended to highlight society's hypocrisy in regard to the killing of animals for human consumption. The three animal torturers / murderers – Jesse Power, Anthony Wennekers, and Matt Kaczorowski – were later sentenced to jail time. It's unclear how long they actually served.

Rumors that the three men's next artistic experiment will be a short video protesting capital punishment in which each of them will execute himself by hanging, electrocution, and lethal gas are absolutely – and, some might add, unfortunately – untrue.

In reply to accusations that Zev Asher's documentary glorifies the killers, Toronto Film Festival co-director Noah Cowan defended the film's screening, stating: “People who have viewed the film – and that includes several Toronto journalists and our curators – indicate that it certainly does not allow room to sympathize with the actions of the convicted criminals portrayed in the documentary and shows them to be morally bankrupt.”

In the New York Times, reviewer Dana Stevens writes that animal torturer Jesse Power comes across as “a more complex figure [than his two fellow cat killers], an intelligent and well-spoken but possibly psychopathic art student,” adding that even though Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat “clearly takes the position that the animal's death was a crime, Mr. Asher's film is likely to leave viewers eager to discuss the limits of artistic freedom and the extension of human rights to animals.”


Note: A previous version of this article erroneously implied that Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat had been made by the actual cat killers.

Image from the John Kerry Vietnam War movie Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry: George Butler / ThinkFilm Inc.

Holly Hunter Crash 1996 image: The Movie Network / Telefilm Canada, via Ballroom Marfa.

African cinema movies Moolaade Ousmane SembeneAfrican cinema: 'Moolaadé' by Ousmane Sembene at Toronto Film Festival.

African Cinema at Toronto Film Festival: Movies include Ousmane Sembene's 'Moolaadé,' AIDS drama 'Yesterday'

African cinema is the focus of the 2004 Toronto Film Festival's Planet Africa sidebar, which is screening five features and eight shorts. Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene's most recent film, Moolaadé, about a group of West African village women fighting to save their daughters from genital mutilation (“female circumcision”), will open the program on Monday night.

Additionally, Toronto 2004 is offering a more specific look at South African cinema. The features in the sidebar “South Africa: Ten Years Later” are the following:

  • Ian Gabriel's apartheid-themed drama Forgiveness.
  • Mark Bamford's dramatic comedy Cape of Good Hope, which revolves around a group of workers at an animal shelter.
  • Zola Maseko's Drum, based on the life of investigative journalist Henry Nxumalo (played by Taye Diggs).
  • Darrell Roodt's Zulu-language AIDS drama Yesterday, in which a woman (Leleti Khumalo) comes down with the disease after having contracted HIV from her husband.
  • Tom Hooper's Red Dust, starring Best Actress Academy Award winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things), and Jamie Bartlett.

African classic 'Black Girl'

Among the other African cinema entries to be presented at this year's Toronto Film Festival is another Ousmane Sembene effort, Black Girl / La Noire de …, a 1966 drama believed to be the first – or at least the first internationally renowned – feature film ever made by an African filmmaker (at least partly) in sub-Saharan Africa.

The story of a Senegalese woman (Mbissine Thérèse Diop) hired as a maid in France, Black Girl is described as a parable about colonialism and independence. The original French-language title sounds like a pun on Max Ophüls' 1953 classic The Earrings of Madame de… / Madame de…, starring Danielle Darrieux as the surnameless 'Madame.'

More African movies

Also at Toronto, The Hero / O Herói is one of the rare Angolan-made films to hit the international festival circuit. Directed by Zézé Gamboa, The Hero portrays the paths of four characters who try to rebuild their lives after the end of Angola's civil war.

And finally, Terry George's Anglo-Italian-South African Hotel Rwanda, a dramatic retelling of the Rwanda genocide, is part of the festival's Special Presentation program. The film features Don Cheadle as hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, Sophie Okonedo as his wife, plus Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix.


African Cinema: Ousmane Sembene movie Moolaadé image via the Toronto Film Festival 2004.

Toronto Film Festival website.

Hotel Rwanda movie Don Cheadle Sophie Okonedo'Hotel Rwanda' movie with Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo.

'Hotel Rwanda' movie about 1994 genocide wins Audience Award at Toronto Film Festival

Sept. 19 update: Based on the real-life story of a hotel manager who reportedly saved hundreds of lives during the 1994 Rwanda genocide, Terry George's Hotel Rwanda has won the People's Choice Award at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival, which came to a close on Sept. 18.

During the spring and early summer of 1994, while the world looked away – gearing up for the World Cup in the United States – approximately 800,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were massacred in the central African nation of Rwanda. In Hotel Rwanda, hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle) saves the lives of those hiding in his establishment by bribing military officers with cash, liquor, and other goods.

Besides Don Cheadle, the Hotel Rwanda movie cast includes Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, and Joaquin Phoenix.

'Hotel Rwanda': Oscar 2005 contender?

As a result of its Toronto Film Festival win – and its now well-publicized similarities to Steven Spielberg's Best Picture Academy Award winner Schindler's ListHotel Rwanda has received a good push down the road to the 2005 Oscars. In fact, about half of Toronto's People's Choice Award winners have gone on to receive important Academy Award nominations (and wins). Among these are the following:

  • Luis Puenzo's Best Foreign Language Film winner The Official Story (1985).
  • Pedro Almodóvar's Best Foreign Language Film nominee Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988).
  • Scott Hicks' Best Picture nominee Shine (1996), which earned Geoffrey Rush that year's Best Actor Oscar.
  • Roberto Benigni's Best Picture nominee and Best Foreign Language Film winner Life Is Beautiful (1998), which also earned Benigni a Best Actor statuette.
  • Sam Mendes' Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Kevin Spacey) winner American Beauty (1999).
  • Ang Lee's Best Picture nominee and Best Foreign Language Film winner Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000).

Other Toronto Film Festival 2004 winners

Brad McGann's In My Father's Den, a New Zealand production about a war journalist (Matthew Macfadyen) returning to his isolated hometown, took home the International Film Critics' FIPRESCI prize. Miranda Otto and Emily Barclay are also featured in the film.

Pete Travis' Omagh, about the relatives of victims of the bloodiest terrorist attack in Northern Ireland's 30-year socioreligious conflict, won the Toronto Film Festival's Discovery Award.

And finally, Michael Dowse's comedy It's All Gone Pete Tong and Daniel Roby's horror movie White Skin won the Canadian film prizes.

Toronto Film Festival official website.

Image of Sophie Okonedo as Tatiana Rusesabagina and Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda movie: Toronto Film Festival 2004.

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