Toronto Film Festival movies: Controversial sex research & Oscar Wilde classic + African cinema showcase & John Kerry documentary
The 2004 edition of the Toronto Film Festival, to be held Sept. 9–18, will showcase a vast and eclectic array of topics – 321 features and short films from 61 countries – including some controversial (male-focused) sex research, an Oscar Wilde social critique, the spread of AIDS, Jean-Luc Godard’s political meditations, female genital mutilation in tribal Africa, and the personal and professional woes of a temperamental stage actress.
The sex research, featuring a bit of male nudity and same-sex lust/obsession/romance, can be found in one of Toronto’s 100 world premieres: Bill Condon’s U.S.-made drama Kinsey, in which Northern Irish actor Liam Neeson (Best Actor Oscar nominee for Schindler’s List, 1993) plays controversial New Jersey-born biologist/sexologist Alfred Kinsey, whose 1948 book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male shocked, awed, and outraged post-World War II moralists in the United States.
Also in the mostly big-name Kinsey cast:
- Best Actress Oscar nominee Laura Linney (You Can Count on Me, 2000) as Kinsey’s wife, née Clara McMillen.
- Chris O’Donnell (Scent of a Woman, Batman & Robin) as Kinsey’s fellow sex researcher Wardell Pomeroy.
- Peter Sarsgaard (Boys Don’t Cry, Shattered Glass) as Kinsey’s fellow sex researcher and sometime sex partner Clyde Martin.
- Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People, 1980) as Kinsey’s fellow sex researcher and future Kinsey Institute director Paul Gebhard.
- Two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee John Lithgow (The World According to Garp, 1982; Terms of Endearment, 1983) as Kinsey’s fanatical Christian father.
- In a brief role, Katharine Hepburn’s niece Katharine Houghton (Hepburn’s daughter in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner).
- In another cameo, two-time Oscar nominee Lynn Redgrave (as Best Actress for Georgy Girl, 1966; as Best Supporting Actress for the Bill Condon-directed Gods and Monsters, 1998) as the film’s final sex research subject.
Plus Oliver Platt, Tim Curry, Dylan Baker, John Krasinski, Julianne Nicholson, Veronica Cartwright, and Matthew Fahey.
From Oscar Wilde to Bobby Darin
Also at Toronto 2004: From gay-inclined sex researcher Alfred Kinsey we head to gay-inclined social observer (and later sexual outcast) Oscar Wilde, plus Annette Bening as a (more temperamental) Margo Channing type, former Nouvelle Vague icon Jean-Luc Godard’s latest cinematic musings, another David O. Russell comedy with some big names, and 1960s pop idol and Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Bobby Darin (Captain Newman, M.D., 1963).
- Mike Barker’s A Good Woman is a 1930 New York-set adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1892 play Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Play About a Good Woman,* starring Best Actress Academy Award winner Helen Hunt (As Good as It Gets, 1997), Scarlett Johansson, Stephen Campbell Moore, and Mark Umbers.
- Based on W. Somerset Maugham’s 1937 novel Theatre, István Szabo’s Being Julia stars Annette Bening as late 1930s London stage diva Julia Lambert – a more explosively self-centered version of Bette Davis’ Broadway star Margo Channing in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1950 Best Picture Oscar winner All About Eve. Also in the Being Julia cast: Jeremy Irons as Julia’s husband, Shaun Evans as her social-climbing lover, plus Lucy Punch, Juliet Stevenson, Bruce Greenwood, Tom Sturridge, and veterans Miriam Margolyes, Rosemary Harris, Michael Gambon, and Rita Tushingham.
- Jean-Luc Godard’s latest effort, Notre Musique, is divided into three segments along the lines of Dante’s The Divine Comedy: “Hell,” featuring a war-and-carnage montage; “Purgatory,” with Godard as himself, headed to an arts conference in Sarajevo, where he meets a variety of people and where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a key topic of discussion; and “Heaven,” a brief conclusion featuring one of the conference attendees (played by Nade Dieu).
- David O. Russell’s metaphysical comedy I Heart Huckabees features a (nearly) all-star cast that includes Jason Schwartzman, Naomi Watts, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, and Mark Wahlberg, in addition to cameos by Schwartzman’s mother and two-time Oscar nominee Talia Shire (as Best Supporting Actress for The Godfather: Part II, 1974; as Best Actress for Rocky, 1976), and Alfred Hitchcock leading lady Tippi Hedren (The Birds, Marnie).
- The Kevin Spacey-directed Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea stars the two-time Oscar winner (Best Supporting Actor for The Usual Suspects, 1995; Best Actor for American Beauty, 1999) as the 1950s-1960s actor and pop singer who died at age 37 in 1973. Also in the cast: Kate Bosworth as Darin’s wife and sometime co-star Sandra Dee (Come September, If a Man Answers, That Funny Feeling).
‘Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Play About a Good Woman’
* Previous movie versions of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Play About a Good Woman include:
- Ernst Lubitsch’s sparkling silent Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925), starring Irene Rich, May McAvoy, Ronald Colman, and Bert Lytell.
- Otto Preminger’s The Fan (1949), toplining Madeleine Carroll, Jeanne Crain, Richard Greene, and George Sanders.
African Cinema showcase: Female genital mutilation in veteran Ousmane Sembene’s ‘Moolaadé’ + AIDS drama ‘Yesterday’
Generally ignored in most of the world, African cinema is the focus of the 2004 Toronto Film Festival’s Planet Africa sidebar, which is screening five features and eight shorts.
Veteran Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene’s most recent film, Moolaadé, about a Burkina Faso villager fighting to save local girls from the horror of genital mutilation (a.k.a. “female circumcision”), is scheduled to open the program.
- Ian Gabriel’s apartheid-themed drama Forgiveness, in which an ex-cop (The Mummy actor Arnold Vosloo) must come to terms with his blood-soaked past.
- Mark Bamford’s dramatic comedy Cape of Good Hope, which revolves around a trio of female dog rescue center workers – one white (Debbie Brown), one black (Nthati Moshesh), one Muslim/South Asian (Quanita Adams) – and their men problems.
- Zola Maseko’s Drum, based on the life of investigative journalist Henry Nxumalo (played by U.S. actor Taye Diggs).
- Darrell Roodt’s Zulu-language AIDS drama Yesterday, in which the title character (Leleti Khumalo) comes down with the disease after having contracted HIV from her husband. Yesterday is reportedly the first film to be shot in the Zulu language.
- Tom Hooper’s Red Dust, starring Best Actress Academy Award winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, 1999), and a couple of British actors, Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things) and Jamie Bartlett (Beyond Borders).
Ousmane Sembene 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 a rare Angolan production to hit the international festival circuit. Directed by Zézé Gamboa, The Hero depicts the paths of four characters attempting to rebuild their lives after the end of Angola’s civil war.
And finally, Terry George’s Anglo-Italian-South African Hotel Rwanda is a dramatic retelling of the mid-1990s Rwanda genocide. The Special Presentation entry features U.S. actor Don Cheadle as hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, British actress Sophie Okonedo as his wife, plus U.S. actors Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix.
Toronto Film Festival controversies: John Kerry & the Vietnam War + ‘Crash’ title battle & vicious animal abuse
Sept. 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 – of varying degrees of importance/ugliness – 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.
- Zev Asher’s animal torture/murder documentary Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat.
‘Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry’ & Iraq War parallel
Directed by George Butler, the documentary Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry revolves around U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s seemingly never-ending Vietnam War years.
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 told The Associated Press, “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.”
Unsurprisingly, 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 as a result of Butler’s rosy view of Kerry, his comparing Iraq to Vietnam, or because – in the quote above – the filmmaker failed to include as “people” the 10,000+ Iraqis who have died since the beginning of the American-led invasion.
‘Crash’ title battle: David Cronenberg vs. Paul Haggis
As for the controversy surrounding Paul Haggis’ generally well-received Crash, that’s a direct consequence 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.
In the extensive Crash 2004 cast: Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe, Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, 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 boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, starring Eastwood, Hilary Swank, and Morgan Freeman, and which opens later this year. Haggis’ Crash screenplay collaborator was Bobby Moresco.
Animal torture at the Toronto Film Festival
Also at Toronto, 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 asphyxiant gas are absolutely – and, some might add, unfortunately – untrue.
Glorification of cat murderers?
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.”
Stevens adds that although 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.”
Toronto Film Festival People’s Choice Award goes to genocide drama ‘Hotel Rwanda’
Sept. 19 update: Based on the real-life story of a Kigali hotel manager who is supposed to have 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.
In Hotel Rwanda, hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (played by American actor Don Cheadle) saves the lives of those hiding in his establishment, including his Tutsi wife (British actress Sophie Okonedo), by bribing military officers with cash, liquor, and other goods.
As a result of its Toronto Film Festival win – and its now well-publicized similarities to Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Best Picture Academy Award winner Schindler’s List – Hotel Rwanda has received a good push down the road to the 2005 Oscars.
Toronto Film Festival-Academy Award connection
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 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 sociopolitical/religious conflict, won the Toronto Film Festival’s Discovery Award.
And lastly, 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.
Liam Neeson and Laura Linney Kinsey image: Fox Searchlight.
Moolaadé image via the Toronto Film Festival.
John Kerry Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry image: George Butler / ThinkFilm.
Holly Hunter Crash 1996 image: The Movie Network / Telefilm Canada, via Ballroom Marfa.
Sophie Okonedo and Don Cheadle Hotel Rwanda image via the Toronto Film Festival.
“Sex Research & Oscar Wilde + African Cinema & John Kerry: Broad-Ranging Toronto Movies” last updated in March 2019.