Broad-ranging Toronto Film Festival: From sex research drama ‘Kinsey’ to African cinema showcase
The 2004 edition of the Toronto Film Festival, which runs Sept. 9–18, will be showcasing 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 British stage actress.
The male-focused 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: Screenwriter-director Bill Condon’s U.S.-made biopic Kinsey, in which Northern Irish performer 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 and elsewhere.
Also in the mostly big-name Kinsey cast:
- Best Actress Oscar nominee Laura Linney (You Can Count on Me, 2000) as Clara Kinsey (née McMillen), Alfred Kinsey’s wife and sex research collaborator of sorts.
- Chris O’Donnell (Scent of a Woman) as Kinsey’s official sex research collaborator Wardell Pomeroy.
- Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass) as another official sex research collaborator, Clyde Martin, who also happened to be Kinsey’s sometime sex partner.
- Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People, 1980) as official sex research collaborator no. 3, Paul Gebhard, later on the director of the Kinsey Institute.
Plus John Lithgow, Oliver Platt, Tim Curry, Dylan Baker, and Lynn Redgrave.
Oscar Wilde & Jean-Luc Godard + Bobby Darin
From gay-inclined sex research to gay-inclined social observations and more: Also at Toronto, festivalgoers will be able to check out an Oscar Wilde adaptation, Annette Bening as a(n even more temperamental) Margo Channing type, former Nouvelle Vague icon Jean-Luc Godard’s latest cinematic musings, the latest David O. Russell comedy featuring big names, and the story of 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 Amalfi Coast-set adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1892 comedy of manners Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Play About a Good Woman, starring Best Actress Oscar winner Helen Hunt (As Good as It Gets, 1997) in a role – Lady Windermere’s worldly mother – previously played on the big screen by, among others, Irene Rich (Lady Windermere’s Fan, 1925), Lil Dagover (Lady Windermeres Fächer, 1935), and Madeleine Carroll (The Fan, 1949). Also in the cast: 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 big-name cast: Jeremy Irons, Shaun Evans, Bruce Greenwood, and veterans Miriam Margolyes, Michael Gambon, Rosemary Harris, and Rita Tushingham.
- Jean-Luc Godard’s 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 with 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.
- 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.
- The Kevin Spacey-directed Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea stars the two-time Oscar winner (Best Supporting Actor, The Usual Suspects, 1995; Best Actor, 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).
African Cinema showcase: Ousmane Sembene tackles female genital mutilation in ‘Moolaadé’
Generally ignored in most of the world, African cinema is the focus of the 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 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 Oscar winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, 1999) as an attorney representing a South African politician and torture victim (played by British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor). Needless to say, this Red Dust is in no way related to MGM’s 1932 Clark Gable-Jean Harlow movie of the same title.
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.
More African movies: Rare Angolan drama + ‘Hotel Rwanda’
Also at Toronto, The Hero / O Herói is a rare Angolan production to hit the international festival circuit. Directed by Zézé Gamboa, The Hero traces the paths of four people 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 that left hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis and “moderate” Hutus dead.
A Special Presentation, Hotel Rwanda features U.S. actor Don Cheadle as Kigali 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 clash & psychopathic 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.
For starters, George Butler’s documentary Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, about U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s seemingly never-ending Vietnam War years, has created a bit of a stir.
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 (Canadian) 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.
Animal torture horror
Also at Toronto, Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat has drawn protests against – and lots of free publicity for – a documentary revolving around 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 savage 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.
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 bloodthirsty partners], 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.”
Rumors that the three animal torturers/murderers’ 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.
‘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.
Among those in the extensive Crash 2004 cast: Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe, Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Jennifer Esposito, and Thandie Newton.
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.
Rwanda genocide drama wins People’s Choice Award
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 this year’s Toronto Film Festival, which came to a close on Sept. 18.
In Hotel Rwanda, ethnic Hutu 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 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.
More Toronto 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 Toronto’s Discovery Award.
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.
Image of Liam Neeson and Laura Linney in the sex research drama Kinsey: Fox Searchlight.
Moolaadé image: Toronto Film Festival.
John Kerry Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry image: ThinkFilm.
Holly Hunter Crash 1996 image: The Movie Network / Telefilm Canada, via Ballroom Marfa.
“Sex Research & Oscar Wilde + Crash Clash & John Kerry: Toronto Diversity & Controversies” last updated in September 2019.