While I am an advocate of the summer blockbuster season, it
doesn’t even come close to my love of the Toronto International Film
Festival.  And I’m not just saying that
because I live in the city; I am equally impressed, and excited for that
matter, when Cannes rolls around in the month of May.  But let’s be honest here, Toronto is one of the top three film
festivals in the world.  This September
will be the seventh festival that I’ve attended and while the films announced
thus far have yet to really floor me, the programmers of the fest have a habit
of selecting films that don’t seem like much at first, but prove themselves
otherwise in the long-run.

Just look at its track record- American Beauty, Whale
, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Juno, Sexy Beast, Borat.  There are countless others, simply due to
the fact that Toronto is a film festival different than all the rest.  It is a festival for the fans, for those who
adore film.  It caters to every taste,
which very few festivals do.  Again, its
track record speaks for itself, which is a fact that producers and studios are
fully aware of. 

Over the years, Sundance has lost some of its luster, while
Venice has its good years and bad years. 
The programmers at Toronto, for one reason or another, constantly make
immaculate choices that send shockwaves throughout the industry.  But this year, something is different.  Something doesn’t feel right.

Although it is far too early to tell, the films announced
for the Toronto fest have yet to really grab me.  Which is not to say that I am not intrigued by some of the
titles.  Cannes best picture runner-up Gomorra from Italy is easily my most anticipated at the moment.  This Italian film is garnering oodles of
attention around the world and I can almost guarantee (based on what I’ve read
thus far) that it will walk away with a number of awards and new fans.  Another film, which sounds so outlandish
that it has to at the very least be entertaining is Tony Manero from
Chile.  It’s the story of a serial
killer who idolizes John Travolta’s character from Saturday Night Fever and
the resultant effects of such an obsession.    

Last week, programmer Colin Geddes announced the line-up for
the infamous Midnight Madness program, one of the most prolific and hotly
anticipated programs every year. 

It’s the place where Saw, Spun, Bubba Ho Tep, Cabin
, Hostel, Inside and even Near Dark, way back when, got their
start.  This year, easily the most
anticipated film of the program is JCVD, the new Jean Claude Van Damme
action/satire/drama hybrid picture. 
Personally, I’ve always been most impressed with Midnight Madness simply
because you can tell that the films selected were picked simply because of their
quality, not because of the names that it would attract.  Last year was a memorable Madness, seeing as
how it ushered in the return of two true Masters of Horror, George A. Romero
and Dario Argento.  While the films that
they accompanied failed to equal the hype and anticipation that preceded them,
it was definitely a treat to see these two masters attend a festival surrounded
by fans.

This years Madness is decidedly lighter than previous years,
relying on a number of foreign, independent and low-budget features to fill the
program.  Regardless, the hype machine
has already begun.  French film Martyrs is already garnering some attention, with Geddes calling it the most
controversial film in the history of the program.  Given past Midnight films, that is quite the statement and
needless to say, because of it, the film will be viewing under a very critical

Over the years, a friendly competition has broken out
between the Toronto Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival due to the fact
that when one begins (Venice), the other (Toronto) is getting ready to kick off
its festivities.  This year, however, it
seems that Venice, for the time being, has succeeded at attracting a large
number of high profile pictures.  As per
Tuesday’s film line-up announcement, the new Miyazaki film Ponyo on the Cliff
will premiere alongside Darren Aronofsky’s much-anticipated The Wrestler with
Mickey Rourke (a film that I am very much looking forward to).  For added insult, a number of Toronto
premieres will be premiering at Venice first, giving the Venice screenings the
more coveted world premiere. 

While it’s disheartening that some films will be at one
festival but not the other, a friendly competition between film festivals can
only mean one thing for moviegoers- more films to enjoy.  Both festivals have unique characteristics
that outweigh the other.  Venice, for
example, is held in one of the most beautiful cities in the world without
question.  Toronto, on the other hand,
is an urban jungle, populated with an incredibly sophisticated arts community.  Film festivals are things of beauty, as they
bring out the best in moviegoers and filmmakers alike. 

Whether it’s Venice, Toronto, Cannes, or a tiny community
film festival taking place in a rundown theater around the corner, swing by and
catch a couple of films.  The greatest
thing about these festivals is that they bring you to places that you’ve never
been to, which to me is the most essential rule of filmmaking.  Good or bad, films should whisk you away for
a couple of hours and introduce you to interesting people and places.  Instead of focusing on the competitive
aspect of the festivals (and I frequently find myself in such a position,
sadly), perhaps we should embrace the universal beauty of storytelling.  It’s what unites us all and lays the groundwork
for (what I hope to be) healthy and opinionated debate. 

See you in the theater.