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Best of the Fest: 5 Art Picks for TIFF 2015

TIFF, now in its 40th year, has officially landed in Toronto, rolling red carpets out onto our grubby sidewalks and dazzling eager celebrity-spotters with flashing camera lights. The festival is a cultural feast suited to all manner of tastes, with the well-established Wavelengths program, curated by Andréa Picard, delivering fresh and intriguing takes on what constitutes art-house cinema today. “This year’s Wavelengths is marked by a certain youthful exuberance—one that is caught up in the contradiction of exhibiting energy, inventiveness and ample daring, while taking stock of the world’s various states of emergency, on large levels and intimate scales,” said Picard in the program’s press release. “With renewed faith in the image—abstract ones, even frail ones, and those stemming from reality, remembrance or imagination—the filmmakers and artists in this year’s program are actively proving cinema’s singular ability to engage with collective, individual, social and political memory.”

The international selection of 54 films, videos and installations in this year’s line-up (which has a record number of Canadian contributions) includes four programs of shorts, many category-defying feature-length films and even an epic three-volume Arabian Nights Trilogy—a smash hit at Cannes this year—that die-hard moviegoers will be able to watch in one marathon sitting. The films address topics such as human rights; migration and diaspora; gender, sexuality and identity; mental health; and many other pertinent social and political issues, as well as fantasy and fable, art and design, urban life and films about film itself—always with a keen eye trained on exceptional new developments in experimental and avant-garde cinema.

Here, we preview our top five picks.

Mark Lewis, Invention

Screenings: September 12, 5 p.m., AGO Jackman Hall; September 13, 9:15 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 4

Invention, an anthology of 14 films shot over a period of two years in three metropolitan centres (Paris, São Paulo and Toronto), is Mark Lewis’s feature-length debut and has its world premiere at TIFF. Lewis imparts his trademark aesthetic of meticulously composed silent cityscape sweeps—with deliberate attention paid to changing light, reflections and textures of city architecture—while also nodding to the experimental city symphony documentaries of the 1920s, which were made both to capture day-in-the-life portraits of cities and their urban inhabitants and to give a sense of the unique spirits enlivening their streets. The film retains a serene tenor throughout, landing on a final, dramatic note that rings startlingly resonant.

Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson, The Forbidden Room

Screenings: September 16, 9 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 2; September 18, 3:15 p.m., AGO Jackman Hall

Guy Maddin isn’t called Winnipeg’s wizard of the weird for nothing. The Forbidden Room, which he made in collaboration with Evan Johnson, who worked as a camera operator on My Winnipeg, is an absurdist Russian nesting doll of a film that becomes more bizarre and phantasmagorical as each new layer is revealed. In one of the opening scenes, a doomed crew eating flapjacks on a sunken submarine is interrupted, inexplicably, by a woodsman on a mission to rescue a damsel in distress from a pack of cave-dwelling wolfmen. There are also vampire bananas, skeleton women and a flapper in danger of being fed to a volcano after her plane crashes on a tropical island. Johnson’s brother, Galen, also got in on the collaboration fun, making a series of “living posters” to promote the film that move and morph on 2-minute loops. They are on view at TIFF Bell Lightbox from September 11 to 20, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. daily. Also directed by Maddin and the Johnson brothers is Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton, a 30-minute colour and black-and-white digital video, presented at TIFF Bell Lightbox as a free screening from September 14 to 20, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. daily. It was shot on location at a Canadian Forces Base near Brandon, Manitoba, and in Aqaba, Jordan, and calls itself “a strange, stirring and anarchic behind-the-scenes look at Paul Gross’s new feature, Hyena Road.”

Annie MacDonell and Maïder Fortuné, Stories are Meaning-Making Machines

Live performance with sound and film projection (free): September 11, 4 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 4

Annie MacDonell and Maïder Fortuné attended film school together in northern France, and in this one-time-only, one-hour-long lecture-performance, originally commissioned for the Centre Pompidou’s Hors Pistes festival in February 2015, they recount their memories of struggling to complete projects, feeling like outsiders, the psychic weight of the looming grey sky and general feelings of existential anxiety. Using musical motifs and projections of various tonalities of grey paper, the artists will read their stories in a collapsing double narrative, questioning how memories are constructed and conjuring a slightly different “film” for each audience member to view within their own imaginations.

Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, Fireworks (Archives) 

Screenings: September 10–27, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m; Free admission on September 16 and 23, 6–8:30 p.m; Closed Monday. Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street West. 

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a TIFF veteran who also has a new film, Cemetery of Splendour, in the festival’s Masters program, is one of those auteur filmmakers whose work effortlessly bridges any supposed divide between art and film. In the ongoing project Fireworks (Archives), a six-minute-and-forty-second loop of a single-channel video installation that, according to his studio’s website, “functions as a hallucinatory memory machine,” Weerasethakul revisits and catalogues the animal statuary at a temple in northeast Thailand, near where he grew up. Using personal accounts told to him by locals, he investigates the upheaval in the region during the decades between 1950 and 1970, when communism, spreading from China and Vietnam, crossed the Mekong River from Laos and into Isan. In dreamlike, nocturnal scenarios, the artist explores memory, history, storytelling and Thailand’s political legacy, using pyrotechnics to illuminate, exhume and convey a sense of violence, destruction and renewal. Weerasethakul will join film critic and programmer Dennis Lim in conversation at 2 p.m. on September 12 at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Baille Court. More information here.

Tony Romano and Corin Sworn, La Giubba

Opening event (free): September 10, screening at 6 p.m., reception 7–10 p.m.
Screenings (free): September 10–20, 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily; September 12, 9 p.m., Clint Roenisch Gallery, 190 Saint Helens Avenue.

The 90-minute film, set in sunbaked southern Italy over a period of two summer days, takes its title from the Italian expression “Vesti la giubba,” which means “Put on the costume,” and has the same meaning as the English expression “The show must go on.” Corin Sworn spent four months in Rome, Naples and Venice during her Max Mara Art Prize for Women residency, where she researched the Commedia dell’arte travelling theatre tradition. La Giubba tells the stories of five intersecting drifters, including an Albanian man and his young daughter, two actors tasked with traversing the countryside to build theatre audiences and an uninvited Canadian visitor. Sworn and her collaborator, fellow artist Tony Romano, used professional and non-professional actors in a cast that also includes the rural Italian landscape and the history of nomadic theatre.

Bonus Quick Picks

The Drake Hotel and Drake One Fifty present Daata Editions, an online project made up of a collection of video, sound and Net-art works. Among the 12 artists taking part is 2015 Sobey Art Award finalist Jon Rafman, who is showing a new piece. That project runs from September 10 to 20, from dusk until dawn. On your way over to pick up your tickets or attend screenings at TIFF Bell Lightbox, look up at the white-brick wall at the northeast corner of King and John Streets—you’ll catch artist Richard Kerr’s installation, demi monde, an entrancing slow-dissolve of Hollywood footage. It’s on view from September 10 to 20, 8 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

Check out the Wavelengths programming in full here.

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