2021, Movies

2021 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)

For the second year in a row I attended the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) from my couch. And for the second year in a row the thing was a bit of a mess, though I guess successfully viewing the films means it was a success.

Back in June, when it was time to purchase ticket packages, TIFF emailed me to do so. (There was no mention of in-person screenings.) A day or so later they emailed me I couldn’t purchase the digital packages yet, after I had already purchased my package. I still don’t know what that email was about but it briefly made me worry I had purchased remote Lightbox tickets instead. (TIFF has been allowing rental streams outside of the film festival since the pandemic started.) Fortunately, it turned out I had purchased the right package.

Then a couple of days later, they informed me I could buy in-person tickets. Again, this was after I had already purchased my digital ticket package. Now, I’m not sure if we would have gone to a movie theatre in person, but we would have liked the option. I understand that the pandemic is an evolving situation, but Hot Docs hasn’t had these communication problems.

I stupidly assumed digital screenings wouldn’t go “off sale” too quickly, given that there was no theatre capacity. So I didn’t jump online the moment I could to select our movies. Unfortunately that was a mistake and we ended up not getting some of the films we wanted. (In past years I picked my tickets the instant I was allowed to.)

But the more frustrating part of the process was figuring out how to pick them. (Even though I’ve done this many times before.) TIFF’s tickets are sold through Ticketmaster and there was some confusion as to which site I needed to be on. The interface looks roughly the same, to boot. (I should point out I’m fairly savvy with this stuff. I can’t imagine what older people were doing.) Eventually we did pick our tickets, on this massive list of movies that lagged and almost froze a few times. Hot Docs, a much smaller and poorer organization, did it better. (This happened a few weeks ago which is why the details aren’t more specific. I should have taken notes.)

Anyway, at long last the festival started and we were able to watch 10 movies, the most I’ve seen in a few years (if memory serves). I didn’t see anything life-changing but I think we still did have our usual luck, where most of what we saw was worthwhile. Without further delay, here are the movies we saw at TIFF 2021:

1. Attica, directed by Stanley Nelson (8/10)

Watched on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the riot, this is a timely reminder of how bad things were in the past no matter how bad they may seem now.

1. Huda’s Salon, directed by Hany Abu-Assad (8/10)

A pretty good thriller about blackmail, spying and tough choices in occupied Palestine.

3. Arthur Rambo, directed by Laurent Cantet (8/10)

A nuanced look at the consequences of being an asshole on the internet.

4. Zalava, directed by Arsalan Amiri (7/10)

A beautiful psychological horror film which I couldn’t quite believe.

5. Hold Your Fire, directed by Stefan Forbes (7/10)

A sporting goods store heist helped invent modern hostage negotiation. This documentary mostly does a good job of covering the incident and its ramifications – with some really great interviews – but it’s a little manic.

6. True Things, directed by Harry Wootliff (6/10)

Some great performances but this film follows a pretty predictable “life lessons” arc.

7. Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash, directed by Edwin (6/10)

In some ways this feels like two films, a sort of bizarre martial arts romance and a vaguely supernatural rumination on the past crimes of Indonesia’s soldiers. The combination doesn’t work.

8. Becoming Cousteau, directed by Liz Garbus (6/10)

Too hagiographic and it leaves you with too many questions about his personal life. But still interesting.

9. Saloum, directed by Jean Luc Herbulot (5/10)

An over-stylized and tonally confused horror film that has some pretty good performances and some elements that work better than others.

10. DASHCAM, directed by Rob Savage (5/10)

A “found footage” horror film that doesn’t actually use a dashcam. Sort of a neat premise (live streaming) but an extremely (deliberately) unlikable protagonist and a lot of clichés from the genre.

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