Saturday, October 2, 2010

Estdocs 2010 Previews: Day 2, October 16, 2010

Erkki-Sven Tüür: 7 Etudes in Pictures, Rating **** out of *****
Director: Marianne Kõrver
Language: Estonian (with some English & German) - English subtitles
Length: 77 minutes

Embracing the world from a remote island

The multi-faceted talents and interests of Estonian modern classical composer and occasional progressive/chamber rock musician Erkki-Sven Tüür are on display in Marianne Kõrver's wonderful and wide-ranging documentary film "7 Etudes in Pictures".

As signalled by the title, Kõrver’s new film on Tüür is divided into 7 vignettes. Three of the central ones are based around the composition, rehearsal, recording or premiere performance of a new Tüür modern classical composition, one is about his original 1979-1983 rock group In Spe (Latin for “In Hope”) and their 30th Anniversary reunion in 2009 and one additional scene is used as a interlude for some comic relief. The film is bookended by two vignettes which feature views of Hiiumaa Island, especially those that can be found at its westernmost tip in the village of Hirmuste where Tüür lives year-round, except when work commitments draw him away. Tüür has built his own composition shed/music studio on his farm property which can’t help but remind you that one of his personal symphonic heroes, Gustav Mahler, had a similar cottage for music composition in his own day.

Aside from Tüür’s own observations, the film has interviews with many of his colleagues and collaborators such as the conductors Paavo Järvi, Anu Tali and Olari Elts, the writer Tõnu Õnnepalu and musicians Riho Sibul and David James. These are interspersed with rehearsal and performance footage of such works as Tüür’s Symphony No. 6 “Strata”, the Choral Symphony No. 7 “Pietas” which is dedicated to Tenzin Gyatso (the lesser known Tibetan name of the Dalai Lama), and the chamber choral work “Questions...”. A highlight for me was the 1980's archival footage of a 20-year-old Tüür performing his song “Igavik” (“Eternity”) to words by poetess Doris Kareva juxtaposed with clips of the 50-year-old Tüür performing the same song at the 2009 In Spe reunion. 

It has been famously said that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture” and although Tüür makes several attempts to express in words what he is seeking to achieve with his music, in the end the words fail him: “If I were very good at putting the message into words, I think I would be writing novels, not symphonies.” Fortunately, the one-woman movie crew of Marianne Kõrver is not so limited due to her camera and editing skills (Kõrver takes both those roles in addition to her director credit for the film) and drives the film to its conclusion with a whirlwind of shots of drifting sands and blowing grasses on beaches, birds in the sky, leaves on the trees, still water and crashing waves on the shore, all to the swirling music of Tüür’s “Passion” for string orchestra. As a final treat, the end credits have a further archival clip inserted of the young Tüür performing “Laulud murdusid pooleks” (“The broken songs”) with words by poet Jaan Kaplinski.

Many people have difficulties when they seek to understand contemporary music by standard song & music structural rules. Marianne Kõrver’s film instead succeeds in making you feel Erkki-Sven Tüür’s music through the views of the natural world of the remote Estonian island which is at its source and its heart.
Erkki-Sven Tüür is well known to both the Toronto Estonian and the Canadian new music communities through several personal appearances over the past two decades, especially thanks to Lawrence Cherney's Soundstreams Canada concert organization. Tüür’s recent instrumental work "The Path and the Traces",  dedicated to Arvo Pärt, will be performed under Tõnu Kaljuste’s baton on Nov. 7, 2010 at Toronto’s Koerner Hall at Soundstreams' upcoming concert "The Mystical Worlds of Pärt and Schafer".

Film director Marianne Kõrver is also no stranger to the EstDocs community, as her previous documentary “The Sum of Absent Days”, about Eduard Tubin, an Estonian composer from an earlier generation, was screened here in 2007.

"7 Etudes in Pictures" will have its Canadian Premiere screening at the EstDocs Festival on Saturday October 16, 2010 at 7pm at the Papermill Theatre in the Todmorden Mills Museum & Arts Centre, 67 Pottery Road. Coincidentally, October 16th will also be Erkki-Sven Tüür's 51st birthday, so maybe EstDoc's traditional “kringel” (coffee bread) will have some candles in it for the occasion.

Monday, September 13, 2010

TIFF 2010 Reviews: Day 5, September 13, 2010

127 Hours, Rating: Five ***** out of Five ***** 
dir. Danny Boyle (present at the end for a Q&A)
English language - No subtitles
Ryerson Theatre, 2nd screening of 3 at TIFF 2010

I started loving this film within the first few seconds. 127 Hours begins immediately with the sound of Fresh Blood's "Never Hear Surf Music Again" ("There must be some f*%#ing chemical, chemical in your brain, that makes us different from animals, makes us all the same." etc...) just as featured in the trailer. That not-ripped-off euphoric feeling carried on all the way through the rest of the film.

The film has an energetic start with a split screen showing office-bound commuters/workers going along their daily drudge while our lead, x-treme biker/hiker/climber Aron Ralston (played to perfection by actor James Franco) packs his gear (unfortunately not finding his Swiss Army knife which might have made a lot of difference to him later on) for a trek into Blue John Canyon country in Utah. While on his way he has a brief fun climbing/diving/swimming interlude with two female hikers (played by Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn). He then heads off on his own and at about 20 minutes into the movie takes a tumble with a small boulder that ends up pinning his right arm against the side wall of the thin crevice of a canyon. And that is where we are with him for the next "127 hours" (but only 1 hour of screen time) that it takes him to get loose.

I'm not going to spoil that resolution here, although most will likely hear about it anyway before seeing the movie. An obvious clue that he survives is given by the screen credit early in the film that says it is "based on the book Between A Rock And A Hard Place by Aron Ralston". The guy must of survived if he wrote a book about it right? Well, you can survive in many ways and not all of them leave you whole (both mentally and physically).

Director Danny Boyle brings a lot of the key Oscar-winning players of the Slumdog team back for this new film. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, soundtrack composer A.R.Rahman and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (this time paired with Enrique Chediak) are chief among those. As an added bonus, from the director of the toilet-diving cam in Trainspotting, we now have the "desperately thirsty character saves his own urine so it can be filmed while drunk through a tube"-cam in this movie.

At the Toronto Film Festival's 2nd screening of the film, Boyle was there to take questions from the audience and his enthusiasm and excitement about the film was infectious. Tidbits included his talking about their 6 days of location shooting followed by a sound-stage recreation of the canyon based on 3D scanning imagery. Boyle also praised actor James Franco and emphasized how every time we see him in a new film he is stretching his talents and abilities, unlike many lead actors who are just basically playing themselves in various different situations.

Boyle said that for an audience to watch what would otherwise be deemed "unwatchable" you either had to be making a schlocky/not-to-be-taken-seriously horror movie OR you had to make the audience completely identify with the character to the extent that they would believe that they themselves would have done the exact same thing to save themselves if they had to. Well, Boyle succeeds in making you believe it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

TIFF 2010 Reviews: Day 1 September 9, 2010

Film Socialism, Rating: One * out of Five ***** (for the TIFF experience, otherwise likely a ***)
dir. Jean-Luc Godard (not present)
French with some German, Russian, English, Italian - No subtitles
4 word review: Fragmentary glimpses cruise-ship families

Ryerson Theatre, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010, 1st screening of 3 at TIFF
Advertised as a 6pm start, began about 6:40pm.

This was a bad TIFF 2010 start, with the audience already bitter and cranky as we stood outside for an unnecessary extra 30 minutes or so, past the advertised start time.
When I asked staff what the problem was, they said there was none.
I instead imagine a backstage scramble when they realized that they had a print with no English subtitles on it. Maybe Godard thought since it was Canada there was no need? "Ils parlent français là-bas, n'est-ce pas?"
Even at the Cannes premiere they had his subtitled version with what he had described as his "Navajo English" subtitles where sentences were stripped of verbs, adverbs and adjectives, but at least something showed on screen.
Here in Toronto there was none of that, so when the dialogue did come through clearly (often it was obscured by the wind conditions on board the cruise ship deck where most of the first half takes place) you were left to decipher and translate what you could.
Piers Handling's piece in the programme book made no mention of the lack of subtitles, the TIFF announcer at the start said nothing about the film whatsoever and seemed she was just stopping off at Ryerson on the way to a gala party somewhere else.

So we were left to our own devices. The walkouts started about 20 minutes into the film when people realized a) there was no plot and b) sub-titles were not going to appear. I counted about 30 walkouts from my side of the balcony but couldn't see the far side or the floor from where i was sitting. Many held out for about 45 minutes when they finally accepted that there was not going to be a story for them to follow and the sub-titles really were not going to come. Probably the floor had more invested in the film as they had probably stood in line for 60 to 90 minutes. Also, there is more self-consciousness about walking out when you are in full view on the floor. The balcony types had no such fear.

On screen, there were random fragmentary views of different people on a cruise-ship, some families, some musicians (Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye, yeah!), some making conversation, some quoting from literature, often these scenes were just 5 or 10 seconds and would cut abruptly even in the middle of a sentence. Some of the high-def camera shots of the ocean and the ship were visually beautiful. Sound was choppy with wind blowing straight into the camera microphone with no attempt to filter it out. Occasionally fragments from the ECM Records catalogue could be heard on the soundtrack. Giya Kancheli's "Abii ne viderem" and Arvo Pärt's "In principio" amongst others.
Then we are at some sort of gas station where a llama and a donkey are kept as pets by the owner-operator family. The family's blond kid here was at least fun to watch in parts such as when he phantom conducted a music piece. The donkey's stoicism was also a treat (an "Au hasard Balthazar" symbol perhaps - certainly Godard had plenty of other film clips and references contained in here). At one point the kid could be heard to say (in English): "No Comment".
The final section had clips from mostly archival documentary footage or other films (e.g. Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin", someone's "Alexander the Great") about Egypt, Greece, Palestine, Odessa, Napoli, and Barcelona. It all ends with Godard's final screen images of text that also end with the words "No Comment". The end. Black screen. No credits (although some had appeared at the beginning). Mild scattered applause and everyone dashes to the exits headed for Inside Job, Legend of the Fist or Score A Hockey Musical and maybe a late night Midnight Madness Fubar 2. In any case, something with a story and communication and passion and drama to it.

TIFF 2010 file update Thursday Sept. 9, 2010

Updated the file to include about half of the Contemporary World Cinema (CWC) films from the August 24, 2010 press releases:

Stil have to finish CWC, TIFF for Free and Future Projections.

Click here for the pdf file.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

TIFF 2010 file update Sunday Sept. 5, 2010

Updated the file to include the Mavericks, Vanguard and the Discovery Programmes (also for the late Special Presentation addition of "The Whistleblower") from the August 24, 2010 press releases:

These latest entries are flagged by using a yellow-coloured fill in the Film title cell.
Still working on the Contemporary World Cinema. Still have to finish the TIFF for Free Lightbox Films and the Future Projections installations.

Email if you need the Numbers or Excel file sooner than the next mail-out.
Click here for the pdf file.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

TIFF 2010 file update Sunday Aug. 29, 2010

Updated the file to include the Masters and Visions from the August 24, 2010 press releases:

These latest entries are flagged by using a yellow-coloured fill in the Film title cell.
Still working on the Contemporary World Cinema, Mavericks and Vanguard. Also the free Lightbox Films and Future Projections installations. There is no Dialogues program this year, it has been rolled into Mavericks where along with interviews there are occasional clips or complete films shown.
The swag bag distribution this year is on Thursday Sept. 2, 2010 along with the advance order pickup. There will only be a limited supply so go early if you can.
Email if you need the Numbers or Excel file sooner than the next mail-out.
Click here for the pdf file.

Friday, August 20, 2010

TIFF 2010 file update Friday Aug. 20, 2010

Updated the file to include the Istanbul City to City features and shorts, the Galas and about half the Special Presentations from the August 17, 2010 press releases:
These latest entries are flagged by using a yellow-coloured fill in the Film title cell.
Still working on the rest of the Special Presentations, then Midnight Madness and Future Projections.
Full list is out on Tuesday August 24, 2010 at the TIFF site.
Email if you need the Numbers or Excel file sooner than the next mail-out.

Click here for the pdf file.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

TIFF 2010 file update Sunday Aug. 15, 2010

Updated the file to include the Canadian full length features from the August 10, 2010 press releases:
These latest entries are flagged by using a yellow-coloured fill in the Film title cell.
Still working on the Canadian short films, but you can read ahead about them at the press release here:
Email if you need the Numbers or Excel file sooner than the next mail-out.
Click here for the pdf file.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

TIFF file update Sunday Aug. 8, 2010

Updated the file and added 10 of the Documentaries announced on August 4, 2010. See under Galas, Masters, Real to Reel and Sprockets. Documentaries are all flagged with a bolded red lettered [DOCUMENTARY] in front of the title to help you spot them more easily.
For the pdf file click here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

TIFF file update Saturday Aug. 7, 2010

Click on the pdf file link for an update of the file which now includes all of the 50 or so films from the July 27, 2010 TIFF Press Release.