Author: Aren Bergstrom

The thrill of discovery: elements of a great festival film

In the film world, most people have a general sense of what a festival movie is, even if it’s usually an ephemeral idea instead of a concrete one. It’s kind of like pornography: you know it is when you see it. Moreover, while it’s generally easy to identity a festival film, it’s often hard to pin down what constitutes a great one. What exactly is the difference between an excellent festival film and a bad one? What elements are present in great festival films that make them so? And are these the same sorts of elements found in successful films in the multiplex? There are no straightforward answers to these questions. The notion of what makes great art is often difficult to pin down and just like any great work, there are a variety of ways of achieving significance. However, when discussing great festival films there are some notable qualities that are present across the board. Namely: great festival films are always surprising and essential. They are often low budget or debut completely out of nowhere, avoiding our usual radars. They can announce the arrival of a new talent or redefine the way we see an old one. They often tap into cultural themes that speak to the way we live our lives in the here and now. Above all, great festival films electrify an audience — they mine...

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TIFF 2015 introduces a Platform for the best in film

One of the unique traits of the Toronto International Film Festival has always been that the audience, not a jury of filmmakers, critics, and academics, determines its top prize. After every festival screening, viewers can vote for the film they like best to determine the winner of the People’s Choice Award, which is theoretically a coveted indicator of future Oscar glory. However, in its 40th incarnation, TIFF is changing this manner of determining the best film at the festival — sort of. It just depends upon your definition of “best.” TIFF has introduced Platform, a new programme that seeks to remedy the issues with a crowd-sourced top prize while drawing attention to a carefully curated selection of international cinema. Named after Jia Zhang-ke’s 2000 film, Platform is a juried selection of 12 films that will play between Thursday, September tenth, 2015 and Thursday, September 17, 2015. Each film will run at the Elgin Theatre and a Q&A will follow each screening with the director, moderated by a respected film critic. Unique to the programme will also be the fact that each first screening will be simultaneously shown to press, industry and normal festivalgoers. This means there will be no press or industry screenings beforehand. Once the films screen, a three-person jury will determine the winner of the Platform prize and award the winning director $25,000 on Sunday, September 20,...

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Review: Hitman: Agent 47

Young drifter, Katia van Dees (Hannah Ware), finds herself caught in a fight between a genetically-engineered assassin known as Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) and the shadowy organization, Syndicate International, which dispatches the mysterious John Smith (Zachary Quinto) to find and defend her. As Katia finds herself paired with Smith against her will and on the run from Agent 47, she learns that her scientist father (Ciarán Hinds) may be the key to her salvation and the real target of both Syndicate International and the deadly assassin trying to kill her. Based on the popular video game series, Hitman: Agent 47 offers little to justify its existence. Its convoluted plot launches with a prologue that overloads the audience with exposition and proceeds from there to offer up all manner of betrayals and reveals that hold no emotional relevance. There’s nothing to latch on to in Hitman: Agent 47. The characters are empty vehicles for action. This emptiness is personified by Agent 47, a man with no ethics, emotion or love. A bone-deep lack of empathy is not a winning formula for a main character. It’s a recipe for boredom. The other characters fare no better. Hannah Ware as Katia is an empty audience surrogate, leading the viewer through action scenes and padding out the downtime with emotional revelations. When she’s inevitably reunited with her father, the film reaches for emotional relevance...

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