TIFF 2016: Festival Wrap-Up and Picks for 'Best of the Fest'

Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves.
Courtesy of TIFF
That’s a wrap for the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival! TIFF ended its biggest, loudest, and most energetic edition yet in the years I’ve been attending. The quality of films was up overall with few of the titles I attended or screened failing to deliver. There’s a lot of chatter and the volume of industry is deafening, but TIFF is still a great cultural experience if one can tune out the noise and enjoy the embarrassment of riches.

This year’s Festival got off to a fun start with pre-festival coverage including researching and writing a profile for TIFF at The Canadian Encyclopedia. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but I’ll share it when it is.) Delving into the full history of TIFF gave some perspective on the massive undertaking that goes into an event of this scale, and it afforded an appreciation of how far the Festival has come since 1976. Perhaps the biggest surprise of my TIFF research was seeing that the Festival of Festivals originally launched as an effort to attract major Hollywood productions in an effort to bring attention to the Canadian film scene, so the obnoxiously loud presence of Hollywood and industry is for better or for worse a thunderous sign of goals achieved.

Low: Surge Pricing

Researching and profiling the Festival also heightened a sense of betrayal with the introduction of surge pricing (or “demand based pricing” as TIFF calls it) on single tickets. This new surcharge of $2-$7 on popular titles simply added a sour note to the Festival. People were simply priced out or had their passion for film exploited. While I benefited from having a pass press, I opted not to buy some single tickets for premieres as I have in the past in an effort to avoid inflating prices and, on some level, protesting the change.

Reports from screenings were also damaging to the effect that the surge pricing obviously influences one’s appreciation of the films, as a film experience needs to be good to merit a $60 ticket. (One friend reported of a couple storming out of Queen of Katwe in disbelief that TIFF took $60 for a nosebleed balcony seat at Roy Thomson Hall.) Worst of all, perhaps, was word from a friend who paid a $7 surcharge for the second screening of Moonlight and arrived at TIFF Bell Lightbox before 9 AM to discover that the venue wasn’t even opening the balcony in Cinema 1. This meant that the Festival recognised a demand for tickets to this screening and, rather than simply open the seats that were going to sit empty, it simply charged more money for fewer seats in a totally repugnant game of supply and demand. The whole mess of surge pricing ran against the spirit of TIFF as “The People’s Festival” and is worse than any criticism the Festival faced for its premiere game with Telluride. My sense was that people begrudgingly paid the extra cost for premiere screenings with stars, but recouped the money by purchasing fewer tickets and neglecting the sense of discovery that smaller films at the Festival need from audiences eager to explore.

Ticket prices were already exorbitantly high and TIFF charges a premium cost for tickets to most of the in-demand titles anyways, so the surcharge marked nothing but gouging. While the Festival’s pathetic explanation of “everyone else is doing it” offered no justification as to where the funds are going, or why they’re required, one must ask what this is all about. The cost of running a screening at TIFF probably differs little if the screening is full or empty, since the cost of the venue is the same unless it runs overtime (which isn’t the public’s fault) and base ticket prices were presumably made on an estimated level of attendance required to cover costs. The Festival doesn’t offer screening fees to filmmakers and distributors and it largely staffs the screenings with volunteers. TIFF needs to explain these surcharges if it’s going to continue as a charity driven by the passion and support of the public. Otherwise, anyone who signed off on demand-based pricing should be fired or have the decency to resign. The spirit and reputation of the Festival are at stake because TIFF has always thrived for being a testing ground with a diverse audience that reflects the broad range of the general moviegoing public. But the general public cannot and should not be exploited as much as they were by surge pricing.


High: The Films

The Festival itself got off to a shaky start for me since non-festival-related commitments consumed more time than anticipated and frayed my nerves with endless emails. But things kicked up midway through when I started enjoying films and got coverage back on track here and at POV for docs. (Check back soon for updates on reviews and interviews as more edits from POV should be coming in soon.)

The programming team did an overall excellent job from based on the 47 titles I caught this year. There was a great range of high-calibre films, particularly on the Canadian and documentary front, which comprised much of what I saw. There was the best studio film of the year so far in Arrival, which catapulted Canuck Denis Villeneuve to the status of a major player on par with Hollywood’s biggest names. Then there were pleasant surprises like the closing night selection The Edge of Seventeen, which proved to be wiser beyond the teen comedy angle its trailer suggests. Small gems came in films like Nelly with a performance that deserves to make Mylène Mackay a star or Raoul Peck’s I am Not Your Negro that gave a much-needed dose of black power on the heels of two years of #OscarSoWhite. Peck’s film was far and away the best doc of the Festival and a worthy winner of the People’s Choice Award for documentary. (I wasn’t able to see La La Land, despite efforts to pull a ticket.) Other doc highlights included the enthralling ode to film with The Cinema Travellers, the rousing Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, and the darkly funny Safari.
Courtesy of TIFF

There was also the sweet relief of seeing a mix of new Canadian voices and masters at the top of their game. Bruce McDonald had his best film in years with Weirdos, while Alanis Obomsawin crafted her name in history with the important doc We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice. Xavier Dolan defied his Cannes critics and proved that his It’s Only the End of the World was bizarrely misunderstood and dismissed. It’s a film of great power if one can endure the emotionally exhausting experience. Deepa Mehta, on the other hand, created a new kind of cinema with her daring and provocative Anatomy of Violence.

The Best of the Fest

Nocturnal Animals
Courtesy of TIFF

There was no clear standout at TIFF this year but rather an excellent crop of films that rose above the pack. Weirdos was an early favourite of mine going into the Festival and it sustained itself throughout, while Arrival delivered on expectations with its thoughtful sci-fi and award-calibre performance by Amy Adams. Adams also appeared in another of my festival favourites, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, which floored me with its devastatingly beautiful deconstruction of a marriage. Isabelle Huppert made my skin crawl with the deliciously twisted Elle and Toni Erdmann brought a refreshing splash of comedy.

However, my pick for the best film of the festival must go to Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie’s Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves. This radical film breaks all the rules as it ingeniously crafts an essay centered around the 2012 student protests in Montreal and uses a blend of drama and documentary to create a parable for Canadian youth who live within the generation of no hope. Like Metha’s Anatomy of Violence, Graves creates a new space in cinema. There is nothing like it. The formally audacious film carves its own place in Canadian cinema with its morphing widescreen and countercultural spirit. I absolutely live the tone of sheer defiance that screams throughout this film. It articulates the angst of a generation with conviction and fury. Talking to the directors for POV also proved to be one of the most rewarding experiences of the festival (check back soon for that interview) and I’m absolutely thrilled that the film scored the prize for Best Canadian Feature. Catch it when it inevitably lands a spot on the list of Canada’s Top Ten films for the year.

My picks for the top ten films of TIFF 2016 are, in alphabetical order:

I am Not Your Negro
Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves

Pat’s TIFF Awards:

Best Film: Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves
Runner-up: Nocturnal Animals

Top Doc: I am Not Your Negro
Runner-up: The Cinema Travellers

Best Lead Performance – Female: Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Runner-up: Mylène Mackay, Nelly

Best Lead Performance – Male: Peter Simonischek, Toni Erdmann
Runner-up: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nocturnal Animals

Best Supporting Performance – Female: Molly Parker, Weirdos
Runner-up: Nathalie Baye, It’s Only the End of the World

Best Supporting Performance – Male: Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
Runner-up: Vansh Bhardwaj, Anatomy of Violence

Best Ensemble Cast: Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves
Runner-up: It’s Only the End of the World

Best Amy Adams: Amy Adams, Arrival
Runner-up: Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals

Best Cat: Marty, Elle

Best Screenplay: Toni Erdmann

Best Cinematography: Nocturnal Animals

Best Score: Arrival

Best Q&A: Christopher Guest and company, Mascots

Biggest Letdown: American Pastoral (although it’s nowhere near as bad as people say it is)

Worst Film: Voyage of Time

Thanks to all the volunteers, programmers, fellow writers, publicists, film fans, and everyone else at the fest who made this another great TIFF!

What are your #TIFF16 highlights?

Please visit www.tiff.net for more information on this year’s festival.
More coverage on this year’s festival can be found here and doc coverage may be found at the POV TIFF hub.