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From TIFF to CIFF

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Yesterday--Thursday, September 5--marked the kick-off of the 37th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)--a festival I lament I've thus far been unable to attend. As the days begin to shorten and Canadians are already preoccupied by thoughts of impending winter, it's that time of year again--Film Festival season. While I've never been to TIFF, I've spent many happy years taking in Calgary's offering, the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF)--or what I like to call The most wonderful time of the year--which made its full festival lineup public just today and kicks off its 14th season September 19. CIFF is one of my favorite YYC festivals--an opportunity to take in some amazing indie/local/international film and documentary, nestled cozily in your favorite cinema seat with some buttery popcorn.

Leading up to their 37th year, TIFF announced a fantastic lineup of films that--if films were chocolate--would make a cinema buff salivate. While the complete listing is a smorgasbord of foreign, local, big-name and independent items, there are a few that I particularly want to see. So here you have just a handful of entries on Shannon's list of films she hopes will make their way from TIFF to CIFF this year (or shortly thereafter):


The Fifth Estate (2013)

Dreamgirls director Bill Condon helms this absorbing dramatization of the rise and fall of Wikileaks and its fascinating founder Julian Assange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Star Trek Into Darkness). The Fifth Estate is a truly 21st-century saga of technology, politics and civic responsibility.

On September 4, the National Post did a great job of providing background on the upcoming Fifth Estate as part of its TIFF preview. Aside from the fact that Cumberbatch looks remarkably like Assange, the British actor has also proven himself a competent and malleable actor in a variety of serious roles, from Sherlock to Star Trek and beyond, so I'm quite looking forward to his portrayal. I'm also keen that my interest in things political/current affairs/media-related will be satiated by a film-adaptation view of Wikileaks and look forward to this debut.


The Square (2013)

This documentary epic is the result of director Jehane Noujaim (Control Room) and her crew's dogged chronicling of activism, unrest and revolution in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

The Square has, not surprisingly, received a lot of buzz. Not only does it focus on recent--and still evolving in many ways--events in Egypt, but it comes at a time when the world is focused on the mistreatment of a people at the hands of yet another regime, that of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Many have been keeping a keen eye on the alleged chemical attack in Syria, and what the United Kingdom, France, the United States and Canada may do in response. And so a film that centres on one of the defining moments of uprising during the Arab Spring, is likely to be met with high praise.

CBC's Jian Ghomeshi spoke with filmmakers recently, which only served to pique my interest further. The Square is a topical film--focusing on an subject of great importance--that I hope will bring further conversation, introspection and understanding into the issues facing Egyptians, in 2011 and today.


Palestine Stereo (2013)

Palestinian director Rashid Mashawari follows his widely acclaimed dark comedy Laila's Birthday with this compelling and ironic drama about two brothers on the West Bank who, rendered homeless by an Israeli air strike, hustle odd jobs to raise enough money to emigrate to Canada.

It's about identity, and conflict. What makes you who you are? When your identity/past/life ceases to fulfill you, can you change it? How? Can you every really escape? These are questions I find interesting, as does David D'Arcy of The National, who interviewed Director Rashid Mashawari in his film preview:

"They want to disappear from their own memory, from their own history... You are in exile at home, and you think that your homeland should be somewhere outside, while at the same time every day you are celebrating this history, participating in a life that you are running from."

The film is said to mix seriousness with humor, which has always appealed to me. I look forward to discovering whether it delivers.


Bad Hair (2013)

A nine-year-old boy's preening obsession with straightening his hair elicits a tidal wave of homophobic panic in his hard-working mother, in this tender but clear-eyed coming-of-age tale from Venezuelan writer-director Mariana Rondón.

The TIFF description reads: "Junior (Samuel Lange) is a beautiful nine year- old boy, with big brown eyes, a delicate frame, and a head of luxurious dark curls. But Junior aches to straighten those curls, to acquire a whole new look befitting his emerging fantasy image of himself as a long-haired singer. As the opportunity approaches to have his photo taken for the new school year, that ache turns into a fiery longing."

My penchant for gender relations might be what draw me to this film, or maybe not. I've learned over the years that one of my favorite things about a film festival is to simply attend and see (in my case) as many unknown and new films as possible. Some of them miss; most of them hit. This looks like a hit.


The Wind Rises (2013)
This decades-spanning epic from maestro Hayao Miyazaki is his most unique film to date. Inspired by the stories of Jiro Horikoshi, visionary designer of one the most beautiful airplanes in history -- the famed Zero fighter -- and the writer Tatsuo Hori, this tale of love and perseverance in a turbulent world is brought to life by the vivid animation of Studio Ghibli.

I love Hayao Miyazaki's work. His films are sincere, personal, relatable and far deeper than most people would assume, given they're animated. His most notable films--Howl's Moving Castle (2004), Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001)--are rooted in themes of self-discovery, self-worth and environmentalism. His latest piece, The Wind Rises, looks like it will be another in classical Miyazaki style--beautifully animated and resonant--and is supposed to be his "most mature film". I'm a fan of the many animated--and family-friendly--offerings each year at the Calgary International Film Festival each year, and hope this will be among them in 2013.