September 17, 2001 - Movies win role in a traumatized world

Toronto film festival ended with hope for better future

Peter Howell - MOVIE CRITIC - Toronto Star

The tragedy-struck Toronto International Film Festival ended yesterday not with a bang or a whimper, but with expressions of sympathy and hope that art can help make a better future.

"More than any time in the 26-year history of this festival, we've really been made aware of what the word `international' means to this event," director Piers Handling told a subdued audience yesterday, at a low-key awards ceremony that saw the French comedy Amelie emerge as the festival favourite.

Handling said last Tuesday's terrorist attack on America "cast a pall" over the second half of the 10-day festival, which had been "near-perfect" until that point.

After a one-day interruption, the films continued until the end, but parties, red-carpet events, press conferences and all other signs of hoopla and glamour were cancelled or curtailed.

It made for a sad finale to what is usually a celebration. But there was strength to be found in the knowledge that everyone the world over was feeling America's pain, and struggling to understand it.

"As the incomprehensible events of Sept. 11, 2001 unfolded, we came together globally to grieve for and comfort our neighbours, friends, colleagues and their families in America and around the world who were touched by the devastation," Handling and festival managing director Michˇle Maheux said in a prepared statement, speaking the thoughts of many.

"We found solace in each other, occasionally losing ourselves in film. Together, we have continued to hope and yet grieve with the rest of the world."

The decision to carry on with the film screenings was a difficult one, requiring much consultation between filmmakers, distributors and festival staff, Handling said.

At one point, it was thought that the show might not go on. But in the end, organizers judged it more important to continue in a respectful and quiet manner, to show that art can play a role in the healing process.

The decision was endorsed by many filmmakers from home and abroad, including Winnipeg's Sean Garrity, 34, who took the $15,000 City-tv prize yesterday for best first Canadian feature, for his off-kilter comedy, Inertia. He was one of the few award winners at yesterday's ceremony, and said he only made it because his flight home had been cancelled.

"I think that one of the things that cinema does, that all art does, is really take the unintelligible chaos of reality and puts it in an order or a shape or a structure that helps people to make sense of what's going on around them," Garrity said.

"Maybe at times like these, even more so than other times."

Handling predicted that Hollywood studios will face some tough choices in the months ahead, and be forced to delay or shelve action films that have a terrorist theme. But as a critic of censorship, he was loath to comment on whether such films deserve to bear the brunt of an audience backlash.

"I think there will obviously be a major change in the tone and content over some of the films that are coming out from Hollywood over the next year. There has to be. I mean, there are obviously certain images and stories that an audience just doesn't want to see. It would be not only inappropriate but commercially disastrous for them to release those kinds of films. Whether they should or not, I don't want to comment on that."

Despite the gloom, yesterday's event still managed to salute the achievements of certain films at the 26th festival, even if few filmmakers were on hand to receive their kudos.

The People's Choice Award, the most prestigious prize at the fest, went to Jean-Pierre Jeunet's popular Parisian comedy, Le Fabuleux destin d'Amˇlie Poulain (Amˇlie). The runners-up were Digvijay Singh's coming-of-age drama, Maya, and Mira Nair's family folly, Monsoon Wedding.

Garrity's Inertia took the prize for best Canadian first feature, but another Canuck debut took the bigger Toronto-City prize (worth $25,000) for best Canadian feature overall: Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), by Inuit director Zacharias Kunuk, who won the first-feature award at Cannes last May for his depiction of a northern legend brought to life.

It was a good year for Winnipeg at the fest.

The NFB-John Spotton Award for best Canadian short, worth $10,000 (in cash and services), went to Winnipegger Deco Dawson for his absurdist pop biography FILM(dzama).

The Discovery Award for best first film overall went to Chicken Rice War, by Singapore filmmaker CheeK.

The Fipresi Award, an international press prize, went to Inch'Allah Dimanche, by France's Yamina Benguigui. There were special mentions for Be My Star, by Germany's Valeska Grisebach's and Khaled, by Canada's Asghar Massombagi.




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