The Indian presence at Toronto
Mira Nair, Shekhar Kapur in prominent sections at the Toronto film fest
Arthur J Pais
Over 100 journalists watched Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding last year at the Toronto International Film Festival when the terrorist attack on World Trade Centre razed the twin towers. Nair's press conference, scheduled soon after the screening, was cancelled, like most of the festival events that day.
Nair returns to the festival this year with another film, which is part of 11'09'01, a compilation of short films about the September 11 attacks. She is among 11 international directors who have contributed to the movie.
The festival will also screen the first feature film about the tragedy, The Guys, starring Anthony LaPaglia and Sigourney Weaver, about a fire captain who lost many of his firefighters who were trying to rescue the people trapped in the towers, and a journalist who helped him write their eulogies. The movie is based on an off-Broadway play directed by Weaver’s husband Jim Simpson. He also directed the film.
Nair is among half a dozen filmmakers of Indian origin, including Shekhar Kapur and Deepak Nayar, whose films are being shown at the festival, considered the most important film event after Cannes, Venice and Berlin.
The festival which runs September 5 to September 14 had drawn films from over 50 countries and includes the work of some of the finest filmmakers, including Bernardo Bertolucci, Mike Figgis, Jirí Menzel, István Szabó, Claire Denis, Volker Schlöndorff, and Jean-Luc Godard.
Many of the films that have premiered here, including American Beauty and Training Day, have gone on to become Oscar winners. Lagaan, widely applauded at the festival last year, went on to be nominated for an Oscar, too.
The desi movies include Mani Ratnam's A Peck On The Cheek, Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Shadow Kill and Buddhadeb Dasgupta's A Tale Of A Naughty Girl, which will be screened in the prestigious Masters section.
Dasgupta's film focuses on the young daughter of a prostitute who perseveres to escape her wretched life, while Shadow Kill deals with political corruption.
Shekhar Kapur's The Four Feathers, a drama about colonialism and quest for loyalty is set in Sudan, over 100 years ago. It is being presented in the Viacom Gala section, the most glamorous part of the festival. The film, made at about $60 million (twice the budget of Kapur's earlier film, Elizabeth), opens across North America September 20.
And Deepa Mehta's Bollywood/ Hollywood is included in the Perspective Canada section. Gurinder Chadha's huge hit Bend It Like Beckham, about a soccer crazy desi girl who has to fight her disapproving family, makes its North American premiere at the festival.
The film, which grossed about $20 million in Britain and in limited release worldwide has earned about $5 million in Australia, and will be seen in the Contemporary World Cinema section of the festival Introduced in 1983, Contemporary World Cinema represents a rich diversity, and showcases premieres and prize-winner.
Add to the list producer Deepak Nayyar who has two films in the festival. Apart from Bend It Like Beckham, Nayyar will also unveil City Of Ghosts, featuring Matt Dillon (who makes debut as a director). It is the story of a con artiste torn between his allegiance to his mentor (James Caan) and his dream of changing his life for the better.
There are some who feel the Asian presence is not very strong at the festival this year. While its director Piers Handling has admitted that it may not be 'a classic year' for Asian films, he also asserted he felt the films slated at the festival are 'strongly representative' of the best in Asian cinema.
The Festival opens with Canadian director Atom Egoyan's Ararat, a political drama that also deals with Armenian Diaspora, will open the festival. The film has already drawn the wrath of many people especially the Turkish government because it revisits the subject of the murder of thousands of Armenians in Turkey in the early part of the 20th century.
Novelist Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) will introduce Francis Ford Coppola's film, The Conversation, as a part of the Dialogues: Talking With Pictures series.