Film4′s Deputy Head of Film, Katherine Butler, reports on the Toronto buzz around Film4 titles The Selfish Giant, Starred Up, Under The Skin and How I Live Now, plus other festival favourites Sunshine on Leith, Philomena, Dom Hemmingway and Gravity.
We spend a large part of our festival running from one hotel lobby to another, meeting possible co-financiers, distributors and sometimes even filmmakers about projects for the future. This is the other side of the festival experience – it’s very easy to never see a film and yet develop trenchant views on it as a result of hearing other people’s opinions in these meetings. We’ve attempted to keep a relatively healthy balance – grabbing a film or two each morning, then spending afternoons deep in conversation, followed by attending the premieres of our own films every single evening.
On Sunday we were thrilled to see Clio Barnard’s much heralded Cannes triumph, the Film4-backed The Selfish Giant win over Toronto audiences. The tears flowed as the audience responded thoughtfully and empathetically in the Q and A following the film. It’s a beautiful thing to see a lower budget and regionally specific film reach audiences across the world with its universality of story and theme – and the audience was once again bowled over by the performances of the films two young first-time stars, Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas.
Monday brought a simultaneous screening of David Mackenzie’s prison thriller Starred Up at 9pm with Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin at 10pm. Our tiny team split up, tweeting from both events in a mind-melting mash-up of prison inmates and aliens. I went along to Starred Up where I chatted to Jack O’Connell, the young star of the film whose feature debut this is. Jack is noticeably much skinnier than last time I saw him – he is losing weight for his next film (the Angelina Jolie-directed Untouchables, no less), Angelina having cast Jack after a special screening of Starred Up. Jack and Rupert Friend meet their fans outside the cinema, and the audience is excitable and appreciative with laughs at points that even surprise director David Mackenzie.
Under the Skin has made massive waves since its unveiling at Telluride. The other half of our team here report that the Toronto audience are stunned by it, totally immersed in the world Glazer creates. Of course Scarlett Johansson is an enormous draw for the crowds here – but audiences are also desperate to see Jonathan Glazer’s first film in nine years, and are not disappointed. It is wonderful to hear the raging enthusiasm audience members have for it the next day and we are hopeful of officially announcing a US distribution partner soon. We find the film cropping up in many people’s best films of the festival list – it makes a huge impact.
Onto Tuesday, which brings Kevin Macdonald’s latest film, an adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s hit young adult book How I Live Now. We’re back at Toronto’s beautiful, quirky Winter Garden theatre, with the vines hanging down from the ceiling to magical effect. The screening combines a young audience there for Saoirse Ronan (who is incredibly articulate in the following Q and A) alongside her talented co-star, newcomer, George MacKay and an older audience who love Kevin’s work. The film pulls the audience into its dystopian romance with few dry eyes left by the end, and we are left hugely excited for its UK release via eOne on 4th October.
Our priority for viewing new films is really those British and Irish films we didn’t have a hand in getting made – we are always madly keen to find new talent, whether it’s in front of or behind the camera. Of this year’s crop, we were roused by the Proclaimers musical Sunshine on Leith, moved by the Steve Coogan penned Philomena, impressed by newcomer Gugu Mwatha Raw’s performance in Belle, wowed by Jude Law’s reinvention in Dom Hemmingway and tickled by low budget Irish comedy The Stag. This was a huge year for British film, and we were excited by the breadth of talent on view – this time, it doesn’t feel like a flash in the pan, but an industry confident in itself at every level.
On our last day, we snuck in a special treat – Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which we saw on a huge 3D screen. All we can say is: go – see it on the biggest screen you can, in 3D, and prepare to have your mind blown. Like most in the audience, we were a little in shock by the end, found it hard to string a sentence together, and then ran off to phone our families. A fitting end to an exhilarating festival…