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Slamdance: Tungrus

Director Rishi Chandna’s 13 minute short documentary Tungrus follows the story of the mild-mannered Bharde Family from Mumbai, India and their “chicken from hell.” The Bhardes live in a small apartment, a father, mother, two sons, daughter and their cats. Six months ago, the dad brought home a young chick he bought for 10 rupees. He thought to himself “this will be a great toy for my cats.” The chick grew up to be a fearless rooster, causing ruckus in the Bharde’s constrained living quarters. Leaping, scratching, attacking, flying and pooping everywhere, this rooster is one giant menace. Why have they put up with this rooster for so long and how long will this chaos last?

Tungrus is a funny, quirky yet sober doc that works on numerous levels. One of the reasons I was drawn to this film was its exploration of family. One decision made by the dad has repercussions on everyone. On the one hand, the Rooster becomes a central part of the family unit. I know what it’s like to have that one disruptive family member who causes utter chaos. You love them despite their craziness. It’s the unspoken bond family members have with each other. On the other hand, family is both a fixed construct and one can mold and change. You are stuck with your blood relatives but you can also build a new family and rid yourself of certain members who cause dysfunction. The Rooster becomes a central figure of the Bharde family but the toxic environment he creates causes the patriarch to make a decision about the Roster’s fate, bringing the story to its tragic climax.

“Catching him… that’s actually an art.”

Tungrus is essentially a human story, because each character in the film must probe the nature of affection, of loyalty, and even the ethics of eating another creature.” 

Rishi Chandna

Tungrus is part of the Slamdance Documentary Shorts program and is part of The New York Times’ Op-Doc series. You can watch the film in its entirety on the NYT website.

Ask Me Anything: TIFF Edition

by Raquel Stecher

Jessica @HollywoodComet on Twitter:

How is it different from other festivals you have attended? (processes of attending movies, etc.)

Raquel: My festival experience is solely comprised of classic film ones so to attend one focused on new films was a whole other ball game. TIFF is a mix of press and industry events and public events. There are over 240 feature films plus over 50 shorts screened and, unlike other festivals I’ve attended, the feature films get multiple screenings. On average each film gets 3 screenings, 2 press and industry screenings and one screening for the public. There are even private screenings and some of the highly anticipated movies are shown on two separate screens at the same time. Some of the films have distributors and some are for sale so buyers will attend TIFF to look for new properties. This is truly an international event and people come from all over the world to attend. The guest list is enormous. Everyone from directors, producers, actors and actresses attend along with their agents, publicists, etc come to TIFF. Unlike other festivals where a pass gets you into everything (or in the case of TCMFF, different level passes grant you different levels of access), at TIFF only press and industry members get passes. The general public buy tickets to individual events and those can range from $30CAD to over $100 CAD. P&I screenings are first come, first serve. For public screenings you need a ticket to get in. Some of those screenings have assigned seats and others do not. It depends on the theater. The main hub for TIFF is their TIFF Bell Lightbox building where they have a couple of screening rooms. The other big location, the Scotiabank Theatre, has 14. Other theaters like the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre and the Ryerson Theatre host special presentations and galas.

 

Kate Gabrielle @KateGabrielle on Twitter:

I’d love to know if you’d recommend TIFF for movie fans who aren’t members of the press.

Would regular people be able to see celebrities (Robert Redford!) or are those opportunities reserved for the media?

Raquel: I would definitely recommend TIFF to movie fans. From my experience the public screenings are much better than the press and industry ones. Public screenings get an introduction as well as Q&A or panel discussion with the director and cast members after the movie is over. P&I screenings have no special guests nor do they have intros. And if attendees for P&I screenings are not interested in the movie after 20-30 minutes they bail. Those walk outs were a bit demoralizing and soured that experience for me. Public screenings are filled with lots of devoted movie lovers who hand selected their movies and are excited to attend. And yes the public gets lots of chances to see celebrities! Besides seeing them at the public screenings, and almost all of those have special guests, there are red carpet premieres that you can observe from behind a barrier. A lot of the celebrities stop for autographs and pictures. And if you’re lucky you might see one walking down festival street, eating at a nearby restaurant, arriving by car service to an event or attending another screening for fun.

 

Daniel @burlivespipe on Twitter:

What was the biggest surprise for you, both on screen and off?

What’s the must-have item you take with you to these big festivals?

Raquel: The biggest surprise was how easy it was to get into everything I had on my itinerary. I just had to show up early! A lot of people didn’t want to wait in line for 30-60 minutes so they would show up much later. I always showed up early and was first in line for several screenings. And I was 5th in line for the highly coveted A Star is Born press conference. On screen, I think the biggest surprise was how much I loved all the movies I watched. I think my least favorites were Red Joan and The Quietude but ultimately I enjoyed those too. TIFF very carefully curates their festival slate and I must have picked well for my own viewing/reviewing purposes!

For the must-have item it has to be my external battery. I was doing a lot of social media in between events and having a battery to charge up my iPhone was incredibly useful. The complimentary TIFF tote bag I got came in handy too!

 

Todd @ToddMason2013 on Twitter:

How this differs, if at all from other festivals. How it strikes you: balance of support of film as art vs. gosh wowing celebrities as a focus of events. How the audiences were.. also is Tim Horton’s basically Dunkin?

Raquel: For the festival comparison see my answer to Jessica’s question above. I will say that classic film festivals are not press and industry driven because those movies are old and don’t need marketing. Any press for those festivals is about the festival experience as a whole and not necessarily individual movies (unless there is something special about them like a world premiere restoration or a special guest). For the public, TIFF is on a much bigger scale than other festivals like TCMFF.

As far as the support of film as art versus celebrity worship, I got a sense that TIFF and the attendees took their films very seriously. There was an appreciation and overall respect for films and filmmakers but also strong criticism too. I overheard conversations after press and industry screenings and public ones and it was interesting to hear people dissect and disseminate what they just watched. Toronto is full of serious film lovers. There is some celebrity worship even with the serious film as art vibe. Heck TIFF themselves nicknamed themselves Timothee International Film Festival since Chalamet’s appearance was such a huge hit this year. The celebrity appearances do help TIFF get the publicity that their festival needs that in turn helps them secure sponsors.

Tim Horton’s is a sad sister to Dunkin Donuts and they don’t have iced tea!

 

Nikki @NikkiLM4 on Twitter:

[I want to know] everything about the Redford screening and sighting.

Raquel: Seeing Robert Redford was a dream come true. I missed the camera call RSVP window. Otherwise I would have had a chance to bring my camera and get up close to Redford and the other cast members of The Old Man and the Gun. That would have been amazing. Instead when I attended the special presentation at the Elgin theatre for the movie, I saw Casey Affleck make his entrance and Robert Refdord was already there posing for photos. I got a brief glimpse of him between the photographers. I tried to take a photo but security was shooing us along. At the beginning of the screening, TIFF’s Cameron Bailey made an introduction and the director, producer and cast was brought out including Robert Redford. After the screening, the director and cast came out again and Redford received a standing ovation. During the panel discussion, I got the feeling that he was overwhelmed with the attention and he wanted the other cast members to do more talking to take the focus off of him. And Nikki I have to say, his voice in person was amazing. It’s deep and booming and traveled throughout the Elgin. Even if you weren’t looking at him you’d know he was there. I could feel his presence throughout the whole theatre. He was very casually dressed. He wore jeans, a shirt, a light jacket and brown shoes. In the discussion he talked about how the predator vs. prey aspect of the film really drew him to the project.

 

Meaghan @mwgerard on Twitter:

How do you pace yourself, not get overwhelmed?

Raquel: This is where my extensive TCMFF experience came in handy. I created a TIFF itinerary the same way I do my TCMFF one. I put this itinerary together over several days constantly editing and shifting things around to get it just right. I spent a lot of time going through all the films once they were announced. I watched as many trailers and video clips as I could. I wrote down every title that appealed to me. Then I made some criteria for myself, which you can read about in my Final TIFF films post. That helped me narrow down the films. Then I looked at the final TIFF schedule, mapped out all my screenings and listed back-ups in case I couldn’t get into my first pick. I limited myself to 3-4 events per day because I knew any more than 4 and I would be too exhausted to enjoy. What’s the point of attending a screening if I’m just going to fall asleep? I made sure to build in time for writing, eating and sleeping. TIFF can be overwhelming but the key is to have a game plan and stick to it.

 

Karen @TheDarkPages on Twitter:

What will you do differently next time?

Do you want there to be a next time?

What was your most exciting experience?

Raquel: Press can go to as many press and industry screenings as they want but are only allotted 10 public screening tickets. I got 4 tickets but I regret not using up all 10! The public screenings were way better because there were no walk-outs like at P&I screenings (if audience members weren’t interested in the movie they bailed) and the public ones had introductions and Q&As and panels with special guests. And next time I’d try for some camera calls (where I show up with my camera to do photography) and for red carpet interviews and possibly some interviews. I just don’t feel like I knew enough to be prepared for those this time around. I loved TIFF so much that I definitely plan to be back!

My most exciting experience was the A Star is Born press conference. I was incredibly nervous. I arrived 1-1/2 hours early and I was 5th in line. I kept rehearsing my question over and over again (I didn’t end up being picked and someone eventually asked a version of my question). I had never been to a press conference before and sitting along journalists from Billboard, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, BuzzFeed, etc. was thrilling. When the cast came out I was dazzled. We had one chance to photograph them and I was in a very good spot and got some great shots and an unencumbered view of the stage and guests. Lady Gaga is so regal yet very humble and kind. Her answers were eloquent and heart-felt. Bradley Cooper was fantastic. He had some very thoughtful answers and when someone was talking, whether they were asking him a question or responding to one, his eyes were completely focused on them. Just from the movie I could tell he had the chops to be an amazing director but the fact that he could focus so intensely on other people made me realize that he was something special. His blue eyes were piercing and his stare was so intense that it was like a laser cutting metal. Wow! And Sam Elliott. That voice. Even more booming and gravelly in person. Seriously. That man has an amazing presence. Dave Chappelle was as chill and funny as you’d expect him to be. I also enjoyed hearing from Anthony Ramos who spoke beautifully about working with Lady Gaga and Cooper. There was a lot of love in that room. It was electric. This is an experience I’ll never forget.

 

Erin on Facebook:

Did you get to chat with other film fans while there or did you mostly keep to yourself?

Raquel: I’m a chatty Cathy so I will talk to anybody. I was suffering some social anxiety while at the festival so I held back a little bit. Also it didn’t help that I didn’t know anyone there. But I chatted my heart out with numerous people. I had great conversations with an industry member from Miami, a screenwriter from Toronto, a festival volunteer, a couple of first-time TIFF press members, a film publicist and several others. I also met my friend @PJofYork from Twitter and his lovely wife as well as Ryan from The Matinee. (You can listen to our TIFF chat on his podcast The Matineecast!)

 

Jackie on Facebook:

Were all the films in the same theater? Or was it spread out downtown like TCMFF. Was it difficult to get to the next movie?

Were there a ton of fans there, like TCMFF, or mostly media?

Raquel: There were several theatres. The two main locations were the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Scotiabank Theatre which were a couple blocks away from each other. I walked back and forth between each throughout most of the festival. The other theatres were further away. You could walk or take a quick Lyft or Uber to get there. Unlike TCMFF, there was much more time built in between screenings and because there were so many screenings you didn’t have to line up 1-2 hours before hand to get into an event unless it was highly sought after. There was so much going on at one time that you really didn’t have to rush to get anywhere. For public screenings, if you bought a ticket for an event you were guaranteed to get in and in some cases you had an assigned seat. If it was a general seating arrangement then it helped getting there a bit early. Getting from one screening to another was a lot easier at TIFF than at TCMFF in my opinion.

I can’t say exactly but I’m going to estimate based on the number of screenings and how they are divided into categories that the festival is about 1/3rd fans and 2/3rds press/industry. However a lot of press members attended the public events so it might even be 1/4th public and 3/4th press/industry. As a member of the public though it’s very welcoming and there are so many great events for everyone. There are even some that are difficult for press to get into but easier for public attendees.

Have a question? Submit it to me in the comment section below and I’ll add it to the above post.

My Preliminary TIFF ’18 Picks

by Raquel Stecher

Anticipation is building for the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. The programmers released their full list of galas and special presentations last week and I dove into the list to single out the films I’m most interested in. But honestly all of them sound amazing. Once the full schedule comes out next month I’ll be combing through the final list making what I’m sure will be some very difficult decisions.

Here is the list of galas and special presentations that stood out to me.

Galas

 

BeautifulBoy

Beautiful Boy

  • directed by Felix van Groeningen
  • starring Steve Carrell, Timothee Chalamet
  • Trailer

Beautiful Boy is based on Nic Sheff’s memoir about his struggle with drug addiction and his father David Sheff’s own memoir response. It looks to be both a harrowing story about addiction and a touching story about the bond between a father and son. I predict this will be one of the top films to see at the festival and will be hard to get into. I’m not sure I’m ready for the emotional roller-coaster this film will send me on but I’d love to see Timothee Chalamet ( Call Me By Your Name changed my life) on the big screen again.

 

First Man

First Man

  • directed by Damien Chazelle
  • starring Ryan Gosling
  • Trailer

Biopic. check. Period drama. check. I loved La La Land  and I’m curious about this new film from Chazelle about the life and times of Neil Armstrong. It follows Armstrong’s journey from his early days at NASA to the historic moment when he landed on the moon in 1969. Next year is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing so this is a timely biopic that audiences will be ready for.

 

hiddenman_01

Hidden Man

  • directed by Jiang Wen
  • starring Eddie Peng
  • Trailer

I was mesmerized by the trailer for this period thriller about a spy who goes home to seek revenge. Set in China, Hidden Man looks to be equal parts Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Kill Bill and I’m here for it. If I don’t get into this film screening, I wouldn’t mind watching Zhang Yimou’s Shadow which looks like a visual masterpiece.

 

public_HERO

The Public

  • directed by Emilio Estevez
  • starring Emilio Estevez, Alec Baldwin, Taylor Schilling, Jena Malone etc.
  • Trailer

Estevez is a triple threat as The Public‘s director, writer and star. This urban drama follows a group of homeless library patrons who refuse to leave the library in the middle of winter because the city’s emergency shelters are full. The sit-in quickly escalates into a standoff with the authorities. I’m hoping this film delivers a poignant social message in the midst of the escalating drama.

 

redjoan_0HERO

Red Joan

  • directed by Trevor Nunn
  • starring Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I want to see this for one reason: Judi Dench. And if I see her in person at TIFF I might pass out. This is a reality. And it doesn’t hurt that this period drama about a British physicist turned KGB spy sounds super interesting. The story is inspired by the real life KGB spy Melita Norwood. This is theatre director Trevor Nunn’s return to film directing. His last film was Twelfth Night: Or What You Will (1996) which I watched as a teenager infatuated with period pieces and literary adaptations.

 

A_STAR_IS_BORN_MUSTUSE

A Star is Born

  • directed by Bradley Cooper
  • starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
  • Trailer

As someone who loves classic movies, I’m curious about this fourth iteration of A Star is Born. The 1937 version starring Fredric March and Janet Gaynor is still the gold standard but I’m keeping an open mind for this one. Cooper’s directorial debut is a remake of the Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson 1976 version. The story follows musicians who fall in love but whose very different career trajectories put their relationship in jeopardy. The Lady Gaga documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two premiered at last year’s TIFF and I’m excited that she’ll be back at the festival.

 

widows_0HERO

Widows

  • directed by Steve McQueen
  • starring Viola Davis, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Jacki Weaver, Colin Farrell, and Michelle Rodriguez
  • Trailer

This film looks so bad-ass! Four women are left widows when their criminal husbands are killed in a botched heist. Instead of allowing themselves to be victims of their circumstances, the women take action and set out to finish the job that their husbands started. I love the cast and the trailer had me on the edge of my seat.

 

Special Presentations

 

colette

Colette

  • directed by Wash Westmoreland
  • starring Keira Knightley
  • Trailer

If you know me, you know I’m not a fan of Keira Knightley but she always finds a way to be in movies I’m dying to see. This biopic about the provocative French writer Colette explores the struggle of early women writers and the sexual dynamics of turn-of-the-century Belle Epoque France all with a bit of gender-bending thrown in. I’m all over this one like a bad rash. With Colette, I’m hoping for a film celebrating female empowerment and independence.

canyoueverforgiveme_0HERO

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

  • directed by Marielle Heller
  • starring Melissa McCarthy
  • Trailer

By day I work in book publishing so this biopic about author turned forger Lee Israel is right up my alley. Melissa McCarthy is one of my favorite actresses and I can’t wait to see her in this role. The TIFF website calls this film “charming” but I’m hoping Israel’s exploits will have be squirming in my seat. I love a good story about deception and the consequences of being caught red-handed.

 

ifbealestreetcouldtalk_01

If Beale Street Could Talk

  • directed by Barry Jenkins
  • starring Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King

I adored Jenkins’ Moonlight and Raoul Peck’s James Baldwin doc I Am Not Your Negro  so this seems like a natural fit. The racial tension in Baldwin’s novels are still so relevant today so I’m excited to see how Jenkins delivers this message to the big screen.

 

oldmanandthegun_02

Old Man and the Gun

  • directed by David Lowery
  • starring Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Elisabeth Moss, Casey Affleck
  • Trailer

Could this be Robert Redford’s swan song before he retires for good? If it is, I’m not about to miss it. Redford is joined by Sissy Spacek and an all-star cast in this tale of a professional bank robber who falls in love and is determined to live life on his own terms.

 

papichulo_01

Papi Chulo

  • directed by John Butler
  • starring Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patino

I was hoping for a good Latino/a story to pop up in the TIFF line-up and maybe this is it? No trailer yet but the synopsis looks intriguing. Set in Los Angeles, lonely weatherman hires a Latino immigrant to be his friend. I’m intrigued, tell me more!

 

sunset_0HERO

Sunset

  • directed by László Nemes
  • Trailer

Shot in 35mm for you film nerds out there, Hungarian director Nemes’ movie is about a young milliner who tries to work at her parents’ hat store but is turned away by the new owner. It looks to be a good period piece.

 

weddingguest_01

The Wedding Guest

  • directed by Michael Winterbottom
  • starring Dev Patel

Michael Winterbottom’s Jude was one of the pivotal movies I saw in my youth. In this film, Dev Patel stars as a young British muslim man who treks across Pakistan and India. There’s no trailer and very limited information on the movie so I’m basing my interest on the director, star and basic concept.

 

wherehandstouch_0HERO

Where Hands Touch

  • directed by Amma Asante
  • starring Amandla Stenberg

This WWII drama tells the story of a young Black German teenager who falls in love with a member of the Hitler Youth. I’m here for the unusual twist on a coming-of-age romance and for the female directed period piece.

 

WIldlife

Wildlife

  • directed by Paul Dano
  • starring Ex Oxenbould, Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal

I’ve already heard a lot of buzz about Paul Dano’s directorial debut Wildlife. Set in the 1960s, it follows the story of a teenage boy as he deals with his parent’s divorce. You had me with the period aesthetics and the cast now all I need is a good story and I’ll be happy.

 

I’m hoping when TIFF releases the new schedule that there will be some more films directed by women and LGBTQ stories to add to my repertoire!

2018 Toronto International Film Festival

by Raquel Stecher

I’m very excited to announce that I will be attending this year’s Toronto International Film Festival as a member of the press! This will be my very first time attending TIFF and I can’t wait to bring you coverage here on Quelle Movies. I’ll also be writing and posting about TIFF on my Twitter, Instagram, on the Cine Suffragette blog, and over on DVD Netflix’s Inside the Envelope blog and on their Instagram. I hope to secure some more outlets in the coming weeks. While TIFF is a 10 day festival, I’ll only be able to attend the first five days. But I’m confident I’ll see lots great films in that time frame!

In light of the tragedy that occurred on Sunday in Toronto, TIFF decided to forego their annual Festival Press Conference. Today announced their big films in a press release instead. These movies will receive gala screenings, special presentations, press conferences and red carpet premieres. Here is the list of today’s announced films.

GALAS

BeautifulBoy

Beautiful Boy (world premiere)
dir. Felix van Groeningen
Steve Carrell, Timothée Chalamet

Everybody Knows
dir. Asghar Farhadi
Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem

First Man
dir. Damien Chazelle
Ryan Goslin, Claire Foy

Galveston
dir. Mélanie Laurent
Elle Fanning, Ben Foster, Beau Bridges

THE HATE U GIVE

The Hate U Give (world premiere)
dir. George Tillman, Jr.
Amandla Stenberg, K.J. Apa, Regina Hall

Hidden Man
dir. Jiang We
Eddie Peng

High Life (world premiere)
dir. Claire Denis
Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth, Andre Benjamin

Husband Material (world premiere)
dir. Anurag Kashyap
Vicky Kaushal, Abhishek Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu

kindergartenteacher_0HERO.jpg

The Kindergarten Teacher
dir. Sara Colangelo
Maggie Gyllenhaal

The Land of Steady Habits (world premiere)
dir. Nicole Holofcener
Ben Mendelsohn, Edie Falco, Connie Britton

Life Itself (world premiere)
dir. Dan Fogelman
Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Benning, Antonio Banderas

The Public (world premiere)
dir. Emilio Estevez
Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, Gabrielle Union, Christian Slater

Red Joan (world premiere)
dir. Sir Trevor Nunn
Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson

Shadow
dir. Zhang Yimou

A_STAR_IS_BORN_MUSTUSE

A Star is Born
dir. Bradley Cooper
Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga

What They Had
dir. Elizabeth Chomko
Hilary Swank, Blythe Danner, Robert Forster, Michael Shannon

Widows (world premiere)
dir. Steve McQueen
Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

Ben is Back (world premiere)
dir. Peter Hedges
Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges

Burning Lee
dir. Chang-dong

Can You Ever Forgive Me?
dir. Marielle Heller
Melissa McCarthy

Capernaum
dir. Nadine Labaki

Cold War
dir. Paweł Pawlikowski

colette

Colette
dir. Wash Westmoreland
Keira Knightley

Dogman
dir. Matteo Garrone

The Front Runner
dir. Jason Reitman
Hugh Jackman, Vera Fermiga, J.K. Simmons

Giant Little Ones
dir. Keith Behrman
Kyle MacLachlan, Maria Bello

Girls of the Sun
dir. Eva Husson

Hotel Mumbai (world premiere)
dir. Anthony Maras
Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher

The Hummingbird Project (world premiere)
dir. Kim Nguyen
Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgard, Salma Hayek

ifbealestreetcouldtalk_01.jpg

If Beale Street Could Talk (world premiere)
dir. Barry Jenkins
Stephan James, Kiki Layne, Dave Franco, Pedro Pascal

Manto
dir. Nandita Das

Maya (world premiere)
dir. Mia Hansen-Løve

monstersandmen_HERO

Monsters and Men (opening film)
dir. Reinaldo Marcus Green

MOUTHPIECE (world premiere)
dir. Patricia Rozema

Non-Fiction
dir. Olivier Assayas
Juliette Binoche, Guillaume Canet

oldmanandthegun_02

The Old Man & The Gun
dir. David Lowery
Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Elizabeth Moss, Casey Affleck

Papi Chulo (world premiere)
dir. John Butler

Roma
dir. Alfonso Cuarón (closing film)

Shoplifters
dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cannes Palme d’Or winner

thesistersbrothers_01

The Sisters Brothers
dir. Jacques Audiard
Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed

Sunset
dir. László Nemes

Through Black Spruce (world premiere)
dir. Don McKellar
Tantoo Cardinal, Brandon Oakes, Graham Greene, Tanaya Beatty

weddingguest_01

The Wedding Guest (world premiere)
dir. Michael Winterbottom
Dev Patel

The Weekend (world premiere)
dir. Stella Meghie
Sasheer Zamata, Tone Bell, DeWanda Wise, Y’Lan Noel

Where Hands Touch (world premiere)
dir. Amma Asante
Amandla Stenberg

White Boy Rick
dir. Yann Demange
Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Eddie Marsan

Wildlife
dir. Paul Dano
Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal

See you in Toronto!

IMG_2077

James Ivory on the making of Maurice (1987) and the appeal of Call Me By Your Name (2017) #TCMFF

At the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) I attended a special screening of Maurice (1987). Before the film, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz sat down with the film’s director James Ivory to discuss the movie and his career.

To period film enthusiasts like myself James Ivory is a well-known name. He was part of the Merchant-Ivory productions trio that included his late partner producer Ismail Merchant, the late screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and himself as director. This partnership gave birth to many wonderful films including A Room With a View (1985), Maurice (1987), Mr. & Mrs. Bridge (1990), Howards End (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993) and many others. These films set the standard because of their excellence in story telling and the meticulous attention to detail given to virtually every aspect of the filmmaking process. The last collaboration with all Merchant, Ivory and Jhabvala was Le Divorce (2003). Merchant passed away shortly after the premiere of The White Countess (2005) and Jhabvala passed away in 2013.

 

MerchantIvory
Ismail Merchant, James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

 

As the surviving member of this trio, Ivory has recently found a new career as a screenwriter. He had contributed to screenplays on previous projects but Call Me By Your Name (2017), based on Andre Aciman’s acclaimed novel, was the first time he had ever written a script all on his own. At the age of 89, Ivory became the oldest nominee to win an Oscar which he did for best adapted screenplay. I read Ivory’s screenplay for CMBYN before attending TCMFF (you can read it for free online). It’s one of the best I’ve ever read and while Luca Guadagnino’s film for the most part stayed faithful to the script, some of the intimate moments in Ivory’s adaptation were altered for various reasons concerning the director and the film’s stars Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet. In discussion with Ben Mankiewicz, Ivory touched upon his disappointment that CMBYN did not contain nudity even though the script called for it. He said,

“I hate talking about the subject and at one point I was told not to by Sony Pictures because it would make people not go see the movie… There’s always been a lot of nudity in our [Merchant-Ivory] movies, male, female. We’ve never worried about that very much. I’ve always felt that in love scenes, when showing people in love or when they just made love or whn they’re about to make love to put sheets around them. I always thought [to include it] … I was told that would happen in this film. However the two guys [Hammer and Chalamet] had it in their contracts [not to]. Let me just say this English actors don’t care about that at all. Or French actors. They walk around naked all the time. It’s not true of American actors. There’s a kind of modesty.”

It’s hard not to compare CMBYN with Maurice. Both are romantic period pieces, one set in 1980s Italy and the other early 20th century England, that focus on gay characters. The outcomes for the two sets of couples are very different but many of the story elements are the same and both include references to ancient Greek and Roman literature and art. When Mankiewicz brought this up, Ivory disagreed. He thinks they are quite different except that they are both “unashamed presentations of gay love.”

The story of Maurice was ground breaking in that it was unashamed in its presentation of romances between men. Renowned author E.M. Forster wrote the novel in 1913 and 1914 and revisited it a few times over the decades. When he passed away in 1970, he left the manuscript behind with a note that read “publishable, but worth it?” It was indeed published the following year but considered a minor entry into his ouevre. In conversation, Ivory pointed out that Forster couldn’t have published it in his lifetime. He went on to say, “it would have been considered obscene. It was a story with what was considered criminal acts in England. Then laws in England were changed in the early ’60s. So it could be published. But by that time he was pretty old and he wasn’t thinking about it a lot. Various friends of his who had read it over the years told him not to [even though] they liked it.”

Upon the success of the Merchant-Ivory adaptation of Forster’s A Room With a View, Ivory and his team received offers from studios for all sorts of projects. One of them was a treasure hunting adventure film set in the Caribbean and starring Tom Cruise. When that project fell through, Ivory revisited Forster’s work, reading and re-reading his various novels and stories. Ivory had read Maurice when it first came out but hadn’t thought of adapting it to film until he read it again a decade later. In the interview he said:

“I thought that Maurice was sort of the other side of the coin of A Room With a View. It was really the same kind of story. The same kind of people. Privileged, upper-middle class, educated, English people who were going to live a lie rather than really seek personal happiness, romantic happiness. They were prepared in A Room With a View and in Maurice to live some lie and pretend that they didn’t loved the person they really loved. I thought that was very relevant to today. A lot has changed since 1910 but people’s attitudes about living a lie had not always changed.”

Forsters executors at King’s College were hesitant that a film adaptation of Maurice wouldn’t pan out.  ccording to Ivory, they were mostly concerned that the novel didn’t have the prestige of Forster’s other work and that a movie might drag down his literary reputation. Eventually they relented. Screenwriter Jhabvala was otherwise occupied writing her novel Three Continents and also fairly uninterested in Maurice as a project. However she did contribute what Ivory calls “very good and highly useful dramatic suggestions” to the script Ivory worked on with Kit Hesketh-Harvey.

 

Maurice
James Wilby and Hugh Grant in Maurice (1987)

 

The film starred relative newcomers James Wilby as Maurice, Hugh Grant as Clive and Rupert Graves as Alec Scudder. Because it was difficult to get all the cast members at the same place at the same time there was little-to-no-time for rehearsals and script read throughs and barely enough time for the actors to get to know each other before shooting very intimate scenes. Mankiewicz asked Ivory what it was like to direct a love scene with two actors who had yet to develop chemistry with each other. Ivory’s response:

“It’s a bit like throwing a dog and a cat in a box together. You just have to see what’s going to happen. “

Maurice was well-received at the Venice Film Festival, where it received several prizes, played for several months at The Paris Theater in New York and was praised by critics. Maurice was ahead of its time in many respects but also came at the perfect time. Ivory pointed out that

“It came out at the height of the AIDS epidemic. It was at its worst point. If you think that maybe because of that people would have backed off from it. But I think people didn’t dare to criticize it because of that very fact. This huge tragedy was going on. People who might have attacked it said it was not the time. Especially a film with a happy ending.”

 

CMBYN
Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name (2017)

 

Fast forward thirty years later and Ivory’s Call Me By Your Name (2017) garners critical praise and a cult following. And that Academy Award for best adapted screenplay didn’t hurt either. About CMBYN’s appeal, Ivory shared,

“I’m stopped on the street all the time in New York. People recognize me. Maybe it’s my cane or something. They come up to me. Sometimes it will be much older couple, man and wife, and they go on and on about how they love the film. I’ve also noticed that with teenage girls who are just crazy about it, of course that’s Timothee Chalamet I know. They see it again and again and again. It’s just playing everywhere. It’s a love story between some attractive young people in the most beautiful place in the summer. Apart from it’s general tone as a film it’s just something that appeals to people. The same thing can be said A Room With a View. It’s the same kind of feel. A Room With a View had that same kind of audience reaction everywhere in the world.”

What’s next for James Ivory? For years he’s been trying to get funding for an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard II without much success. Currently he’s working on a screenplay for Alexander Payne based on a story Ruth Jhabvala wrote for The New Yorker shortly before she died. It was optioned years ago by Payne and Fox Searchlight but only recently has it been revisited.

Read more of my TCMFF coverage over on my classic film blog Out of the Past.

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