Now that the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival is over it is time to take a look at some of the independent films that won significant awards and bathed in the spotlight of publicity. As usual there were a lot of movies with big Hollywood stars and big film production budgets attached to them that received a lot of publicity. But there were also a few smaller independent films that managed to win some awards at one of the big three film festivals of the world.
The Toronto International Film Festival is considered by mainstream Hollywood film industry people to be a jumping off point for the long, arduous awards season that ultimately ends with the largest film festival of them all, the Academy Awards. Many big studios and stars disguised as independent filmmakers enter their movies at Toronto to get publicity early in the season in hopes that an Oscar buzz will be created about the film and the stars attached.
Sean Penn premiered his movie Into The Wild, a film about a college grad named Chris McCandles who leaves the civilized world behind and embarks on a nature trip through the wilds of Alaska. It is a man versus nature film with a narrative story that features Emile Hirsch as McCandles, and there is already talk in the air about a possible Best Actor award down the road for this actor.
Cate Blanchett was in two movies at the Toronto International Film Festival. One film was about Elizabeth I, and the other was about Bob Dylan. A veteran of the film festival circuit and a perennial nominee at the Academy Awards, she and the studios that back her films know quite well the value of the early publicity that is generated at this film festival.
Tommy Lee Jones was also in two movies at the Toronto International Film Festival. One is a film by Joel and Ethan Cohen called No Country for Old Men in which he plays a sheriff chasing down a murderer. It is an in your face thriller based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. His other movie is titled In the Valley of Elah, an anti war film about a retired Military Police officer who son goes AWOL after a tour of duty in Iraq. This movie was written by Paul Haggis who also wrote the script for the recent Best Picture oscar winning film Billion Dollar Baby starring Clint Eastwood. Haggis also directed the Best Picture Oscar winning movie Crash.
Even though the Toronto International Film festival is one of the largest and most publicized film festivals in the world, right up there with the Cannes Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival it still manages to be friendly to independent filmmakers who make small independent films with unique and intriguing storylines.
Chris Chong Chan Fui won the award for Best Canadian Short Film with his film Pool, an understated film about rising above traumatic experiences in life. The main character of this film is a water reservoir, hence the title. This up and coming young independent filmmaker took home a 10,000 dollar prize for this independent film.
The award for Best Canadian First Feature Film went to a movie called Continental, Un Film Sans Fusil by Stephane Lafleur. This film chronicles the interaction of four people's lives as a result of one man's disappearance in a forest. The prize for this award was 15,000 dollars.
A film called Zona by Rodrigo Pio won the Prize of the International Critics. This is an award that is given each year at this film festival to an independent filmmaker whose career is beginning to emerge onto the film scene.
One of the best things about the Toronto International Film Festival is the fact that they let the public participate in part of the voting process for the awards. It is one of the only major film festivals in the world that does this kind of thing. The largest award of this type is the Cadillac People's Choice Award. This year the award went to independent filmmaker David Cronenberg for his movie Eastern Promises. It is a film about a Russian gangster with ties to one of London's biggest mafia families. Cronenberg is a true independent filmmaker who has managed to have a very successful career while working outside the mainstream Hollywood film industry. His unique and sometimes bizarre movies like The Fly, Dead Ringers and A History of Violence have garnered many awards and earned him great status in the world of independent film.
While the big Hollywood stars like Sean Penn, Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones received a lot of attention at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, it was the smaller independent filmmakers like Chris Chong Chan Fui, Stephane Lafleur and Rodrigo Pio who really did well at this ten day event. They are true independent filmmakers who made films about topics that the major film studios are not willing to invest in for fear of commercial failure. They made films that represent the true essence of independent filmmaking and managed to share the spotlight with famous filmmakers and movie stars.
For the big Hollywood Players, Toronto is a vehicle that can increase their chances of winning an award at the largest publicity generator and career maker of all, the Academy Awards. For the up and coming diehard independent filmmaker it is a chance to show their film to the public and jumpstart their career as an independent filmmaker.
While many people feel that the Toronto International Film Festival caters mostly to the stars, they also understand that sometimes you have to do that kind of thing to bring the media publicity machine. This is not such a bad thing though, because while the big stars are standing center stage with the spotlight shining down on them, there are always some small independent filmmakers standing on the edge of the stage bathing in just enough light to make them happy. It is a strange mixture of famous people who want to be on top or stay on top of the Hollywood film industry game, and obscure independent filmmakers who want to make movies for a living, but more importantly, want to tell unique, creative and compelling stories.