Thursday, June 14, 2001


Friends: And the movies have begun. It would have been nice if I had made my first film of the festival the first film to screen in the old circus tent. I was most eager for that unique experience, but I couldn't resist seeing the first screening of the festival taking place in the town's actual movie theater at 4 p.m. Wednesday, even though I had already seen it. It was the American film "Fast Food, Fast Women" by Israeli director Amos Kollek starring Anna Thompson, who has starred in a couple of his earlier films, "Sue" and "Fiona." There were no Finnish subtitles and the sound system wasn't the best, but the Finns still got plenty of chuckles from this uncharacteristic feel-good movie from Kollek.

The first movie under the Big Top was a Finnish film "Bad Luck Love" at six p.m. I'd seen that one too, at Berlin, and didn't care for it as much as "Fast Food,"so I stayed at the town theater for the Chinese film "17 Years" by Zhang Yuan. He won the best director award for the film at Venice two years ago. It is among 23 films in the Pearls of New Cinema program, many of which I've seen--Yi Yi, Werckmeister Harmonies, Kippur, Smell of Camphor, Drunken Horses, The Gleaners and I, Rosetta, Clouds of May, and Fast Food. But this one was new to me and it was a gem. It is about a 16-year old girl who inadvertently murders her step sister and is sentenced to prison for 18 years. She is given a special New Year's furlough to visit her family for good behavior after 17 years. She is accompanied by a prison guard. It is unclear whether her parents know she is coming. Their meeting was great drama.

The official opening film of the festival was Jerry Schatzberg's 1973 Cannes Palm d'Or winner, "Scarecrow," at 7:45 in the main theater, not under the Big Top as I would have hoped. Schatzberg is one of four honorees. He talked briefly before the film. I didn't stay for the film, just the opening remarks and then zipped over to the Big Top for "Space Pigs" and another from Kurdistan with Finnish subtitles. My press pass lets me see whatever I want so I can go in and out of the three different venues at will. So far the only sell out was "Scarecrow."

It is now Thursday afternoon and I have fifteen minutes at the library before rushing to see Schatzberg's "Panic in Needle Park" from 1971 starring Al Pacino. There are 79 films and shorts, including five of those now legendary preludes commemorating last year's 25th Toronto film festival. Each is being shown once, except for Guy Maddin's, which will get one screening a day. There are 19 Finnish features. It is a fairly bare bones festival with not many directors accompanying their films. There is minimal sponsorship and no introductory short before each film acknowledging them. There are still some out of the ordinary programs to look forward to--a couple of 3D films, and two silent films under the tent with live accompaniment, one by D.W. Griffith and another from Russia.

Today the sun is out and its shirt sleeve weather. There are piles of blankets in the tent though if it gets cold. Its crusty old burlap ceiling is as beguiling to gaze upon as the winking stars of Chicago's Music Box Theater.

Later, George

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