Note: During my last year at Michigan State University, I decided to partake in a 1 week trip the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Here, I was exposed to a vast collection of films across the world and got the chance to hear from so many different voices. In total, I was able to watch 17 films and attend 3 industry conferences. Below contains short reviews on the films I watched, along with summaries on the conferences I attended. It was an amazing experience and I can't wait to attend again.
DIRECTED BY CORD JEFFERSON
I got rush tickets to this film and got in around 30 minutes late, so I won't give a full/absolute review of this film because of that. From what I did see, this film was a satirical look about the commodification of Black stereotypes and struggles, bringing up questions not only about how harmful this is to the community but also how "nonessential" it can be to the community. We got a great and hilarious performance from Jeffery Wright and Sterling Brown, with honorable mention of Keith David. I like the utilization of different stylistic elements, especially at the end of the film. I think Cord Jefferson did an amazing job with the ending of the film and really drove home this point of what audiences want to see from Black stories, especially ones dealing with the plights of Black men. I will definitely give this a second watch theatrically to get the full experience for a more comprehensive review.
WICKED LITTLE LETTERS
DIRECTED BY THEA SHARROCK
Thea Sharrock absolutely nailed this brilliant film. The idea of having a woman from the early 1900s say some absolutely WILD things is so genius and so perfect. Olivia Colman's physical comedy really sold it for me, but props to the other leading ladies Anjana Vasan and Jessie Buckley for keeping up with the comedy as well. One of the best things about this film is its ability to have the "highs and lows" "highs" being funny moments while the "lows" being moments where Sharrock explores ideas of gender roles and femininity within each of the leading ladies' stories. A definite must watch.
DIRECTED BY AVA DUVERNAY
Origin has been my favorite viewing at TIFF 23' so far. I was completely immersed from start to finish, and at many points during the film I- along with the rest of the audience - found myself in tears. There is a lot going on in this film due to the switching from a narrative to documentary format, and although some on here have found that "irritating" or "distracting," I found that to be one of the best qualities of this film. It takes us on the same journey Wilkerson went through in her life; having to juggle the switching from "the academic" to "the wife" to "the daughter" so many times, all the while not truly having the right times to process it. Some say it's too "preachy" due to the switch to documentary, and that is something that I understand. But in the case of this film, I think it works perfectly at conveying the message without overexplaining. This film introduces us to the important teachings of not only Wilkerson and DuVernay, but also of history. It stresses the importance of knowing your history and the history of your neighbors, your teachers, your scholars, our allies. It highlights all the ways that we are more similar than we think, but it also leaves room for conversation on these similarities. This film pushes back against ideals of "racial compliance" and the model minority, while also challenging the concept of racism and prompting us to look deeper at the things we deem as racist. In pair with gorgeous cinematography and an absolutely compelling performance from Aunjanue Ellis (and the rest of the cast), this film is a must watch for any and everyone.
DIRECTED BY GREG KWEDAR
Sing Sing is such a monumental film with a humanizing message. The supporting cast being all formally incarcerated AND apart of the true events of Sing Sing really brings a aspect of authenticity in their performances. This isn't just a "story," this is the real life of people who were behind bars. Instead of seeing what the stereotype of prison is - where it's this place where everyone is super aggressive, violent, and dangerous - we get a more realistic view of what prison is: it's a place where humans live. Humans who make mistakes. While there are a fair share of people who've committed grotesque acts, there are also those who have not. There are those who have but are genuinely working towards changing themselves for the better. There are even some who have not even committed a crime. Greg Kwedar does an amazing job at reminding us that the term 'criminal' should and does not define who someone is, and I think he also does a great job at pushing back against the boxes that many men (especially black men) are put into. Amazing film!
DIRECTED BY JAMES FLOYD AND SALLY EL HOSAINI
This was a really nice romance story. Floyd and Hosaini did an impeccable job at representing this idea of a man struggling with his admiration to what society and masculinity has described as "forbidden fruit." Hats off to Ben Hardy! Additionally, not only do I think Jason Patel is beautiful, but he also preformed beautifully as both Ashiq and Aysha. The character perfectly showcased what many in the LGBTQ+ community face, but I think the character also depicted the struggle many drag artists have with trying to define their gender identity. I loved the implementation of drag in this as well, and I learned a lot about the UK drag scene. The usage of color within lighting and the traditional costumes was satisfying to watch, and seeing the connection grow between the main characters was heartwarming to see.
A NORMAL FAMILY
DIRECTED BY HUR JIN-HO
This film took me on a ride and I didn't know where I was going, but I loved it. Hur Jin-ho took this very complex philosophical conflict and presented both sides of the discussion, without bias or favoring one side. There's no hero or savior in this film; they make it very clear that no one can save them. It all comes down to what is the best course of action to take when all decisions have unfavorable outcomes. What will they do? What would you do? What is truly the right call to make? All questions left up to our own discretion, not the discretion of Jun-ho. A Normal Family calls out nepotism and its shortcomings with parenting, but also make sure not to frame the more "anti-nepotism" parenting as a walk in the park. I love how Jin-ho handles the story of these two brothers with completely different mindsets. We get to see how these characters think and change, and even see how their own lives have impacted their children. The pettiness of the family, from their subtle "shade" to their outright outbursts, brings up so much tension within the story and keeps us completely tuned into this family's problems. One of my favorite dramas I've seen thus far.
DIRECTED BY CHLOE DOMONT
Who doesn't love to watch a toxic relationship unfold? Chloe Domont has created a masterpiece film dealing with how the psychological torment societal norms - like the patriarchy and the desire for power - can affect an individual and those around them. Our main stars Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich deliver a believable and tense performance as a couple, but shined on their own in each act. Although I was rooting for Phoebe's character the whole time, Dormont does make sure to give nuance and not characterize her character as innocent. That's what makes this so real: no one party is completely in the right (although my personal opinion says otherwise). It's simply just a fight against egos, something that is apparent in relationships but also other facets of life. Placing their occupation as "finance people" (not a finance person myself clearly) also added much tension and I think was a good call. Thoroughly enjoyed!