23rd Toronto International Film Festival Coverage: Day One

Day One — Thursday Sept. 10th

Whew! Day One of the 23rd Toronto International Film Festival is now history. Done. Put to bed. Which is where I should be. However, your intrepid reporter will detour past the Land of Nod to bring you our daily report.

Well, you have to ease into these things so the first press screening wasn’t until 12:30. The film was John Waters’ Pecker. With a title like that, you have to be careful. “So what did you do today?” “I saw John Waters’ pecker.”

John Waters is a fun director. Heck, he’s the only celebrity to appear on The Simpsons who didn’t really need to be animated. Pecker is full of kitschy characters. Pecker (Edward Furlong) is a young photographer who finds beauty in the quirky lives of his friends and family: a grandmother with a talking Virgin Mary doll (Jean Schertler), a sister who MC’s in a gay bar (Martha Plimpton), a sugar-addicted sister (Lauren Hulsey), and his laundry-obsessed girlfriend (Christina Ricci).

Pecker’s work catches the eye of a New York art dealer (Lili Taylor). His sudden celebrity affects his friends, family, and his photography. Pecker must decide whether to protect his career, his family, or renegotiate the terms of his success.

John Waters fills the film with crazed characters. Behind each character though you can feel the love that Waters has for the people that populate his hometown of Baltimore. The New York papers call Pecker’s family “culturally-challenged.” When you watch Pecker, you realize that the folks from Manhattan are the ones missing out.

Speaking of missing, let’s move on to film two, Francois Girard’s The Red Violin. This one has all the trappings of a big film: great settings, costumes, and a sweeping historical story. It’s getting the star treatment at the Festival too, as it’s the opening night gala presentation. I headed over to the red carpet for that but before then, I saw the film’s press screening.

The film follows the centuries long travels of a perfect violin from its original maker to an auction house in the present day. The present day story, which stars Samuel L. Jackson, Colm Feore and co-writer Don McKellar, is interspersed throughout the film. The story told there is actually very interesting and Jackson is fantastic in his role as an expert on ancient violins. However, I wasn’t really gripped by the characters in the past stories. I felt those scenes were beautifully shot but lacking the kind of energy that made me want to delve into their lives. If I could split this film in two I’d be able to give it a positive recommendation for the Samuel L. Jackson material, but as it stands you can wait for this one on video.

An hour and a half after seeing the film, I headed down to Roy Thompson Hall where the galas are held and did a little bit of red carpet photo work.

Finally, I ended off the night by seeing a screening of the Tom Cruise production, Without Limits. It’s the story of Steve Prefontaine, a long-distance runner in the early 70’s who electrified Americans with his running, his drive, and his attitude. Billy Crudup plays the title role and Donald Sutherland is simply great as his coach.

What’s up for tomorrow? I’ll be seeing A Simple Plan and Permanent Midnight, as well as attending the Without Limits press conference and snapping photos of Tom Cruise and friends at the Gala opening.

We’ll see you then.

TIFF Day One Photo Galleries