33rd Toronto International Film Festival Coverage: Day Four

Day Four of the 2008 festival started with the press conference for Flash of Genius. This directorial debut by prolific producer Marc Abraham is based on the true story of Robert Kearns who battled against the Ford Motor Company for years after he claimed they stole his invention, the intermittent wiper.

Abraham felt that it was a much deeper story than just the invention and really played to the deeper themes of justice, principle and an obsession that made Kearns lose his family.

Greg Kinnear, who plays Kearns, was asked how he found humanity in a guy who sacrifices his family in his pursuit to get Ford to admit what they did. Kinnear said that he was a very human character in the script, a decent guy who became increasingly uncompromising and obsessive. He said that he wanted Kearns to find satisfaction, but he’s not sure if the late inventor ever did.

Lauren Graham, who plays Kearns’ wife, said that she found it interesting playing a character that’s torn between wanting him and wanting what’s best for him. Often you see the “supportive wife” in a generic way, but this time it takes a wrong turn. The wedge that drives them apart — the third person so to speak — was her husband’s obsession and drive. Even years later he still had no realization what he had done to his family in the pursuit of what he saw as justice.

Alan Alda, who has played several real-life characters, said that he doesn’t play real or fictional characters differently, “I think what you have to play is what’s in the script. Whether they actually lived or just lived in the imagination of the writer.”

Alda said that one of the things Kearns couldn’t come to grips with was that large companies never admit that they were wrong. Instead of admitting guilt they just want to offer the claimants money and even though Kearns was offered tens of millions he couldn’t bring himself to see that what the only type of justice that he was going to get.

Director Marc Abraham also said that he found the grey areas interesting. Every character had both sides in them. Kearns was right, but his pursuit of justice hurt his family, so the grey area is there. Kinnear added that Ford could be painted as “the big bad company” but we live in a world of compromise and Kearns couldn’t deal with that. Even the audience is uncomfortable that there isn’t this huge victory at the end.

Alda, a director himself, had praise for Abraham’s first time at the helm He said that when he watched the movie he could see a sense of sure-handedness and that every scene was the right length. Alda was also intrigued by his director’s statement that each scene, no matter how small, had a sense of the theme. Alda asked Abraham for an example and you could tell that he would take that thought into his own work.

Flash of Genius was followed by the press conference for Larry Charles and Bill Maher’s documentary Religulous, which skewers the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions. The press conference got off to a funny start when moderator Henri Behar said that Bill Maher required no introduction but that the man next to him was “Larry Clark”. Maher laughed and said “Apparently you not only need an introduction but a name tag.”

Asked why he worked with Charles, Maher said that without him there would be no movie. He had looked at a lot of documentaries but the film-makers were a dark lot who covered a lot of dark subjects. Maher wanted his doc to be a comedy and so Larry was the perfect choice.

Asked why a movie and not a TV show, Maher said that it’s the one topic “that deserved a broader canvas.” If he mentioned religion on his show, he might get a few minutes in before having to go to commercial. This way he had the space to operate in. He added that he had a lot to say because religion is “…the ultimate taboo, the last taboo” and needed debunking.

Larry Charles agreed that a movie was the right way to go, saying that they wanted the maximum impact, the most people and the fastest delivery. The shared experience of a movie theatre would get people talking. It was also important to actually film at the holy sites since you could feel the history and vibe of these places and that would give the most punch to the topic.

Behar asked if, perhaps, “debunking” was too harsh a word, but Charles said, “Just the opposite. We’d rather destroy than debunk.” Maher joined in saying that they didn’t expect to destroy religion overnight, they weren’t that arrogant but they did believe the trend was going their way. “We’re throwing rocks at a huge wall. In the 1990 census 7% said no religion, now it’s 16%. Western Europe mostly chucked it and there civilization hasn’t collapsed..

When a Canadian reporter said that he had no idea of the religion of our leaders and asked why it was so important in the upcoming U.S. elections, Maher said, “‘Because we’re a dumber country than you’ is the short answer.” and added that the American views on the involvement of politics and religion were more closely aligned with Turkey and Iran. Charles added that it appears you can’t even get elected in the U.S. Without some kind of religious affiliation.

Maher went into his history a little. He was raised Catholic, but was a little insulted that he wasn’t abused by the priests because “I was a cute kid.” He said that he’s not prejudiced against religion. “Prejudiced means prejudged. I’m not prejudging religion, I’m judging religion.”

Going back to the political theme, Larry Charles said the modern era was actually ushered in by Jimmy Carter after the Watergate era. He wore is religion on his sleeve and when he screwed things up the Republicans went “A ha!” and altered their tactics to scoop up the born-again voters.

Maher referred to Kennedy’s famous speech where he stressed that his Catholicism would not touch his politics. Mitt Romney, he added, had to make a speech that assured Christian voters that being a Mormon meant he was “just as crazy as them.”

Maher also said he didn’t define himself as an atheist. “I’m a rationalist. Atheist has a pejorative feel. He said that rationalists base their thinking on rational thought and scientific thinking. “I had mercury drilled out of my teeth and Catholicism drilled out of my head.”

The pair said they hoped for a strong reaction to the film and Maher added there were already sites on the Internet calling him Satan. Asked if they’d be preaching to the choir, Charles said that he hoped they’d attract those who disagreed otherwise it’d be an indulgent exercise. Maher added that every movie’s audience is composed of people “who want to see it.” Hopefully the tens of millions who don’t think about religion either way would be tempted to see it because it was cool, controversial or funny.

After Religulous we took in the press conference for Saul Dibb’s The Duchess, which followed the extravagant life of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire a socialite in 18th Century England.

Dibb was asked about the comparisons between Georgiana’s life and that of Diana, Princess of Wales, one of her descendants. Dibb said that he had a faint idea the two were related when he was sent the script two years ago, but added that the film was about Georgiana, whose life was strong enough to stand on its own. “But I know comparisons would be made.”

Asked how they felt about their characters, Keira Knightley said that her character had a huge persona, but that she was lonely inside. Ralph Fiennes, who plays her distant husband, William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, said that his character’s infidelities and other actions could paint him as cardboard cut-out villain but added that people do have multiple sides to them and he discussed that with Saul. He felt that the duke was insensitive but not intentionally cruel.

Dominic Cooper, plays Georgiana’s lover Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey. (Yes, the tea was named after him.) Dominic said that his character enjoyed the theatricality of politics and as an actor he thought it was fascinating to investigate what he was like emotionally.

The Duchess was a strong woman, getting involved in the country’s politics long before it was fashionable. When asked to name a strong contemporary woman that inspired her, Keira turned for help to Ralph, which sort of defeats the purpose of the question. After thinking for a bit, Fiennes suggested Michele Obama as a good answer.

Ryerson was the next stop on our schedule as screen legend Michael Caine attended the screening of John Crowley’s Is There Anybody There? Caine plays a magician befriended by a young boy in a retirement home.

From a legendary actor to a legendary designer, we headed over to the Elgin for the documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor, which was directed by Matt Tyrnauer and then waited for the red carpet for Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. The film, which just won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion award, is being touted as a huge comeback vehicle for the film’s star, Mickey Rourke. The flick, which also stars Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood, tracks a retired wrestler making his living on the more dangerous anything goes independent circuit. Besides the film’s stars, we also got to see Adrien Brody, Evangeline Lilly and Dominic Monaghan take the turn on the carpet. It was then back to Roy Thompson Hall to greet the cast of The Duchess.

While Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn faced the crowds at Isabel Bader for Management, Antonio Banderas, Liam Neeson and Laura Linney did the same at Roy Thompson Hall for The Other Man.

So our our time on the carpets went like this: legendary actor Michael Caine, legendary designer Valentino, legendary plastic surgery recipient Mickey Rourke, legendary fashion plate Keira Knightley, legendary girl-next-door Jennifer Aniston and legendary couple Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas.

TIFF Day Four Photo Galleries