Toronto in summer is a perfect antidote for eclipsing life’s turmoil and troubles. We landed on the sunny extended weekend (Labor Day) and the opening of Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2015. The city was in perfect order, with ‘best foot forward’, and days began with usual touristy activities, lakeside stroll along the Harbor front, the exhilarating ride up CN tower, Ripley’s Aquarium and other outdoorsy activities cheered on by the brouhaha of TIFF.
We are staying on intersection of John and King West (Streets), the heart of Downtown and Entertainment district, and this is where all the action is. The balcony view of red carpet appearances had me glued to the deck chair as stream of black cars deposited stars on red carpets of Princess of Wales and Tiff Bell Lightbox theaters.
The crescendo of screams welcoming George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Johnny Depp (BLACK MASS) for their premiers (the ones I am familiar with as there were other famous ones) matched with street music and chatter of strolling crowds and rush hour queues for last-minute tickets. I too joined in the ‘fan’ line and waited at the backdoor exit of Lightbox but 30 minutes on and I walked off.
I did manage to see one film Thank You For Bombing directed by Austrian filmmaker Barbara Eder. The unique title and story is what made me select this film from among a bunch of interesting movies. The film chronicles (fictional look) three international television war correspondents on assignment in Afghanistan, the frenzied attempts to get that one ‘popularity rating’ personal and public. The tension of being in forefront, on delivering, filters through the scenes and Afghanistan war front comes closer home.
In the Question Answer session at end of screening someone put this question about the title and Director’s answer was her personal experience with war correspondents and how they wait for the one moment of ‘glory’. (These are not exact words but my interpretation).
Thank You For Bombing pieces together the action and experiences of three correspondents sent to Kabul, Afghanistan, to cover the aftermath of burning of Koran by two American soldiers. The correspondents are: the middle –aged Austrian reporter Ewald whose assignment s cut short at departure point (Vienna Airport) when he recognizes someone from his past coverage and his attempts to get the person arrested; Lana (Manon Kahle) introduced trying to release her frustrations in the Zumba class. Her angst is not being assigned ‘action news’ along with her male colleagues and the third correspondent, a couple of floors above at station headquarters, is Cal (Raphael von Bargen) a burnt out reporter desperate to get one story that will resurrect his flagging career. The scene where he forces an ‘innocent’ boy to throw stones and shout ’death to Americans’ conveys the level of desperation.
This triptych of stories is a powerful portrayal of frailties and strengths, of situational conscious sacrifices for truth and justice and the whimpering end to their efforts. The three pay the prize of their mole like persistence and their refusal to gel with their work environment. Finally, the denouement, when the actual bombs start to fall, and the stoic reaction of Kal and Lana. The frenzied scramble to the rooftop, the placing of cameras and mikes and bloody street scenes is a reality of being another job.
For me the movie is a flash back to my days as a news reporter in a small city in India and my attempts to cover important city events only to be sidelined by fellow journalists in search of freebies. It was nothing spectacular as being on the battlefront but the contents are similar.
TIFF movie screenings continue, the roadblocks removed, crowds thinned out… except for the quirky extras, the Muskoka chairs, the glittering heeled shoes outside the theater showing The Kinky Boots, the trickle queues of movie aficionados and evening strollers on King and John st.