September 11, 2020

TIFF DAY 1: Chilling at Home With Werner Herzog and Some Meteors

It’s that time of year again—but what a different year. The Toronto International Film Festival, COVIDVERSE edition, has begun.

The show must go on, though with a slate one-fifth of the usual size.

There are distanced and drive-in screenings, but we are forgoing those entirely in favor of digital screenings. For $19 - $26 a pop, viewers in Canada who grabbed tickets in time can watch on digital devices. Options include Chromecast, so we’ll be hunkering down in front of our home theater setup for a total of 39 films. No TIFF unfolds without technical problems, but this time an entire new set of them awaits!

Many rights holders are sitting on completed films hoping to launch them when normalcy returns to film exhibition. TIFF 2020 titles skew less toward the offbeat genre items that make up my typical must-see list and more to documentary, Canadian and generally serious fare. I did snap up tickets for the three Midnight Madness titles.

Normally we see 45 films each. We’ll be filling in the gaps with titles already on streaming services. Most years there’s a documentary about film near the start of the fest, so I’ve found one of those. We usually strive to stack up fun, poppier choices on the last Sunday, so I’ve picked out a substitute slate to replicate that. To not be weird, I’ll be putting capsule reviews of those flicks in our weekly Ken and Robin Consume Media feature, not here.

Pandemic Festival tosses our finely-tuned logistical routines, honed over 34 years, out the window. I’m sure you’re all anxious to hear about the profound changes this wreaks on our snack game.   

I’ve drawn up a specific schedule of screening times to keep us on track, with break times marked. Finally we can pause TIFF films for brief naps. We’ll be making a point to go out and speed-walk around the block to mimic the salutary effects of dashing between venues.

And as for the dudes loudly voicing wrong movie opinions while we’re packed, sardine-style, in line-ups at the Lightbox or Scotiabank, well, we’ll just have to imagine what they had to say about opening night:

Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds [US, Werner Herzog & Clive Oppenheimer, 4] Documentary explores the science and mythology of meteor, from Chicxulub to ʻOumuamua. The intersection between scientific discovery and religious awe, central to all of Herzog’s gorgeous, delightful nature docs, rises from subtext to text through the intercession of traditional elders, joyful researchers, and the Jesuit scholar of the Vatican’s heaven stone collection.

Enemies of the State [US, Sonia Kennebeck, 4] Documentary pulls apart a labyrinth of contradictory evidence around Matthew DeHart, an Indiana man who was framed for child pornography by the FBI as part of a Wikleaks espionage case, or created a story of secret files to shield himself either cooked up a Wikileaks-related espionage smokescreen to mask his sex crimes. Invites the viewer to join a filmmaking team as it goes ever deeper down a rabbit hole.

Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, disc and/or streaming over the next year plus.