Give Me a T! Give Me an I! Give Me an F! Give Me an F! What Does It Spell? The 36th Toronto International Film Festival!

Toronto is a city with an amazing past (August’s Fan Expo Canada), present (September’s Toronto International Film Festival) and future (October’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival), and is a city for us.  For eleven days, starting Thursday, September 8th to Sunday, September 18th, the very international Canadian city will present the 36th Toronto International Film Festival, one of the largest film festivals in North America.

tiff., a film festival for the industry, press and public, was founded by Bill Marshall, Henk Van der Kolk and Dusty Cohl in 1976 as the “Festival of Festivals” until it was renamed to its current name in 1994.  Over the past 30+ years, tiff. has evolved and grown like its own organization, which has brought about initiatives such as the TIFF Bell Lightbox and Film Circuit.  The film festival screens hundreds of local, national and international films with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance; in 2009, it screened 336 films from 64 countries to an estimated half a million people.  Although much different (there is no festival jury like the Venice Film Festival) from fellow festivals of the season, the very influential tiff. offers a less competitive environment and a platform for producers, directors and actors to premiere films, not just to audiences, but to buyers, in hopes of distribution.  Money isn’t the only reason to showcase a film here; this festival generates lots of Oscar-buzz for films.  The 2010 Cadillac People’s Choice Award winner, The King’s Speech directed by Tom Hooper, received 12 Oscar nominations and won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Directing, Original Screenplay and Actor in a Leading Role (Colin Firth).  The Toronto International Film Festival opens with Davis Guggenheim’s From the Sky Down, a documentary about the band U2, and sticks to its principal objectives: “to lead the world in cultural and creative discovery through the moving image and to place Canadian achievements in an international context.”

With 18 programmes (from the red carpet Gala Presentations to our favorite Midnight Madness) and a dizzying amount of films to watch, we break down the schedule to a more manageable menu of sci-fi, horror and other spine-tingling features and shorts…

The Awakening (United Kingdom / 2011 / 106 mins).  Starring Rebecca Hall (The Town), Dominic West (Centurion) and Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1).  Written by Nick Murphy (TV’s Heroes and Villains) and Stephen Volk (TV’s Afterlife).  Directed by Nick Murphy.

Screenings:  Gala Presentation – Friday, September 16th @ 6:30p in Roy Thomson Hall & Saturday, September 17th @ 9:00a in Scotiabank Theatre 1.

Synopsis:  The year is 1921.  England remains dev­astated by the loss of so many lives over the course of the First World War.  Modern science continues to make strides, while religious faith and nineteenth-century spiri­tualism are increasingly marginalized within educated society.  There is much to grieve, yet traditional sources of consolation are ruthlessly questioned.  Enter Florence Cathcart (Hall), renowned author and debunker of hoaxes.  She’s called to a provincial boarding school to explain away sightings of a phantom boy.  Though she’s an enlightened and respectful skeptic, what she discovers at Rockwood will prompt her to reconsider her deductive tac­tics — and send her mind spiralling back to a distant, forgotten past.

Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope (USA / 2011 / 88 mins).  Includes interviews with Guillermo del Toro (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark), Matt Groening (TV’s The Simpsons), Todd McFarlane (Spawn), Frank Miller (300), Seth Rogen (Paul) and Kevin Smith (Red State).  Produced by Stan Lee (Captain America: The First Avenger), Morgan Spurlock (The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) and Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse).  Directed by Morgan Spurlock.

Screenings:  Real To Reel – Saturday, September 10th @ 7:15p in Scotiabank Theatre 1, Monday, September 12th @ 5:30p in AMC 6 & Saturday, September 17th @ 3:30p in AMC 9.

Synopsis:  Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope gives a wink to Star Wars fans and anyone else who follows the sequel-prone world of comics and fantasy films.  But don’t be fooled: this documentary is a bona fide first edition.  Spurred by encouragement from Marvel impresario Stan Lee, director Morgan Spurlock explores the hopes of several fans making the annual summer pilgrimage to San Diego Comic-Con.  “You’ve got to admire the fans because without them, you’re nothing,” says Lee.  As a pop culture maven, Spurlock has great affection for this scene, as does producer Thomas Tull (The Dark Knight).  For fans weary of being mocked and misunderstood, this film is a hope come true.

The Day (USA / 2011 / 90 mins).  Starring Shawn Ashmore (The Ruins), Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism), Cory Hardrict (Battle: Los Angeles), Dominic Monaghan (TV’s Lost) and Shannyn Sossamon (TV’s How to Make It in America).  Written by Luke Passmore (Bad Blood Days).  Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski (Resident Evil: Extinction).

Screenings:  Midnight Madness – Thursday September 15th @ 11:59p in Ryerson, Friday, September 16th @ 3:00p in Scotiabank Theatre 2 & Saturday, September 17th @ 9:45p in Scotiabank Theatre 11.

Synopsis:  A group of travellers armed with shotguns, axes and machetes walks the back roads of a ravaged landscape where the natural cycle of life has long been stunted.  Once twelve, these survivors’ numbers have dwindled down to five.  They’re constantly on the move, but when one of their members becomes ill and slows down the pace, they’re forced to seek shelter in an abandoned farmhouse.   Rest is not an option, and they take stock of their ammunition supply.  Haunted by ghosts of their past lives, this tightly knit group is united by their clear-headed leader Rick (Monaghan), but have also recently accepted a silent and defiant newcomer, Mary (Bell), into their fold.  Soon the exhausted survivors will have to make a stand against a brutal world from which they can no longer run.

The Devil’s Due (Canada / 2011 / 5 mins).  Produced by Adam Shaheen (TV’s Ugly Americans).  Directed by Alexander Gorelick (TV’s Life’s a Zoo) and Adam Shaheen.

Screenings:  Short Cuts Canada – Monday, September 12th @ 8:00p in Jackman Hall – AGO &  Tuesday, September 13th @ 5:00p in Jackman Hall – AGO.

Synopsis:  When a mysterious box is dropped from the skies, a calm world is turned upside down.

Extraterrestre [Extraterrestrial] (Spain / 2011 / 90 mins).  Starring Julián Villagrán, Michelle Jenner, Raul Cimas, Carlos Areces and Miguel Noguera.  Written & Directed by Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes).

Screenings:  Contemporary World Cinema – Sunday, September 11th @ 6:00p in Scotiabank Theatre 2 & Monday, September 12th @ 2:00p in AMC 7.

Synopsis:  Strangers Julio (Villagrán) and Julia (Jenner) wake up beside one another in Julia’s apartment, groggy, hun­gover and unsure how they met.  Julia is about to send Julio on his way when both notice the uncanny silence gripping Julia’s downtown neighbourhood.  Looking out the window, they see Madrid’s skyline dot­ted with enormous spaceships.  The only other person left in the building is Julia’s fawning and somewhat creepy neighbour, Ángel (Areces), who explains that there’s been an exodus of people flee­ing the city. When Julia’s boyfriend Tipo (Noguera) shows up – having now shifted into survivalist mode – the dynam­ics between the four reach heady extremes.  Attempting to hide their apparent one-night stand, Julia and Julio convince Tipo that Ángel is an alien and must be ejected.  As the narrative unfolds, the spaceships maintain their immobile, sphinx-like pres­ence.  The only television station still on the air reports that there are similar space-crafts stationed in cities around the world; none have made any attempts at contact.  Meanwhile, as the claustrophobic atmo­sphere in the apartment increases, decisions are made about who stays, who goes and who gets the girl.

The Incident (France / 2011 / 85 mins).  Starring Rupert Evans, Kenny Doughty, Joseph Kennedy, Dave Legeno, Marcus Garvey and Richard Brake.  Written by Jérôme Fansten and S. Craig Zahler.  Directed by Alexandre Courtes.

Screenings:  Midnight Madness – Monday, September 12th @ 11:59p in Ryerson, Friday, September 16th @ 3:15p in Scotiabank Theatre 3 & Sunday, September 18 @ 9:45p in Scotiabank Theatre 2.

Synopsis:  George (Evans), Max (Doughty) and Ricky (Kennedy) play in a band together, struggling to record their first album and performing small gigs between shifts cooking for the inmates of the high-security asylum where they all work.  Their kitchen is separated from the cafeteria by a large window with a small slot, through which they’re able to observe the patients from a safe vantage point.  Except for the dispatching of food and medication, their average workday requires little interaction with the disturbed men, who veer between violent outbursts and near catatonia.  This banal routine is interrupted just before dinner one evening, when a storm knocks out the power in the hospital, trapping the three young men in the kitchen and disabling the security systems that keep them safe from the precarious lunatics on the other side of the glass.  Help should be on its way, but until it comes, the bandmates must protect themselves from the raging psychopathy that threatens to crack the barrier.

Intruders (Spain / 2011 / 100 mins).  Starring Clive Owen (Killer Elite), Carice Van Houten (TV’s Game of Thrones), Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds), Pilar López de Ayala, Ella Purnell (Never Let Me Go) and Izán Corchero.  Written by Nicolás Casariego and Jaime Marques.  Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later).

Screenings: Special Presentations – Monday, September 12th @ 2:30p in Visa Screening Room (Elgin), Tuesday, September 13th @ 4:00p in Scotiabank Theatre 1 & Friday, September 16th @ 9:00p in Scotiabank Theatre 2.

Synopsis:  Though no one can see him, Hollow Face lurks in the corners, desperately desiring love but only knowing how to spread fear and hate.  He creeps into the life of John Farrow (Owen) after Farrow’s beloved thirteen-year-old daughter Mia (Purnell) is assaulted in their home.  The line between the real and the imaginary blurs as fissures start to open within the family unit.  It seems that no security measure can keep Hollow Face out.  In Spain, thirty years earlier, young Juan (Corchero) has nightmares about a faceless intruder who enters through his window and threatens his mother Luisa (López de Ayala).  Luisa looks to the church for help, and Father Antonio (Brühl) sincerely offers it.  But Luisa is tight-lipped about the source of her family’s horror, and religion proves to be no consolation.

Juan of the Dead (Spain & Cuba / 2011 / 96 mins).  Starring Alexis Días de Villegas, Jorge Molina, Andrea Duro, Andros Perugorría, Jazz Vila and Eliecer Ramírez.  Written & Directed by Alejandro Brugués.

Screenings:  Contemporary World Cinema – Saturday, September 10th @ 10:15p in Scotiabank Theatre 3, Monday, September 12 @ 8:45p in AMC 3 & Saturday, September 17th @ 12:45p in Scotiabank Theatre 3.

Synopsis:  Two old friends, Juan (Días de Villegas) and Lázaro (Molina), are passing the afternoon drifting lazily in the sea not far from Havana’s Malecón.  They converse about the same old stuff; nothing seems out of the ordinary.  Suddenly, a zombie bobs up alongside their raft.  Lázaro, in a moment of panic, fires his crossbow, sending an arrow through the gruesome revenant’s decrepit flesh.  The zombie sinks.  The friends are relieved.  No big deal.  They make their way back to dry land and go about their business, which largely involves trying to have sex with numerous women.  That is, until more zombies start showing up.  At which point Juan and Lázaro hit upon a killer idea: they gather a few friends, arm themselves with machetes, slingshots, baseballs and bats – and of course, that highly effective crossbow – and market themselves as zombie exterminators.  There’s something satisfying about killing zombies – along with a few living people for whom the guys carry a grudge.  And anyway, the work might prove to be profitable.

Kill List (United Kingdom / 2011 / 95 mins).  Starring Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring and Emma Fryer.  Written by Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley.  Directed by Ben Wheatley.

Screenings:  Midnight Madness – Saturday, September 17th @ 11:59p in Ryerson & Sunday, September 18th @ 3:15p in Scotiabank Theatre 4.

Synopsis:  Life is hard for an out-of-work hit man.  Eight months after something went ter­ribly wrong during a job in Kiev, Jay (Maskell) has no gigs, no health insurance, mounting debts and a wife constantly on his case about money.  His suburban life is quickly turning sour and his marriage is on the brink of total collapse.  When his business partner Gal (Smiley) comes over for an intensely awk­ward dinner, it becomes clear that he’s there to pressure Jay into taking a new assignment.  Jay finds himself back in the game, with the promise of a big payoff after three assassinations, but pretty soon things begin to unravel and his paranoia plunges him right into the heart of darkness.  As the mission gets stranger, Jay and Gal cross the line from hit men for hire to self-appointed angels of vengeance.

Livid (France / 2011 / 88 mins).  Starring Chloé Coulloud, Jeremy Kapone, Catherine Jacob, Felix Moati and Marie-Claude Pietragalla.  Written & Directed by Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury.  *acquired by Dimension Films

Screenings:  Midnight Madness – Sunday, September 11th @ 1:59p in Ryerson & Tuesday, September 13th @ 5:00p in AMC 7.

Synopsis:  As she copes with the suicide of her mother, Lucie (Coulloud) takes a job assisting housebound seniors lost in varying states of dementia.  One of her charges is very different from the rest: a renowned dancer, Madame Jessel (Pietragalla) now lies comatose in a decrepit mansion.  A wizened crone hooked up to a life-support system in a room surrounded by old books and arcane artefacts, Jessel is rumoured to have a small fortune stashed somewhere in her dark and dusty home.  Tempted by this tale of hidden treasure, Lucie and her two friends break into the estate in search of their ticket to a new and better life.  The mysterious mansion is a gorgeously detailed labyrinth of locked doors that seems to hold no reward for the threesome – until their curiosity opens a Pandora’s box of unspeakable horror that twists their night into a demented punishment for their greed.  The friends find themselves tormented by Jessel and her long-dead, mute daughter in a grotesque and macabre ballet of terrors danced inside a creepy puzzle box of a home.

Lovely Molly (USA / 2011 / 99 mins).  Starring Gretchen Lodge, Alexandra Holden (TV’s Franklin & Bash) and Johnny Lewis (The Runaways).  Written by Jamie Nash (Seventh Moon) and Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project). Directed by Eduardo Sánchez.

Screenings:  Midnight Madness – Wednesday, September 14th @ 11:59p in Ryerson, Thursday, September 15th @ 5:15p in AMC 2 & Saturday, September 17th @ 4:00p in Scotiabank Theatre 4.

Synopsis:  Newlyweds Molly (Lodge) and Tim (Lewis) move into Molly’s deceased father’s house in the countryside.  An ex-addict with a deeply troubled past, Molly is strong in her new life of recovery.  Unexplained disturbances in the night unnerve the couple, and when her husband goes away for business, Molly is left in a house that holds many painful memories.  Her isolation is soon shattered by a mali­cious presence that unleashes a physical and mental assault.  As she struggles to regain footing in her simple existence, Molly’s grip on reality begins to waver.  Her erratic behav­iour is a warning sign to her friends and family, whose interventions drive her further into solitary torment and spur a deep, dark infidelity within her.

Melancholia (Denmark, Sweden, France & Germany / 2010 / 135 mins).  Starring Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man 3), Charlotte Gainsbourg (The Tree), Kiefer Sutherland (TV’s 24), Alexander Skarsgård (TV’s True Blood), John Hurt (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2), Charlotte Rampling (Never Let Me Go) and Stellan Skarsgård (Thor).  Written & Directed by Lars von Trier (Antichrist).

Screenings:  Special Presentations – Saturday, September 10th @ 6:00p in Ryerson & Saturday, September 17th @ 2:45p in Ryerson.

Synopsis:  Danish provocateur Lars von Trier presents the end of the world – in two parts.  The first section focuses on Justine (Dunst), an ad executive who’s just married her colleague Michael (A. Skarsgård).  They show up hours late for the reception, infuriating Justine’s sister Claire (Gainsbourg) and her rich husband John (Sutherland), who are paying for the event and hosting it on their obscenely lavish estate.   The attendees include: the sisters’ ludicrously wasted father (Hurt) and foul-tempered ex-hippie mother (Rampling), Justine’s vilely self-centred boss (S. Skarsgård) and one very aggravated wedding planner.  Prone to intense, crippling bouts of depression, Justine falls off the deep end the minute she arrives to a chorus of disapproval.  As the party deteriorates along with her, she’s the only one to notice a strange star looming closer in the sky.   The film’s second section focuses on reliable, level-headed Claire, who’s spent much of her life caring for her sister – and is now dealing with her post-nuptial depression – as the errant planet that Justine spotted earlier moves nearer and nearer.

Momo e no Tegami [A Letter to Momo] (Japan / 120 mins).  Written & Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura.

Screenings:  Kid – Saturday, September 10th @ 4:00p in AMC 6 & Sunday, September 18th @ 6:00p in AMC 2.

Synopsis:  Clinging to an unfinished letter written by her recently deceased father, young Momo moves with her mother from bustling Tokyo to the remote Japanese island of Shio.  Upon their arrival, she begins to explore her new habitat, meeting local children and learning their routines and customs.  However, it’s not long before several bizarre occurrences crop up around the previously tranquil island.  Orchards are found ransacked, prized trinkets start disappearing and, worst of all, each morning after her mother leaves for work, Momo hears strange mumblings coming from the attic of their home.  Annoyed by these creepy goings-on and her mother’s refusal to believe them, Momo embarks on a strange and supernatural adventure to discover the source of the mischief, which leads her to a trio of troublesome imps: the flatulent lizard Kawa, the childlike Mame and their hulking ogre leader Iwa.  Momo also learns that her visit to the island is in some way connected to her father’s mysterious letter.

The Moth Diaries (Canada & Ireland / 2011 / 85 mins).  Starring Sarah Bolger (TV’s The Tudors), Sarah Gadon (TV’s Murdoch Mysteries), Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) and Scott Speedman (The Strangers).  Written & Directed by Mary Harron (American Psycho).  *Selection at the 2011 Venice Film Festival

Screenings:  Special Presentations – Tuesday, September 13th @ 10:00p in Isabel Bader Theatre & Wednesday, September 14th @ 12:15p in Scotiabank Theatre 4.

Synopsis:  Rebecca (Bolger), a young girl haunted by her father’s suicide, begins her junior year at an élite girls boarding school, hoping for a fresh start.  From the outset, her friendship with sunny, innocent Lucy (Gadon) is shattered by the arrival of Ernessa (Cole), a mysterious, dark and beautiful girl from Europe.  As Ernessa consumes more and more of Lucy’s attention, the latter’s healthy young body grows pale, thin and weak – as if being drained of life itself.  Her friendship with Lucy slipping away, Rebecca develops a crush on her handsome English professor, Mr. Davies (Speedman), who is teaching a course on supernatural fiction.  Obsessed with LeFanu’s vampire story Carmilla, she is increasingly suspicious of Ernessa’s odd behavior and Lucy’s wasting illness, and when mysterious deaths shock the school, becomes convinced that Ernessa is a vampire.  Rebecca finds herself isolated when the other girls dismiss her suspicions as mere jealousy and Mr. Davies betrays her trust.  As Lucy’s inexplicable illness turns deadly, Rebecca is left alone to battle with Ernessa for the life of her friend.

A River in the Woods (Canada / 2011 / 12 mins).  Starring Stephen Lush, Tegan Macdonald and Zoe Bell.  Written & Directed by Christian Sparkes.

Screenings:  Short Cuts Canada – Monday, September 12th @ 8:00p in Jackman Hall – AGO & Tuesday, September 13th @ 5:00p in Jackman Hall – AGO.

Synopsis:  A group of kids befriend a monster they find in the woods.  Be careful who you play with.

The Skin I Live In (Spain / 2011 / 117 mins). Starring Antonio Banderas (The Big Bang), Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Álamo, Blanca Suárez and Eduard Fernández.  Written & Directed by Pedro Almodóvar (Broken Embraces).

Screenings:  Special Presentations – Sunday, September 11th @ 10:00p in Princess Of Wales & Saturday, September 17th @ 9:30a in TIFF Bell Lightbox 2.

Synopsis:  Dr. Robert Ledgard (Banderas) is a hand­some and wealthy plastic surgeon with a tragic past.  His nefarious obsession with transgenic therapy – a way of strengthen­ing human skin through the use of animal genes – incites contention among his col­leagues and prompts his withdrawal from the community.  From the isolation of his mansion on the outskirts of Toledo, he’s able to test the validity of his theories on the beautiful young Vera (Anaya), garbed in a body stocking and kept captive in a room where she’s monitored day and night.  Dr. Ledgard’s only confidant is his house­keeper Marilia (Paredes), who ensures that the macabre surgeries per­formed in the private operating theatre adjoining his home remain secret.

Twixt (USA / 2011 / 90 mins).  Starring Val Kilmer (MacGruber), Bruce Dern (The Hole), Elle Fanning (Super 8) and Ben Chaplin (Dorian Gray).  Written & Directed by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather series).

Screenings:  Special Presentations – Sunday, September 11th @ 2:00p in Princess Of Wales, Monday, September 12th @ 2:00p in Scotiabank Theatre 13 & Sunday, September 18th @ 10:00a in TIFF Bell Lightbox 2.

Synopsis:  Hall Baltimore (Kilmer) is a struggling author of third-rate thrillers, flogging copies on a book tour through sleepy small towns.  When Hall arrives in the grim outpost of Swan Valley, the local sheriff (Dern) snares his attention with the tale of a young girl’s mysterious death.  That night, Hall, who lost a daughter of his own, encounters the ghost of a girl (Fanning), and she gives him a tour of the town’s dark secrets.  What Hall finds reveals more about his own past than even he could previously grasp.

We Ate the Children Last (Canada / 2011 / 13 mins).  Starring Keith Berry, David Disher and Ryan Ward.  Written by Andrew Cividino and Geoff Smart.  Directed by Andrew Cividino.

Screenings:  Short Cuts Canada – Wednesday, September 14th @ 5:30p in TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 & Thursday, September 15th @ 1:00p in TIFF Bell Lightbox 2.

Synopsis:  Patient D, the first successful human recipient of an organ transplant from a pig, is the subject of this adaptation of Life of Pi author Yann Martel’s cautionary short story.  The perils of scientific advancement and humanity’s uncontrolled consumption are vividly depicted as pets go missing and elective surgery takes on new meaning.

You’re Next (USA / 2011 / 96 mins). Starring Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3D), Joe Swanberg, A.J. Bowen , Nicholas Tucci and Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator).  Written by Simon Barrett.  Directed by Adam Wingard.

Screenings:  Midnight Madness – Saturday, September 10th @ 11:59p in Ryerson, Monday, September 12th @ 6:30p in AMC 7 & Friday, September 16th @ 4:00p in TIFF Bell Lightbox 2.

Synopsis:  Family reunions can be a real bitch.  All fun and amicable on the surface, yet underneath the tensions are ready to boil over.  Welcome to the Davison clan’s opulent country house, where a get-together gets ugly and bloody – fast.   When Crispian Davison (Bowen) brings his new girlfriend Erin (Vinson) along to celebrate the wedding anniversary of his parents (Moran and Crampton), the worst thing either of them expects is some awkward conversation and an inadequate supply of whiskey.  But an evening of sibling rivalry and icy barbs at the dinner table is shattered when an arrow smashes through the window.  Enter a gang of killers in animal masks, armed with machetes, axes and a crossbow, who begin to hunt the family down with brutal precision.

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