#TIFF2018

For the last week or so, I’ve been at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). This is the first film festival I’ve ever been to, and also my first time in the city of Toronto. It’s been a treat both because the films have been largely exceptional, and my Airbnb landlord is a Canadian in all the best ways. His “sorry” rhymes with Dory, and he uses it much more than is necessary. He wrote me a note just last night hoping I’d had a good day since we hadn’t caught up earlier in the day. I think he was truly worried that I wouldn’t feel welcomed were I to go a whole day without chit chat. This is our 8th day together. I walked in just as he finished penning the note, and we ended up talking until one in the morning about some of his favorite topics: the power of comedy to bring healing, the benefits of marijuana, and the masturbating bear. It’s been a good stay.

While here, I’ve seen many of the hot films in U.S. cinema as well as more broadly. I’ve seen some strange movies that I didn’t enjoy—one involved a couple killing kids and adults while wearing wolf masks. I’m still not certain whether they were or were not possessed by wolf demons. I’m no Bollywood aficionado, but yesterday I saw a fantastic Indian Rom-Com, Husband Material. It was a pleasant surprise that the two and a half hours were peppy and entertaining straight through.

One of the most interesting trends to follow is the noticeable response to the 2016 election. Some feel extremely overt. The Front Runner, starring Hugh Jackman, follows Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign, a campaign that was sunk by his affair(s) getting covered by newspapers. In light of President Trump’s sexual ethics coming under such scrutiny, Hart’s case feels quaint, but his appeals prescient. In the movie, Hart warned that newspapers would come to worry more about personal matters than policy issues. This certainly feels true. My knowledge of Anthony Weiner doesn’t extend beyond the fatal irony of his last name. At the same time, in 2018, the idea that a simple affair could destroy a presidential campaign seems a welcome change from the horrors that came out on the campaign trail in 2016.

There are little nods everywhere. Peter Hedges, writer and director of Ben is Back, said he wanted to make an “organic” and human work after the divisiveness of the 2016 election, a movie that brought us together around our human commonality. In Widows, Steve McQueen’s new film, one woman asks, “Where will I get a gun?” and the other responds, “It’s America.” Each woman faces men who try to use them and underestimate them. Issues of race and gender, whose relevance were brought into focus by the 2016 election, are drawing the attention of some of the brightest directors. The results are really astounding, and I’d recommend Ben is Back, Widows, and Green Book highly. They’re films telling stories for our time that have the potential to effect change by touching people’s emotions and intuitions rather than arguing and name-calling.

What I think our country needed after 2016 were films that were unflinching, told by diverse voices, and human. It’s been a treat to see many films at this festival that deliver on all those things. They give me hope for our country and cinema.

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