Former Canadian ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor of documentary ‘Our Man in Tehran’ poses for a photo during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Sept 12. (AP)
‘Our Man in Tehran’ better than ‘Argo’ Ex-Canada PM Clark makes remarks

TORONTO, Sept 13, (Agencies): A former Canadian prime minister says the real story of how a former Canadian ambassador protected Americans during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis is a “better story” than Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning picture “Argo.” Joe Clark, Canada’s prime minister in 1979, made the remarks at a screening Thursday of the documentary “Our Man in Tehran” at the Toronto International Film Festival. “Argo” came under criticism from some Canadians, including former ambassador Ken Taylor, who said he felt slighted by “Argo” because it makes Canada look like a meek observer to CIA heroics. “I think the truth is the better story,” Clark said to applause. Taylor kept the Americans hidden at his residence and at the home of his deputy, John Sheardown, in Tehran for three months and facilitated their escape by arranging plane tickets and persuading the Ottawa government to issue fake passports. He also agreed to go along with the CIA’s film production cover story to get the Americans out of Iran.
Taylor became a hero in Canada and in the United States, where crowds celebrated with banners that proclaimed, “Thank you, Canada.”

High-risk
One year after “Argo” premiered at the festival, Taylor has debuted his own account of the high-risk caper. He said the documentary offers “a very true” look at Canada’s role in rescuing six US citizens during the crisis. “Argo” made no mention of Sheardown, the First Secretary at the embassy. It was Sheardown who took the first call from the American diplomats who had evaded capture when Iranian militants seized the US Embassy in November 1979 and agreed right away to take the Americans in. “Argo” screenwriter Chris Terrio, who the best adapted screenplay prize at the Oscars, mentioned Taylor and Sheardown in his speech after saluting Mendez at the awards in February. Affleck also briefly thanked Canada in his speech last February.

Outraged
Friends of Taylor were outraged when “Argo” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. The original postscript of the movie said that Taylor received 112 citations and awards for his work in freeing the hostages and suggested Taylor didn’t deserve them because the movie ends with the CIA deciding to let Canada have the credit for helping the Americans escape. Taylor has called the postscript lines “disgraceful and insulting” and said it would have caused outrage in Canada if the lines were not changed. Affleck flew Taylor to Los Angeles after the Toronto debut and allowed him to insert a postscript that gave Canada some credit.

Affleck said before the Oscars this year that he admired Taylor very much but said he was surprised Taylor still had an issue with the film. Affleck also said then that he agreed to narrate the documentary “Our Man in Tehran,” but Affleck is not in the documentary. The 85-minute film comes from Toronto-based filmmakers Larry Weinstein and Drew Taylor, who include interviews with Taylor, Clark, former CIA agent Tony Mendez and former CIA agent and hostage William Daugherty. The film traces the political landscape that caused an angry mob to descend on the US Embassy in the Iranian capital and take 52 Americans hostage. While Affleck’s Oscar-winning thriller focused on the exploits of Mendez, “Our Man in Tehran” offers a much broader look, including Canada’s role, Taylor said Thursday before walking the red carpet. Former US President Jimmy Carter has said “90 percent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian,” but “Argo” ‘’gives almost full credit to the American CIA.”
 

Controversial Canadian director Paul Haggis is back in Toronto with his latest feature, which may end up being even more divisive than “Crash,” his 2004 story of racism, love and interlinking lives that won the Oscar for best picture.
In “Third Person,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, Haggis again creates a multi-character drama, this time exploring the themes of love, trust and guilt.
“This is an incredibly personal story, the way “Crash” was an incredibly personal story,” Haggis told reporters after the film’s premiere. “I posed several questions to myself, as I was going along, and they were all about being in love with someone who is impossible.”
While audiences in Toronto responded well to the structurally complex film, which tells three distinct stories spanning across Rome, Paris and New York, the critics have been harshly divided.
Variety called the picture Haggis’ “most robust to date,” while the Guardian reviled it as “a work of staggering trash.”


The film marks his first major press push since the director’s high-profile split with the Church of Scientology in 2009, a rare defection among the church’s celebrity circle that includes actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
Haggis, 60, has been a polarizing figure since “Crash,” an ensemble drama about racial and social tensions in Los Angeles, which upset critically acclaimed gay cowboy drama “Brokeback Mountain” to win the best picture Academy Award.
The film received mainly positive reviews and was a box-office success, but was also criticized for being overly sentimental and simplistic in its treatment of racial inequalities in America.
At the center of “Third Person” is Michael, played by Liam Neeson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author haunted by expectations as he struggles to finish his latest book.
The parallels of Michael to Haggis, who won a best writing Oscar for “Crash” and was nominated for the screenplays for “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Million Dollar Baby,” are obvious, although Haggis said he put a bit of himself in all of the characters.
Neeson, who has spent the past few years doing action films like the “Taken” series and “The Dark Knight Rises,” said he jumped at the chance to play a vulnerable and guilt-ridden man.
“I said, ‘Look, I don’t want to mess around with an accent and perform a character,’” said Neeson. “I just wanted to be as vulnerable, and as open a Liam Neeson, as I could be — but still acting.”


Downright
Joining Michael in Paris is his much younger lover, Anna, a cold and sometimes downright nasty character, played by Olivia Wilde. Best known for “Tron: Legacy” and the TV series “House,” Wilde was praised by The Hollywood Reporter for her performance, and in particular a memorable streaking scene.
Also receiving a thumbs up is Mila Kunis, who plays a New York mother fighting to regain custody of her young son from her ex, played by James Franco.
Rounding out the cast is Adrien Brody, as an American in Rome to steal designs to make knock-off suits, and Israeli actress Moran Atias, as a Roma immigrant who is trying to free her young daughter from human traffickers.
The theme of parents and children is pervasive throughout the film, with the central characters all struggling to deal with damaged family relationships.
Fans of Haggis’ interlocking story-telling style will be happy when the strings finally come together, although the film’s ending does leave viewers with questions — an ambiguity the Ontario-bred director aspired to.
“I think we should be making more movies for an intelligent audience, because I think people want intelligent movies,” he said. “What I wanted to do is a puzzle. I was really influenced by the great European directors.”
“Third Person” was produced by Belgium studio Corsan and is Haggis’ third film to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival — where he launched “Crash” in 2004 and “In the Valley of Elah” in 2007. It will be distributed in Canada by D Films Corp, but does not yet have a US distributor.
 


The Toronto International Film Festival blurred the line between cinema and television this week — for the first time showing small-screen dramas on the silver screen.
“We’re dipping our toes into television,” festival boss Cameron Bailey told AFP.
“There have been films made for (cable network) HBO, for example, that had also been shown in theaters in the past,” he said, “but what we’re seeing now is the border between cinema and television being pulled down.”
The festival is screening four-part drama “Southcliffe” by British director Sean Durkin, who was last at the film festival in 2011 with “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”
The 45-minute episodes, which chronicle a fictional British soldier’s return from Afghanistan to turn his guns on the people of his hometown, are being shown consecutively, with an intermission between each.


Toronto Film Festival audiences will also be the first in North America to see Agnieska Holland’s “Burning Bush,” in three 80-minutes installations. The drama based on real events shows her native Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) at the height of political turmoil in 1969, after the Prague Spring crackdown.
And fans of Edgar Reitz’s landmark “Heimat” series — 53 hours of domestic drama played out against the rise of the Nazis through to the division of East and West Germany and the crumbling of the Berlin Wall — can delight in seeing the prequel feature film “Home from Home” (Die Andere Heimat) in Toronto.

Commitment
“Three or four hours is a huge commitment during the film festival, but we just think the quality is so high that we’re inviting people to binge,” said Cameron. “We show it all.” He noted that it is “not unusual for people to watch an entire season of (Netflix’s) ‘House of Cards,’ almost 13 hours of television over a weekend.” “I think it will be less and less unusual for people to watch that length of work in cinemas as well,” he said. Cameron said film festivals follow filmmaking trends, but he said he couldn’t predict if the film and television industries — the distributors — will follow suit and also “become more integrated” soon.

Cameron said part of the reason for the crossover on the creative side is that “the quality of television shows have improved radically, with some of the best writing and acting happening now in television.”
These longer story arcs, stretched out over one or more seasons, are also starting to attract big-name directors, including Martin Scorsese, iconic director of “The Departed,” “Goodfellas” and “Taxi Driver” and whose TV series “Boardwalk Empire” started running on HBO in 2010, and Steven Soderbergh, of “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic” fame, whose television mini-series “The Knick” is in pre-production.
The crossover between home and theater viewing is also moving in the other direction, thanks in part to the high bandwidth of the internet: video sharing website Vimeo is offering to stream up to 150 Toronto film festival world premieres.
The service allows filmmakers to set the price and geographical access for their movies.

Over the last few years, the Toronto Film Festival has had a tradition of attracting major musical talents: Bruce Springsteen hit the town for a documentary and conversation in 2010, and U2 opened the festival with their own doc the following year, to name two notable examples.
This year you might count Taylor Swift, who showed up for the party to celebrate the “August: Osage County” premiere — but the heaviest rockers were Metallica, members of whom were in town on behalf of “Metallica Through the Never,” part concert film and part apocalyptic flick about a band roadie who leaves the gig to run an errand, only to find himself in the middle of city-wide anarchy.
The concert film about the last December’s Hurricane Sandy benefit, “12-12-12,” also screened at TIFF, making it the rare work that could show at a film festival the same week it wins an Emmy. (It was simulcast on a number of stations in the US and is up for variety-special directing at Saturday’s Creative Arts Emmys.)
Ron Howard also had his own music-focused film, “Made in America,” about a Philadelphia music festival produced by Jay-Z.

Ambitious
One of the most ambitious music-related films is “All Is by My Side,” writer-director John Ridley’s dark, jagged look at the year in which Jimi Hendrix went from playing backing guitar in small clubs to becoming the toast of London with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Just as Hendrix himself was notoriously evasive and inarticulate when asked about his life and music, Ridley’s film is determinedly vague, telling its story in flashes and bursts that focus on Linda Keith, the girlfriend of Keith Richards, who was so impressed by Hendrix that she took him to manager Chas Chandler, and to Kathy Etchingham, who became his girlfriend when he went to London.


Ridley also wrote the festival’s most acclaimed film, “12 Years a Slave,” but this is a very different piece of history that glancingly touches on black experience but is more focused on the process of personal and artistic transformation.
Actor and rapper Andre Benjamin, of Outkast fame, makes a convincing Hendrix in look, speech and manner; the trickier part comes when he plays guitar, because Hendrix was so inimitable that every attempt to capture his sound and style is pretty much destined to fail. A group of veteran rock session musicians, including guitarist Waddy Wachtel, try valiantly, but Jimi is Jimi.


And because the Jimi Hendrix estate is fractured, difficult and notoriously resistant to any attempts to put the story on film, Ridley couldn’t use any of the music Hendrix wrote.
That gave him the unenviable task of charting an artistic progression only through soundalike versions of the cover songs Hendrix performed, which is essentially impossible.
Still, the personal stories are what connect in this bold and impressionistic work. And I even give Ridley a pass after he violates one of my pet movie-music peeves, which is when characters put a record on a turntable and we see the needle drop on the first track but hear a different song from the album.

Obvious
That happens here with Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” album — but it goes with a scene where Hendrix first drops acid, so I completely forgive Ridley for skipping the real first track, the thuddingly obvious “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35 (aka “Everybody Must Get Stoned”) in favor of the far cooler and weirder “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.” Hendrix also makes a couple of appearances in actor and comic Mike Myers’ directorial debut, “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” a playful chronicle of and affectionate tribute to the rock manager best known for his decades-long stewardship of Alice Cooper’s career.

“It’s as if Brian Epstein, Marshall McLuhan and Mr. Magoo had a baby,” explains Myers, not entirely helpfully, of the manager who came to known through Cooper’s carefully-calculated outrage and his own habit of wearing a t shirt with the indelible rock catchphrase “No head, no backstage pass.”
Gordon comes across not just as a schemer and a playboy (though he clearly is both of those) but also a good guy, a moral businessman and a would-be family man, though he’s had no children of his own. Myers is something of an ADD director accustomed to fast-paced comedy; he’s constitutionally incapable of letting a sentence (or sometimes even a phrase) go by without illustrating it with old footage, recreations and the jokey use of pretty much any video he can find.


The result is fast and funny and annoying, but the key to the film is that Gordon knows everybody and tells amazing stories, which range from hanging out at a Hollywood motel with Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison to taking joint custody of a cat with his next-door neighbor, Cary Grant.
One priceless moment comes when Gordon describes meeting a famous French chef at a party at the Cannes Film Festival; Gordon says the chef was sitting at a table with Pablo Picasso, whereupon an onscreen title explains that Picasso had actually died by then, and Gordon was probably too stoned to realize that he wasn’t partying with the artist.
Of course, the laughs in that scene also raise the nagging thought that maybe a few more of these fabulous yarns are a little embroidered. But the film’s title admits that this is the legend of Gordon — so it’s close enough for rock ‘n’ roll, and for comedy.


In related story, the 38th Toronto International Film Festival promises a heavy dose of Oscar bait and celebrities, with past Academy Award winners Meryl Streep, Colin Firth and Julia Roberts were all expected in town for the 11-day event, which starts on September 5.
Widely considered the kick-off to Oscar season, the 2013 festival feature, 146 world premieres, including talked-about new films from acclaimed Canadian directors Paul Haggis and Denis Villeneuve. The full program was released on Tuesday.
Streep and Roberts are set to walk the red carpet for the world premiere of the John Wells film “August: Osage County,” which is adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play and is already the source of much early Oscar buzz.


Firth takes on the lead role in “The Railway Man,” the true story of a British soldier who was captured by Japanese troops in World War Two and remained haunted by his captivity. Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, the film also stars Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman.
Audiences will also get a first glimpse at a dramatically thinner Matthew McConaughey, who lost nearly 40 pounds (18 kg) to play real-life AIDS activist Ron Woodroof in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Directed by Montreal’s Jean-Marc Vallée, McConaughey’s performance is already being tipped for an Oscar nod.
Ontario-raised director Haggis, who won two Oscars for his film “Crash,” will be back in Toronto with the world premiere of “Third Person,” which traces the hidden connections between three men played by Liam Neeson, Adrien Brody and James Franco.


Villeneuve, meanwhile, goes Hollywood with “Prisoners,” a vigilante thriller that stars Hugh Jackman as man seeking vengeance after his daughter and her friend disappear, and Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead detective on the case.
Launched in 1976, the Toronto film festival ranks among the world’s top movie events and often serves as a launchpad for international films seeking North American distribution. The festival previously unearthed such hits as “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The King’s Speech,” which both went on to win best film Oscars.




 

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