TORONTO, Sept 12, (Agencies): Greta Gerwig stood on the stage of the Ryerson Theatre at the Toronto International Film Festival, wiping back tears from the roaring standing ovation that greeted her directorial debut, “Lady Bird”.
Gerwig was already a successful actress and a proven screenwriter, having co-written several films including two with Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha” and “Mistress America”). But her leap into directing, she said, took some gumption.
“When I finished this (script), I thought, you know what, I’ve always wanted to direct. And I never felt ready. I never felt like I had enough experience, enough time, enough hours under my belt, enough time being around other directors on set”, said Gerwig at the premiere. “And then I thought: it’s time to jump, kid. You’ve got to do it. Even though it’s scary, you have to give yourself a chance”.
“Lady Bird”, an autobiographical coming-of-age tale written and directed by Gerwig and starring Saoirse Ronan, is one of the films that has indie distributor A24 poised to again be a major player through awards season. After its first best-picture nominee two years ago (the Brie Larson-led “Room”) and Barry Jenkins’ best-picture winning “Moonlight” last year, A24’s blistering streak may well continue.
Both of those films made landfall at Telluride and then made their biggest splash at the Toronto International Film Festival. The same has also been true of “Lady Bird”, which is backed by producer Scott Rudin. It’s been hailed for its witty, honest portrait of a high school senior (a show-stopping Ronan) trying to breaking free of her youth while discovering acting and feuding with her mother (an extraordinary Laurie Metcalf).
“I wanted to make a film about home and the way home is only vivid when you’re leaving. My home growing up was Sacramento so I felt like it was very underrepresented in the cinematic universe”, said Gerwig, chuckling. “I felt like nobody had made the Sacramento opus and it was time”.
While the Toronto International Film Festival is too sprawling for any one company to dominate, several recent festivals have often felt overwhelmed by Netflix or Amazon — the new deep-pocketed new heavyweights in film distribution. But Toronto has come close to belonging to A24.
A24 will also premiere the finished cut of James Franco’s anticipated comedy “The Disaster Artist” (it played as an unfinished film at SXSW earlier in the year) at a midnight screening in Toronto on Monday night. The rest of its Toronto roster includes Sean Baker’s acclaimed “The Florida Project”, a hit in May at Cannes; Yorgos Lathimos’ “The Killing of a Deer”, starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell; Andrew Haigh’s latest “Lean on Pete” and the Kirsten Dunst-starring “Woodshock”.
The success of the slate stems directly from A24’s filmmaker-first attitude. Like it did with Jenkins, putting trust in the right talented young filmmakers is paying off.
Dressed head-to-toe in flowing white, Angelina Jolie landed in Toronto Sunday for the warmly received world premiere of Nora Twomey’s animated “The Breadwinner”, which Jolie exec-produced, about a young girl who disguises herself as a boy to support her family in Taleban-controlled Kabul.
Like everyone in the theater, Jolie was visibly moved when the first post-screening question came from a young Canadian-Afghani woman who has been through a similar experience. When another young girl asked Jolie what people can do to help, she answered: “First of all, be brave, and stand up, and ask questions”.
That evening a relaxed Jolie joined Toronto festival artistic director Cameron Bailey for an intimate on-stage conversation about her career evolution, “Breadwinner”, and Netflix-bound “First They Killed My Father”, which screens Monday night. “Father” producer (with Jolie) Rithy Panh, the Cambodian director of Un Certain Regard prize-winner “The Missing Picture”, also participated in the chat.
“I’ve been to Afghanistan many times. The Afghan people are extraordinary, and the story of this film tells you a lot about them”, said Jolie of “Breadwinner”, which is based on a book by Canadian peace-activist Deborah Ellis.
“The sad reality of girls not being able to go to school is a reality in many countries around the world”, she added.
“Father”, which has opened theatrically in Cambodia, is based on the memoir by human rights activist Loung Ung, who tells her story of survival living under the Khmer Rouge regime from a child’s point of view.
“Every day on set, our discussions were not just about shots, but about what the film means”, said Jolie, who made the film primarily for Cambodian audiences, and first screened it there months ago at the Olympic Stadium, where many atrocities had occurred in the late 1970s.
“There were survivors there, ex-Khmer Rouge, members of the royal family — we weren’t sure what the reaction would be, but it was such a moving experience”, said Jolie, adding that she also made the film for her son, Maddox, who was born in Cambodia, to support his understanding of what his birth parents went through.