Stars lament demise of Film Council
John Hiscock, Toronto
20 September 2010
British films and filmmakers have grabbed the spotlight at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, sending a strong message to the Government about the questionable wisdom of its controversial decision to abolish the U.K. Film Council.
The movies drawing the most buzz and early Oscar talk include Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours and Stephen Frears’ The King’s Speech, while other films among the 30 British entries winning critical praise and enthusiastic applause include Never Let Me Go, The Debt, Made in Dagenham, Brighton Rock and West is West. Richard Ayoade’s coming-of-age comedy Submarine, based on Joe Dunthorne’s novel about a 15-year-old boy’s quest to lose his virginity which arrived at the festival without a U.S distributor was quickly snapped up by the Weinstein Company for a reported 600,000 pounds after a brief bidding war.
“I hope the government takes note of how well these films are doing,” said The King’s Speech star Colin Firth, who turns in an Oscar-worthy performance as King George V1 in the story of the stammering monarch’s bizarre relationship with his unconventional speech therapist, played by Geoffrey Rush.
“Abolishing the Film Council is a profound error,” said Firth, who celebrated his 50th birthday during the festival at Toronto’s Soho House. “It is a perilous time for British film. At worst, talent will leave the country to make films elsewhere or they will struggle to rebuild what has just been abolished.”
Firth, who was Oscar-nominated last year for A Single Man, is just one of a stellar array of British talent dominating the red carpets, parties and press lines across the city.
Several British actors have two movies at the festival: Helen Mirren has The Debt, co-written and co-produced by Matthew Vaughan, and Brighton Rock, the directorial debut of Rowan Joffe; and Rebecca Hall has the Ben Affleck-directed thriller The Town and Everything Must Go. Toronto regular Mike Leigh is back again with Another Year, while Andrea Riseborough has become a familiar figure on the red carpets while promoting three movies. The former RADA student co-stars in Never Let Me Go, Made in Dagenham and Brighton Rock.
“It’s a great year for British films and there are so many wonderful ones here in Toronto,” said Sally Hawkins, who was previously in the city two years ago with Happy Go Lucky and this year is generating a lot of Oscar chatter for her star turn in Nigel Cole’s Made In Dagenham, about the 1968 strike at the Ford plant. She has been a ubiquitous figure at Toronto this year because she is also in Submarine and Never Let Me Go, the dystopian mood piece based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel.
It definitely sends a message to the government and I think it’s outrageous that the U.K. Film Council is being abolished,” she said. “It makes me very angry to think about it. We don’t have much help and we have got so much talent and so many master filmmakers. I’m very proud to be British.
“Hopefully other support groups will rise to the occasion because we need all the support we can get.”
Danny Boyle knows the feeling of being the centre of Toronto festival attention. Two years ago his Slumdog Millionaire, then unknown, had one of its first screenings in Toronto and went on to win the festival’s People Choice Award and eight Oscars including one for Best Picture.
This year his 127 Hours, which stars James Franco, is attracting the same kind of attention, although the unflinching true-life story of climber Aron (correct) Ralston, who had to cut off his own arm with a blunt knife to free himself when his hand was trapped by a boulder, may not be for everyone. Several people walked out of screenings during the self-amputation scene but the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Boyle of the pending demise of the Film Council. “We’re told there will still be money available but who’s going to distribute it? All industries need continuity and because of this the film industry doesn’t have it.”
Simon Beaufoy, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for Slumdog Millionaire and collaborated with Boyle on 127 Hours, agreed. “It’s destabilising,” he said.
Other British visitors who made appearances at parties and on the red carpets during the festival included Clive Owen (Trust), Ray Winstone (Trucker) and his daughter Jaime (Made in Dagenham), Rachel Weisz (The Whistleblower), Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield (Never Let Me Go), Thandie Newton (Vanishing on 7th Street), Minnie Driver (Conviction), Anthony Hopkins and Lucy Punch, who co-star in Woody Allen’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger and Dev Patel, who said he was in town as “a supportive boyfriend” to his Slumdog Millionaire co-star Freida Pinto, who is in Julian Schnabel’s Miral.
The Toronto festival, which is now bigger than both Venice and Cannes, this year screened 339 films from 70 different countries over ten days and is regarded as the most important event on many filmmakers’ calendars. It boasts a bustling urban location and its famously receptive audiences are counted on by producers and buyers to gauge a film’s popularity.
“Coming to Toronto has less to do with awards and more about building buzz for films that should get good audience reaction in a festival setting,” says Fox Searchlight marketing executive Michelle Hooper, whose films at the festival include 127 Hours, Never Let Me Go and Darren Aronofsky’s ballet drama Black Swan.
The festival, which ends on Sunday (19th), involves the whole city and spills into the streets via a “fan zone” in one of the main squares, with free concerts and movies daily and a live satellite feed from the red carpets. There was even more of a celebratory atmosphere than usual this year because one of the city’s main downtown streets was blocked off at the weekend for a massive block party to mark the opening of the festival’s new headquarters, a five-storey building which officials believe will make the festival even more of a leader in film culture.
“It’s a wonderful festival, particularly so this year because of the large number of great British films and talent that are here,” said John Madden, whose 1960’s Nazi-hunting thriller The Debt is winning the critics’ praises.
“I hope the British government gets the message. I lament the demise of the Film Council enormously.”