MIFF Director on Toronto Film Fest, Madonna, and Sikh-Canadian Hockey Flick
Among the more amazing aspects of the 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival is the attention to spectacle. But while the world is waking up this morning to shots of Madonna walking the red carpet Tuesday night for the North American premiere of her self-financed $15 million opus as a director, W.E., Film Fiend tripped upon an entirely more intriguing extravaganza.
Specifically: the world premiere of the world's first Sikh-Canadian hockey drama, Breakaway. Sikhs and hockey are not known for commonly mixing but this is the glory of Canada and its multicultural agenda, access is made available to any heart's desire, and old traditions have a habit of being dismissed in favor of new hybrids for the new generations.
In Breakaway, the baby-face Vinay Virmani (who makes a wonderful movie star) plays a hockey-crazed twenty-something. The star player among his rag-tag gang of trash-talking, all-Canadian Sikh pals, he talks his buddies into forming their own team and make a run for the local hockey championship.
Of course, a disapproving, conservative, unaccepting father looms in the background, and the movie becomes about Vinay's desire to break free of expectations, both from a society who doesn't think he can play hockey and a family who doesn't think he should. Bollywood-style musical sequences occur in figure-skating fantasies, and Rob Lowe is on hand to play the arena janitor-turned-coach of the Punjabi puck posse.
In the real world, acceptance from either side did not seem to be an issue. Before the film, TIFF organizers shut down Yonge Street (the Biscayne Blvd. of Toronto) for a long stretch in front of the Elgin Theater for an astonishing and dizzying parade of epic proportions. Booming bhangra music and dancers marched down one side of the street and up the other; multicolored flashy costumes and rickshaws dazzled the eye; the beautiful Miss India Canada made an appearance, as did Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, jumping off his white horse onto a temporary stage to lip-sync the theme song he wrote especially for the movie; and last and certainly the most, AN ADULT ELEPHANT, painted and decorated and trailing his (or her) massive trunk over the asphalt, perfectly in step with the dancers and the music.
The audience was lined with bursting-with-pride Sikh Canadian community members, ecstatic to have their very own TIFF gala; and thrilled residents and visitors alike, loving what was truly a maximum amount of fun and atmosphere that blew the standard movie star-in-black-SUV arrival out of the water.
Breakaway is a lot of fun, and the addition of Rob Lowe to the cast generated more interest than normal from American buyers and programmers, as it seemed calculated to do. As a Canadian native, however, I couldn't help but feeling that one barrier too many had been broken. Lowe, a quintessentially American persona, doesn't quite fit the role of a Canadian rink rat.
International cross-over casting is not a new trend but at TIFF 2011 it seems to be a growing one, as the results of two very hard years in the film industry begin to bear fruit. It's no secret that financing films has become a challenge in the wake of the economic crisis of the end of the last decade, and several films at TIFF this year feature marquee talent cast with an eye towards tapping into national film funds in an increasingly complex co-production market world.
A film like Fernando Meirelles' 360 is a case in point. This globe-trotting modernization of Arthur Schnitzler's classic play La Ronde features Brits like Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz; Americans Ben Foster and Eminem; German stars Moritz Bleibtreau, Brazilian actor Juliano Cazarre, Russian actress Katrina Vasilieva, etc., etc. The City of God director takes on a script by Peter Morgan (The Queen) that aims to illuminate the state of love and relationships in our modern era with trysts and breakups that span settings in Vienna, Paris, London, Bratislava, Rio de Janerio, Bratislava, and Denver and Phoenix. If ever a movie needed to be sponsored by Skype, this would be the one.
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