Day 3 report from TIFF (inc George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead)
10th Sep 07
TIFF Day 3 (Saturday)
To have the opportunity to get up close to a Master of the genre is one of the real pleasures of being over here covering the festival. But to run into three legendary horror directors all in the space of one day, well frankly that's kinda mind-blowing... Welcome to Day 3 of my TIFF experience!
Eastern Promises - David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen
So I was the only one of our party who managed the early start, but there was no way I was going to miss Eastern Promises, the new film from David Cronenberg, even if it meant I had to be at the Varsity by 8:15am. Despite the early hour the cinema was packed with industry figures curious to see what the Canadian master had come up with this time.
Eastern Promises is very much a logical progression on from his last film, A History Of Violence. Based on a screenplay by Steve Knight (Dirty Pretty Things) it's set in London and focuses on a Russian crime outfit headed by Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and his two sons (Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel). After a fourteen year old girl dies giving birth, a concerned nurse (Naomi Watts) investigates her background, which unwittingly gets her mixed up in a power struggle between our Russian friends.
It's a gripping thriller boasting excellent performances (and accents) across the board and marks Cronenberg's most mainstream film to date. That said, there are still flashes of violence that had some of the critics in our screening audibly wincing, the most notable scene involving a nude showdown in a steam room with Viggo's character taking on a couple of rival heavies - and yes ladies, you do get to see Viggo's plums in all their glory. Eastern Promises hits the UK in October when it premieres at the London Film Festival.
Eastern Promises - Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen
With each day so far offering up far too much choice as to what to see, I was somewhat relieved to have an easier schedule ahead of me, with genre titles short on supply. As my Press pass allows me access to the Press Conferences which are scheduled at the Sutton Hotel (TIFF headquarters) every day, I thought it was an ideal opportunity to catch the lunchtime session for Eastern Promises since I'd just seen the movie.
In addition to director David Cronenberg and writer Steve Knight also present were the principal three actors from the film - Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel. The Press Conference lasted for 45 minutes with Cronenberg proving to be a very affable chap, making quips wherever possible - joking that Viggo has no genitals so they had to CG them into the steam room scene!
Eastern Promises - Vincent Cassel
The overriding message that came out of the questioning was how much the actors liked the characters they were given to play, Viggo saying that Cronenberg explores how unpredictable people are yet few directors know how to capture that on screen, whilst Vincent agreed that the characters are all many layered and that the director represents life as it is - blurred.
It was my turn to pen the daily blog on the FrightFest site so I took care of that in the afternoon and then met up with Ian and his father for a few pints before the evening's activities kicked off. I was contemplating watching the evening screening of The Substitute from Danish director Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch), a comic tale of a class of schoolkids who suspect their teacher of being an alien. Alas, with George A. Romero's Diary Of The Dead playing the Midnight Madness slot I thought it would be wiser to stick with the FrightFest boys as they were bound to be going to a soiree beforehand.
My instincts were spot on; after a bite to eat we caught a cab to The Courthouse on Adelaide Street (more by luck than judgment - do none of the cab drivers know their way around Toronto?) and Chief Blagger Paul quickly got us into the reception despite our names not being on the guest list.
Ian, Me and Paul sharing a joke with George A. Romero
By all accounts it was the best party so far (less suits, more fans) and the vibe was great - some cool tunes from the resident DJ which had Paul cutting a groove, and some incredibly beautiful ladies staffing the free bar. George came over to say hello to us and seemed in high spirits and was pretty much mobbed wherever he went - most definitely the centre of attention! So after a couple more drinks at The Imperial we headed to the Ryerson for the World Premiere of Diary Of The Dead.
The atmosphere was electric, even more than it had been for Dario Argento's Mother Of Tears (who was in the audience - sat a couple rows back from us) and George received a standing ovation as he was introduced to the crowd. With Diary Of The Dead being made largely under the radar we really didn't know what to expect, but I'm delighted to report that it's the best film he's made in years.
He returns to his roots with this one, documenting the first outbreak of zombies as seen by a group of student filmmakers. Heavily influenced by and reflecting the ways in which we share information via MySpace and YouTube, it's a thoroughly modern update on the original Night Of The Living Dead told documentary style.
The first half of the movie is faultless - it has characters that you care about, sparse but highly effective zombie kills, and a liberal dose of humour often satirising the genre. As an aside, pay close attention to the radio broadcasts, recorded by such luminaries as Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo Del Toro and our own Simon Pegg! The pacing slows in the second half as the surviving members hole up at one of their houses, but that's a minor flaw - overall it's a raw, contemporary addition to the genre that he started, and shows that he's lost none of the insight and talent that helped establish his name.
As he explained further in the Q&A, Diary is the film that he wanted to make - a small independent feature that reflects our time and goes back to where it all began. The reaction of the rapturous audience confirmed that he's exceeded all expectations - and ensures that Diary Of The Dead is to be a leading contender for the TIFF Audience Award this year.