A night at TIFF: Great seats for “Albert Nobbs,” terrible TIFF PR film short

Last night, Annelisa Pedersen (Executive Director, Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra) and I went to the Toronto International Film Festival to see the world premiere of “Albert Nobbs” by Rodrigo Garcia, who is the son of famous Latin American write, Gabriel García Márquez.

The film starred Glen Close (who was also co-producer) in a gender-bending role that had her playing a queer woman who lived a life of performance as a male waiter. It is a tragic story, with a fascinating premise, as Close’s character, known as “Albert Nobbs” to her colleagues, slowly unfurls the details of her tragic life. The problem was that the film’s plot was like spaghetti – too many details, too many abortive story lines left unexplained. I would have preferred to see a much shorter, much simpler and more elegant cut of the film, focused on the lives of the two main queer women protagonists. Such an interesting idea, surrounded by far too much narrative noise.

The true disappointment of the evening, however was the incredibly mawkish attempt at a mini retrospective short film that, we were told, “would air before every screening at TIFF.” This film captured the feelings and thoughts of several film-makers, including Norman Jewison and David Lynch, as well as various senior TIFF managers and organizers (mostly Michele Maheux and Piers Handling).

The film short is so incredibly pretentious that I had to cover my eyes at various moments to avoid the acute embarrassment that one feels when you see someone doing something painful on a tv show. From Piers Handling being seen trying his best to choke back tears, to Michele Maheux’s constant hang-dog facial expression, to Peter Howell’s bizarre reference to dancing with David Lynch, the film short was an exercise in public relations futility. An obvious attempt to be a part of the story of the 9/11 media storm that was going on in the media.

A few snippets. Horrible:

Michele Maheux: “People took solace in the dark, and in each other’s company.”

Peter Howell: “The one thing about film is that it also could be restorative. So I think it had a very positive psychological effect to carry on.”

Piers Handling (choking back tears): “Hmm… <lip smack> <lip smack> … it was an incredible experience. Because the place was packed. Umm… The place was packed, everyone was there, we had a minute of silence, then the festival… just started up again.”

Wow. I was actually amazed at how pretentious and self-important this piece was. When arts and culture organizations come off as this pretentious it isn’t good for anyone in the sector. It just confirms a handful of negative stereotypes to an already sceptical public and polity.

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  1. Probably had a different mindset watching it after reading your blog… think it could’ve been quite meaningful if the framing had been “we were one small part” instead of “this happened to us”.

  2. Agree with Rebecca – as filmmakers it would have been far more impactful had they not been so self-indulgent…
    Couldn’t watch the whole clip here actually – just too irrelevant to the memory…

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