On Monday morning, The Birth Of A Nation is gone from the Toronto Film Festival (at least until a last screening on Saturday), and there’s finally time for somebody else’s problems. Today’s Globe And Mail said the film is leaving as it arrived: with a question mark. A side-stepping press conference with star-director Nate Parker and his cast Sunday did nothing to settle whether the movie has been hopelessly damaged by past rape charges. Parker was acquitted, but in the eyes of some, a taint remains.
A small problem among Canadians would be celebrity-watcher complaints, described in the morning subway paper, about being herded into “fan pens” as they waited to see stars on and around the King Street West venues. A TIFF spokeswoman, with polite Canadian intransigence, said it was all for the good of the festival-going public.
Over at the Glenn Gould studio, an ongoing film industry conference turned from race — a central concern of Birth, Hidden Figures and Loving, all screening here — to gender inequity. The first presentation of the day was a film titled The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem, to be followed by a conversation with industry leaders. (Last night’s trouble was a dead jazz trumpeter, Lee Morgan, shot by his common-law wife Helen Morgan, as described in Kasper Collin’s documentary I Called Him Morgan.)
But we had to miss, in order to confront the morning’s big on-screen problem, Armenian genocide, as portrayed in Terry George’s historical epic The Promise. It counts both the deceased Kirk Kerkorian and his longtime lawyer Patricia Glaser among its executive producers and is on the hunt for distribution — the sort of problem regarding which I mostly defer to my colleague Mike Fleming Jr, who has an eye on the market.
At a press conference Monday, Christian Bale, the film’s big draw, did not appear — yet another problem. But Oscar Isaac, who played the central character of an Armenian medical student caught in the sweep of bloody history, was on hand. “I was really shamefully ignorant of this story,” Isaac said of the underlying events, which involved the mass extermination of Armenians by Turks during World War I. Angela Sarafyan, another of the film’s stars, was better acquainted with that history. “I’m a result of survivors from the Armenian genocide,” she said. “My great-great-grandmother committed suicide in front of her children; they were 7 and 5.”
In the largest sense, George said his aim is to get to the why of the genocide, in hope of diminishing such onslaughts, against Armenians or anyone else, in the future. In organizing the Holocaust, he noted, Hitler once admonished his advisers: “Who now speaks of the Armenians?”
In cinematic terms, George voiced his chagrin that the genre of grand historical romance — which takes viewers, through deeply human characters, into events most could not remotely experience — is being pushed aside by the film business. “It’s produced the greatest films in cinematic history,” he said, reeling off a list of example that included Reds, Missing, Schindler’s List and The Deer Hunter.
It is hard to disagree. But on to the next problem, which is that long line expected at an afternoon press and industry screening of Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, starring Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy.