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Northeast Ohio movie mavens leave Toronto with mixed bag of feelings about films they saw at TIFF 2019

Here's a look at some of the standout films from the Toronto International Film Festival.
Credit: TIFF
Rapper-turned actor Riz Ahmed stars in 'Sound of Metal.'

TORONTO, ON — Before movie screens finally go dark Sunday night after 10 days and 333 films worth of viewing, the 44th annual film festival will hear from three Cleveland industry veterans and TIFF regulars right now, offering some thoughts on their week here.

One of them, longtime Cleveland Cinemas President Jon Forman, left earlier than he had planned, explaining how he was “somewhat frustrated that (this year’s festival) didn’t offer as many screening opportunities as in the past.”

“I always find TIFF to be a bit overwhelming,” said Forman, who operates 40 screens at six locations in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. “But, this year I didn’t get excited as I have in the past about any one particular film.

“I was focusing my attention on films that had U.S. distribution or that I was aware were being pursued, since these are the films I would consider showing. However, some days there were no movies of interest shown after 2 p.m., that is, unless I wanted to see docs or obscure Eastern European film.”

Still, Forman did manage to view 20 movies before leaving town. He cited the justice drama “Just Mercy” (starring Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson) and the Le Mans racing film, “Ford v Ferrari,” adding that “Acting was good and cinematography and editing were noteworthy.”

“There were also lots of dark and potentially disturbing (for some) films, including ‘Joker’ and ‘JoJo Rabbit,’” said Forman, who started coming to Toronto more than 40 years ago after founding the Cleveland International Film Festival. “I did like ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,’ though, which wasn’t what I expected.”

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So did current CIFF Artistic Director Bill Guentzler, who used the Mr. Rogers film as a talking point for the way he felt at TIFF this year.

“Overall, I share the thoughts of my co-worker (CIFF Director of Programming Mallory Martin) that the (TIFF) films we saw were just lacking in that extra-specialness we’re always looking for when scouting films for CIFF (whose own 44th edition starts to unreel for 10 days on March 25 at Tower City Cinemas). ”My outlook changed (Thursday) morning when I was able to watch ‘A Beautiful Day’ and realized that it’s impossible not to view everything differently after seeing a film like this.

“So now,” continued Guentzler, “in looking back at the (29) films I did see here at TIFF, it makes me realize that you need to see some you don’t really like in order to know what you love. And, isn’t that what a festival is all about?”

Martin herself was a little more direct in her assessments.

“Generally, it was a lackluster year here,” she said, “especially for documentaries and genre films, which seemed to have an elevated infatuation with religion (such as “Saint Maud” and “The Vigil”) and a particular obsession overall with cult movies of varying success (“The Other Lamb,” “Disco,” “Maria’s Paradise”).

“I found it interesting, though, that almost every genre industry screening I attended was packed,“ she concluded.

Martin’s standouts among the whopping 33 films she saw?

“Sound of Metal,” which utilizes impressive sound design to tell the story of a metal-band drummer (Riz Ahmed) going deaf; “Rocks,” a powerful female-centric movie about a 15-year-old forced to take care of her brother when their mother disappears; and “Red Penguins,” a funny and wild documentary about how the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins and an eccentric marketing consultant helped save the Soviet Red Army, probably the greatest hockey team in history.

Guentlzer’s favorites included “Sea Fever,” a thriller about a student who joins a fishing boat crew and runs into a mysterious creature, among other things, and “This Is Not a Movie,” a Yung Chang-directed doc portrait of a foreign correspondent spending his life and career in the middle of war zones all over the world.

By the way, before the month of September ends, Guentlzer will have spent 22 days in Canada. That’s because, after some time at home, he’s jetting off to serve on the Canadian Feature Jury at the Calgary International Film Festival, then to the Vancouver International Film Festival from there.

Martin, too, will go om the road again this month, heading to the Fantastic Fest in Austin in search of more possibilities for CIFF.

As for TIFF coverage, I’ll return Monday with a wrap-up of award-winners and a few personal choices and observations from 10 days here. As always, more information on any of the films mentioned above is available at tiff.net.

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