Jason Anderson

  • film July 08, 2014

    Cyborg Manifesto

    THERE MAY BE no historical evidence to support the veracity of the strange tale of René Descartes’s robot daughter, but the story remains compelling for anyone who’s ever been troubled by the emotional currents that run between humans and their handiwork. According to one version, Descartes was so devastated when his daughter Francine died of scarlet fever at the age of five that he used his expertise as a physician to construct a life-size mechanical doll in her likeness. The philosopher was so attached to this surrogate that he brought it with him everywhere—at least until it was discovered

  • film September 02, 2013

    Sensory Overload

    A GOOD MANY PATRONS rely on the Toronto International Film Festival to provide views of places they may never otherwise see for lack of funds, ambition, or courage. But of all these vicarious journeys set to begin when the festival launches its thirty-eighth edition on September 5, none may be as unusual or as immersive as the one presented by the latest creation from Sensory Ethnography Laboratory, which makes its North American premiere this week alongside many other marvels in TIFF’s Wavelengths program.

    A multidisciplinary initiative at Harvard University under the direction of Lucien

  • film August 19, 2013

    Rebels with a Cause

    HARDY CINEPHILES love nothing more than to acknowledge a fresh trend or some heretofore unheralded new wave. But even the most devoted among them may have been slow to recognize the surge of activity represented by a startling series at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox. “Rebel Yell,” a weeklong program dedicated to work by a new generation of Turkish women filmmakers, constitutes “a modest showcase for a major phenomenon,” in the words of programmer Rasha Salti.

    The series is a timely one. Whereas recent international retrospectives on directors such as Yilmaz Güney have alerted more viewers to the

  • film May 03, 2013

    What’s Up, Doc?

    NO SUCCESS STORY comes without some wrinkles. Over the course of its two-decade existence, Hot Docs built a reputation among Toronto festivalgoers as a more audience-friendly alternative to the overwhelming, all-consuming behemoth that is the Toronto International Film Festival.

    But now that it too has been supersized—it’s become the continent’s largest showcase for nonfiction filmmaking—Hot Docs has inherited some of the issues that go along with any increase in girth and prestige, like fast-disappearing tickets for screenings with big-star guests. To be fair, Hot Docs’ notion of a visiting

  • film April 10, 2013

    Images Conscious

    GIVEN THAT IT FEATURES a character who may or may not be a half-man/half-horse creature known in Filipino folklore as a tikbalang, Lukas nino (Lukas the Strange) is bound to be one of the more mysterious films to surface this year. It’s all the more impressive that John Torres’s fifth feature can seem so ineffably and gloriously odd even when it’s situated amid the bounty of unpredictable live-music-and-movie matchups, doc-fiction hybrids, and other exercises in boundary blurring that fill Toronto’s Images Festival every year.

    Though now prodigious and established enough to qualify as North

  • film December 06, 2012

    Jem Session

    LIKE SO MANY OF JEM COHEN’S efforts to marry images and sounds since his early collaborations with friends like R.E.M. and Fugazi in the 1980s, We Have an Anchor is as beguiling as it is unclassifiable. Presented at a two-night run at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, it combines live musical performance with a multiprojector presentation of footage principally shot by Cohen during a decade of travels through Cape Breton, a rugged island off Canada’s east coast. As the DC-bred, New York–based filmmaker admitted after the first performance, he’s still unsure whether it’s a concert or a movie.

    It

  • film September 13, 2012

    The Master and Margaritas

    ONE REASON the Toronto International Film Festival has been able to attain such prominence is that it’s been careful not to step on the toes of its biggest rivals. Unlike Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and Sundance, TIFF has no competition beyond a modest slate of critics awards, honors for the best Canadian entries, and the audience prize that’s come to be regarded as an early predictor of awards-season success—The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire were recent winners. That’s why filmmakers hungry for hardware typically treat Toronto as a second stop (or third, if they start the victory lap at

  • film September 06, 2012

    Magic Marker

    THOUGH THE EVENT may be better known for the living luminaries it attracts, the most ubiquitous guest at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival may be a ghost. The festival’s thirty-seventh edition pays tribute to the late French maverick Chris Marker by devoting the very first screening slot to Sans Soleil (1983), the essay film–travelogue widely regarded as his signature work. The new TIFF Cinematheque section of archival screenings also includes Loin du Vietnam (1967), the omnibus project whose contributors included Marker, Agnès Varda, and Jean-Luc Godard. That film’s proud pinko

  • film June 18, 2012

    At First Sight

    THERE WAS A VERY GOOD REASON that it took until the twenty-first century for the Inuit people of Canada’s far north to craft a cinematic epic of their own. In order to make Atanarjuat (2001)—which plays the opening weekend of First Peoples Cinema, the most ambitious program on the summer slate for Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox—director Zacharias Kunuk and his team coped with extremes of climate and terrain that would have rendered conventional film equipment useless. For Kunuk’s bracing modern telling of a one-thousand-year-old legend, using a digital video camera was less an aesthetic choice

  • film August 31, 2011

    Sweet Sixteen

    WHETHER HE’S PUTTERING around his storefront studio in Lexington, Virginia, or ordering a turkey sandwich at a local restaurant, Cy Twombly displays a stubborn vitality in a new film portrait by Tacita Dean, made last year during what turned out to be Twombly’s final autumn. The twenty-nine-minute work, titled Edwin Parker after Twombly’s birth name, is a remarkably circumspect tribute. Shot by Dean from a series of judiciously unobtrusive vantage points, Twombly becomes the rare camera subject who is allowed to preserve his privacy.

    Presented in the Toronto International Film Festival’s Wavelengths

  • film April 12, 2011

    After Images

    WHEN A CONTEMPORARY MUSICAL ACT is brought in to create and perform a new score for a silent film classic, the result is typically tasteful and restrained. But as one might surmise from the band’s moniker, Fucked Up doesn’t exactly do restraint. Enlisted by the Images Festival—Toronto’s lively annual survey of experimental film, video, installation, and media art—to provide new music for a screening of Tod Browning’s film West of Zanzibar (1928) on the festival’s closing night, the local hardcore favorites handled the assignment with all the delicacy of a UFC cage match.

    Fucked Up expanded on

  • film December 30, 2010

    Ecstatic Traditions

    EXACTLY WHAT General Franco thought of José Val del Omar’s “longings to communicate the ineffable” is not a matter of record, but the Spanish ruler would most certainly not have approved of the filmmaker’s way with a pietà.

    The 1958–59 short Fuego en Castilla is the second work in a triptych made in the 1950s and ’60s by the Granada-born film and sound artist whose work has recently attracted considerable interest both in Spain and abroad. In this film, Val del Omar presents various examples of religious statuary by Alonso Berruguete and Juan de Juni in a decidedly impious fashion. Blasting the

  • film September 07, 2010

    Field Trip

    AMONG THE MANY virtues of Get Out of the Car, Thom Andersen’s latest essay-film–cum-travelogue, is the often funny commentary provided by folks curious about the reasons why the filmmaker and CalArts professor is so interested in the ephemera that catch his eye. At one point, a gentleman understandably asks why Andersen is filming an empty billboard structure. By way of reply, Andersen wonders aloud whether he might be making “a movie about absence.” Says the passerby in his best deadpan: “When you make a movie about something, call me.”

    Viewers who flock to the Toronto International Film Festival

  • film April 24, 2010

    Connect Four

    IT HARDLY SEEMS like a fair contest. Of the four artists whose recent works in film and video comprise the spring group exhibition—really four concurrent solo exhibitions—at Toronto’s Power Plant, three are represented by pieces of a generally measured and meditative nature.

    The fourth, on the other hand, offers content that is brash, energetic, vulgar, and unabashedly tricked-out. The works, which resemble a mash-up of Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster” cycle, MTV’s Jersey Shore, and a meth-induced psychotic breakdown, are inevitably divisive among Power Plant patrons who may not be prepared for such

  • film January 26, 2010

    Snow Days

    IT CAN SOMETIMES FEEL like Toronto is Michael Snow’s city, and the rest of us are merely living in it. No other contemporary Canadian artist has made such a thumbprint on the civic landscape, whether through the many iterations of his “Walking Women,” the fiberglass Canada geese suspended within the Eaton Centre, or the gargoyle-like fans spilling off the walls of the Rogers Centre. He reached his peak of ubiquity with “The Michael Snow Project,” a multigallery exhibition in 1994. By that time, he’d even been forgiven for spending his most prolific years (1963–72) living with his late wife Joyce

  • film September 10, 2009

    Taking Place

    WITH ITS ROSTER of selections from sixty-four countries, the Toronto International Film Festival continues to make good on the second word in its title. But among the seventeen programs that constitute TIFF—the fest’s name of choice judging by its current rebranding efforts—it is the Wavelengths series that places the greatest emphasis on the specifics of place.

    Filmmakers represented at Wavelengths tend to share a regard for landscapes, whether the spaces and sites they investigate are real, fabricated, or some combination of the two. No wonder such geographically inclined works as James Benning’s

  • film April 29, 2009

    Loading Doc

    THE STARTLING AND OFTEN HARROWING STORIES of writer Paul Auster, ex-CIA assassin Dannion Brinkley, and others whose lives have been radically altered by close encounters with lightning strikes make for a suitably charged opening for the largest nonfiction-film festival in North America.

    Act of God (2009), Jennifer Baichwal’s follow-up to Manufactured Landscapes (2006)—her meditative portrait of photographer Edward Burtynsky—is the first Canadian film ever to open Hot Docs, the seventeen-year-old documentary festival. A thematically ambitious and visually arresting rumination on the vagaries of

  • film March 24, 2009

    Mourning and Melancholia

    IN A RAIN-DRENCHED FILIPINO TOWN, three lonely figures seek some measure of redemption or, short of that, somewhere dry enough to smoke a cigarette. Jenine is a prostitute who’s new to Sagada, which may explain her lack of street savvy. A pimp who arranges live sex shows for voyeuristic clients, Danny is a slick talker but not half as cool as he pretends. Completing the trio is a nameless nun who gamely solicits “charity for the poor” from all who come her way, albeit to little avail.

    Given that viewers of Lav Diaz’s latest feature will have nearly eight hours to spend with these characters, it’s

  • film January 22, 2009

    Lost and Found

    THE VALUE OF John Hofsess’s Palace of Pleasure (1966/67/68) as a trippy time capsule of Canada’s nascent ’60s film underground would be apparent even if it didn’t include the sight of a young, shirtless David Cronenberg slipping into bed with a nude man and woman. The future director of Videodrome (1983) and Crash (1996) was one of several Ontario students cast as actors in Hofsess’s ambitious scheme to fashion an appropriately mind-bending and taboo-busting cinematic response to the era’s tumults, one that was directly inspired by a 1966 appearance at McMaster University (where Hofsess went to

  • film November 18, 2008

    The Hole Idea

    PAOLO GIOLI GAVE Dziga Vertov a quintessentially Italian two-finger salute when he unsubtly subtitled one of his films Man Without a Movie Camera. Since the late 1960s—when the Sarzano-born, Venice-educated artist first encountered the cinematic stratagems of Stan Brakhage, Hollis Frampton, and Michael Snow during a residency in New York—Gioli has rejected the Bolex-toting habits of Vertov’s heirs in favor of a more materialist-minded approach.

    His own tactics have included creating collages of found footage, abrading and painting on leader, and, most infamously, constructing pinhole cameras from