The ten-day Toronto International Film Festival wraps up this weekend after the screening of 349 films. Luckily, Rock Daily was there checking out the five best music films. Here’s a full report on the fest’s two Joy Division films, the Bob Dylan movie I’m Not There, Daniel Lanois’ documentary, and the powerful doc Heavy Metal in Baghdad.
Control and Joy Division:
Control, the feature-film debut of famed photographer/video director Anton Corbjin, is a gripping interpretation of late Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis’s brief life, based on his wife Deborah’s 1995 book, Touching From a Distance (check out exclusive photos from the set right here). At the packed screening, Corbjin introduced Control as “about a boy who is chasing his dreams and doesn’t particularly like where he ends up.” Curtis, who suffered from epileptic seizures and the confusion of loving two women, committed suicide at twenty-three, and as the film progresses one gets a sense, through actor/real-life singer Sam Riley’s spot-on portrayal of Curtis, of the agony he must have felt. The film received a standing ovation. In a Q&A afterwards, Corbjin, who photographed Joy Division in 1979 and 1980 and directed the “Atmosphere” video eight years after Curtis’s death, joked, “From now on, I’m going to work with people who are still alive and in color.”
Joy Division is a traditional documentary by director Grant Gee that relies on limited existing footage and present-day interviews. The film demonstrates just how well Corbjin cast his film, but it’s more about the band’s DIY ethic, its slow rise and its possibility for greatness. By all accounts — from interviews with remaining band members (who became New Order) and key players (including the late Tony Wilson) — there was a sense that Joy Division was on the verge of breaking commercially. The singer hanged himself just days before the band’s first North American tour. “Personally, I don’t want anybody to know anything, but people do seem fascinated by it,” bassist Peter Hook told Rock Daily the next day. “I mean, it’s different for me because I’ve lived with it for so long. I havent found an answer and yet people are always looking. I went through Ian’s death and tried to move on.”
I’m Not There
Rock Daily has covered Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan-inspired I’m Not There extensively, so here’s a brief recap: Aspects of Dylan’s life, as well as his personality, are personified through six different actors, including Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger and Richard Gere. The film might confuse those who know little about the singer-songwriter (the characters are given names other than Dylan); others will recognize the references to his Woody Guthrie pilgrimage; his motorcycle crash, his Christian period, even his stream-of-consciousness book, Tarantula. The music is licensed with permission from the man himself and the twin-disc commercial soundtrack includes the Dylan songs, the covers and nineteen additional songs that didn’t make the film. In the Q&A with Haynes, the man who made the classic 1987 short Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story using Barbie dolls, explained, “I wanted to find the root in all the Dylans in the Sixties.” He is readying a DVD copy to give to Dylan.
Here Is What Is
In Daniel Lanois’ documentary about his career there’s footage of the producer at work with U2 in Morocco, Sinead O’Connor in Ireland and enjoying a visit from Billy Bob Thornton. But what’s unusual about the final version of the film is that Lanois and collaborators Adam Vollick and Adam Samuels decided not to edit it together chronologically. “We wanted it to be the creative process over the course of a year, largely based on the making of my new record, but life is not that simple for me. I get to go to Sinead O’Connor’s house and maybe work with U2 and Billy Bob Thornton comes over,” Lanois said. Fellow U2 producer Brian Eno says in an appearance at the start of the film that the film should aim to reveal the possibility of creating something from nothing. Lanois says he settled on including graphics of the albums he’s produced in order to give context to people who might not know much about this guy who has worked with U2 and Bob Dylan. “We had a few tries at that,” says Lanois. “The runner-up was me in front of the camera holding a stack of albums and saying, ‘This one, I worked with Eno here;’ ‘Oh yeah, this one I like because of…This one I didn’t even do.’ And it was kind of funny.”
Heavy Metal In Baghdad
The most powerful music film at TIFF is Heavy Metal In Baghdad (executive produced by Spike Jonze) because the story is ongoing and has become even more dire since filmmakers Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti of Vice magazine went to Iraq to cover the country’s “only heavy metal band” called Acrassicauda. Introducing the film at the screening, Alvi said, “We want to share what we’re learned about the Iraqi people over the past year,” and that is the true essence of this film. Donning bulletproof vests and flanked by guides, the pair tell a human story of four well-spoken men in their early twenties who just want to rock out. They live for the day when they can grow their hair long. When their practice space is destroyed by a missile, one by one they escape to Syria, where the directors meet up with them again. There, they feel life is worse with no “metal scene” and $100 wage for twelve-hour days, seven days a week. Since the filming, the Syrian government has said it will not renew their visas and these self-proclaimed “rock & roll refugees” will be sent back to Iraq by mid-October. Alvi and Moretti have set up a PayPal account at www.heavymetalinbaghdad.com and hope to raise $20,000 to get the four bandmates (plus one member’s wife and child) to a safe neighboring country. “The long term plan is to get them to a country where they can play their music,” said Alvi, “where there is an audience for them, where they can feel comfortable, where they can be happy, where they can be safe and live in peace.”