Normally, when a filmmaker talks to press and/or public about the new work they’re promoting and excited about, especially in the friendly fire and open forum of a film festival, all subjects are game. But in a fresh twist, young Toronto director Larysa Kondracki admitted she got very nervous when discussing details of her provocative and tautly paced film The Whistleblower. “Just Google it,” she told the crowd, in a modern gesture of deflection, after a full screening at the Lobero. She’s got good reason for reticence, in that her film deals with a Nebraska police officer (the fine Rachel Weisz) who signs on with a defense contract company linked to the United Nations in Bosnia, and discovers and tries to expose the deeply entrenched ties to the sex trafficking trade there.
Citing legal and insurance fears, the director kept mostly mum about naming names, especially since the parties involved are alive and well and raking in hefty sums of our tax dollars. (With the all-knowing aid of Google, it’s easy to discover that DynCorp is the private military company in question; check its Wikipedia page for that and other tantalizing reading.) She hopes that her film, should it gain wider, extra-festival circuit release, will help direct attention on government abuses and the rampant human trafficking tragedy. Showing the varieties of motives and methodologies behind the makers of films that make the festival circuit (this had just won an award at the Palm Springs Film Festival), Kondracki explained that this film, eight years in the making, was her “thesis project. If I turn it in, I graduate from college,” she grinned.
Moving from an idealistic novice to a veteran with guts and grace, Annette Bening — in the spotlight this year after her memorable turn in The Kids Are All Right — looked retro-lovely and did her level best to deflect all the much-deserved attention on her at her Arlington toast. Speaking with SBIFF domo Roger Durling, she discussed the acting craft from multiple angles, leaving topics of celebrity, marrying well (Warren Beatty was in the house) and the like mostly in the wings. Moving from the stage to film, she said she quickly learned that “it’s a visual medium” and “so much about the moment when the camera is on — not even 10 minutes before then.”
After seeing a clip of Love Affair, she spoke mainly in fond remembrance of the late, great cinematographer Conrad Hall, who also shot her in and won an Oscar for American Beauty. Catching her sharp-tongued con lady role in The Grifters, we had our own moment of appreciating cinema artists in the background, hearing the tart beauty of the musical score by the late, great Santa Barbaran Elmer Bernstein.
Presenter and local Kevin Costner lavished praises on Bening in his speech, calling her “our Hepburn.” Hmm, he’s got a point there. She later talked about the indelicate balance of good acting: “You want to open up and expose what you have inside, but something internally says, ‘Not such a good idea.’ Walking on that knife edge is tricky.” But she’s one of the finer magicians in film, period. For the final words of the night, Bening quipped, “Now I’ve lost every shred of humility I ever had.” But we know that ain’t the case.
Day 1 of the International Film Festival Micro-Report: Up bright and early and groggy to join the still fairly newly launched “breakfast club” of 8 a.m. screenings, to dive into tilt mode, i.e. the Bulgarian film Tilt (Viktor Chouchkov Jr.). It follows a few young and mostly goodhearted thugs around Sophia, Bulgaria, and Germany around the time of the fall of the Wall and the Curtain, and gets dark and edgy at times, but is at its core a true-blue love film, about lovers battling odds against the world.
Mid-afternoon, it was off to Italy and inside the twisted mind of a possibly criminal protagonist in the enjoyable, if not always exacting, dream-tinged psycho thriller The Double Hour (La doppia ore), from director Giuseppe Capotondi and featuring actors we’ve admired during previous SBIFFs: Kseniya Rappoport (The Unknown Woman) and Filippo Timi (aka Mussolini in Marco Bellocchio’s Vincere).
Seen in its evening drive-time screening, France’s Gigola (Laure Charpentier) has stylized visuals and languid demimonde chic going for it, although despite its exotica and erotica, turns a bit irritatingly smug and high on its own ennui. Come 10:30, we head to the Far East South Korean film No Doubt (Park Soo-Young), a slightly melodramatic but interesting whodunit surrounding a child’s disappearance and a village’s collective doubt and truth distortion.
Just another day around the world, on SBIFF-time State Street.