Memo from Toronto

Editor’s note: We’re thrilled to have film writer Cathleen Rountree blogging to us daily from the Toronto Film Festival, among the most prestigious and popular film festivals in this or any other world. Cathleen will be telling us the buzz on the marathon of movies and parade of movie stars in Toronto. She promises us she won’t be sleeping.

2007 marks my second year at Toronto. And I hope to cement this as an annual trek to one of the major international film festivals (right up there with Cannes in May and Berlin in February). Last year I saw 43 films in seven days. (Impossible, you shriek? Not if you cram 16 films into the first two days, as I did. After arriving on a Thursday, on Friday, I hit the press office at by 8 A.M, and the Varsity screening complex within the hour. At two o’clock the next morning, I staggered the three miles back to my friend’s tiny flat, the attic of a 200-year-old charming row house. Her walk-in closet served as my office/bedroom and I slept on an inflatable single-size mattress, which had a slow leak. By morning, no air separated my aching body from the floor. Sometimes “free” comes at a price.

My plan, after checking in at the press office first thing on Thursday morning: Sneak off to Niagara Falls for a couple hours. My only experience of this natural wonder is the 1955 Marilyn Monroe vehicle in which, as the betraying wife of Joseph Cotton, she pays the ultimate price when he tosses her off the local bell tower (not unlike Kim Novak in “Vertigo”). Well, we’ll see…

Celebrities on hand this year: Sean Penn, Brad Pitt (both in attendance last year), George Clooney, Jodie Foster, Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal (yes, they’re a couple), Terrence Howard, Viggo Mortensen, the Coen Brothers, Woody Allen, Collin Farrell, Joaquin Phoenix, and three actors and a director I’m most interested in meeting: Cate Blanchette, Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, and Gillian Armstrong.

As a member of the Press Corps, I’ve been invited to a few special opening night screenings, including Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis,” about a young woman’s experiences growing up in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the black-and-white animated feature was inspired by her bestselling series of graphic novels, which I taught in my Arts in a Multicultural Society course at UCSC. Since I’m hoping to interview Ms. Satrapi, who now lives in Paris, this is the one I’ll probably attend.

Okay, sufficiently apprised of this year’s offerings, I’m off to my first screening of the Festival: “Ulzhan,” by German director Volker Schlöndorff (“The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum,” 1975, “The Tin Drum,” 1979, “Swann in Love,” 1984, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” 1990), about a middle-aged Western man in Kazakhstan, who abandons his car, which has run out of gas, and starts to walk across the vast steppes of Central Asia. In this intriguing-sounding exploration of one man’s journey within a journey, he occasionally encounters people and the trappings of civilization, but he never lingers long or veers from the course that leads to his unknown destination.

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