Francis Ford Coppola and Val Kilmer at their press conference for the film Twixt at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.
Francis Ford Coppola and Val Kilmer at their press conference for the film Twixt at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. Naomi Hockins

TIFF offers amusing, interesting films

FIVE lessons I've learned during TIFF:

1. Filmmakers are brave. Two directors, legendary Francis Ford Coppola and Jonathan Teplitzky, used tragic, life-changing events they experienced in their films. Both wrote and directed the projects, and to confront and revisit what these two men have survived was astounding.

2. For people who have barely had a chance to experience the ups and downs of life, child actors can produce amazing performances. Child actors gave outstanding performances in two Aussie films, The Hunter and Burning Man, and from the entire cast of children featured in Machine Gun Preacher. Somehow, not only are these kids portraying children in pretty challenging, complex situations, but they also match experienced adult actors (Willem Defoe in The Hunter, Matthew Goode in Burning Man and Gerard Butler in Machine Gun Preacher).

3. True actors and filmmakers are humble and just as happy that people are interested in their projects as we are to watch them. The best interviews I've had were those where it just felt like a conversation with an enthusiastic friend, and as much as I can try to make them comfortable there's only so much an interviewer can do in that respect. And, of course, the rigors and repetitiveness of the publicity trail at a festival like this can be draining.

4. There IS a limit to how many movies one can watch. Although I've always been a film fan, between interviews and press conferences I've only managed to fit about three movies into each day. I could see more when I'm free in the evening as the schedule usually has its last showing at 9pm, but a girl's gotta write, eat and sleep too!

5. Logical planning at an international festival is imperative. It is never a good idea to only have elevator access to the top three floors of a building, particularly when those two elevators only crowd 10 people in at most. Someone made the bad choice of holding press conferences on level 6, while assembling all media on level 3. Otherwise, the TIFF Bell Lightbox wasn't a bad venue.



A revelation at the Francis Ford Coppola and Val Kilmer interview for Twixt. I had not realised a pivotal, shocking scene towards the end of the film was virtually identical to a tragedy in Coppola's own life:

SPOILER ALERT! The wonderfully honest filmmaker bared his soul while discussing the scene, in which a character is killed in the same tragic manner his son died 25 years ago. Coppola's voice cracked, he took a deep breath, and explained that the way Kilmer's character in the film deals with the death was virtually the same way he did.

The heavy programming at TIFF was another battle, as I was keen to catch the overlapping Machine Gun Preacher and Trespass. As Preacher, an interesting-looking Gerard Butler vehicle, began an hour ahead I decided to give it a go… and planned to leave for the Nicholas Cage film, directed by Joel Schumacher, if it wasn't working out.

However, I couldn't pull myself away from Marc Forster's Machine Gun Preacher's absorbing story, while Butler was surprisingly good and Michael Shannon (TV's Boardwalk Empire) was excellent in a supporting role.

Straight out of one cinema and into another - this time it was Aussie Fred Schepisi's The Eye of the Storm. It was my one chance to see the film before talking to the director and stars, and enjoy it I did - until I was forced to leave before the end to make the interviews. Oh well.

Schepisi is a film veteran (Roxanne, Six Degrees of Separation, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith) with opinions and insights into anything related to film, and doing the interview with his daughter Alexandra (who plays a pivotal role in the film) was a warm experience… much like meeting Geoffrey Rush.

As one of our most famous and talented exports, Rush came across like a kind, learned acquaintance and talked about being on the publicity trail and knowing Aussie author and Nobel Laureate Patrick White.  The film was based on a 1973 book by the same name, authored by White (who died in 1990).

It's been a jam-packed, but worthwhile, end to the first week of TIFF.

Woody Harrelson, Robin Wright, Ben Foster were in town to promote their new film Rampart, while up-and-comer Matthew Goode discussed his starring role in Australian flick Burning Man.

Harrelson proved what you see is not always what you get. The man I interviewed was genuine, clean-cut and sweet, despite a career specialising in crazy, rough and tough guys.

Mere hours before I had watched him as an alcoholic, angry Los Angeles cop wallowing in corruption, and now the only similarity between the two was the love they have for their families.

Wright, who played a woman involved with Harrelson's cop, was particularly candid. She spoke of her awkwardness about doing love scenes with long-time friend "Woodrow," and her admiration for director Oren Moverman.

Looking great at 45, she spoke proudly of her children and said since they've now left the roost she can re-boot her acting career. I'd have to say she was my personal favourite - I mean, I was talking to THE Princess Bride!

I had screenings of the comedy Friends with Kids, then Francis Ford Coppola's self-directed, produced and written project, Twixt. Much of the cast from Bridesmaids make Friends with Kids an entertaining modern story about best friends having a baby while keeping their love lives separate.

Twixt is easily Coppola's most experimental film to date and will surely see mixed reviews. However, I loved it. Val Kilmer is a horror novelist, a "bargain basement Stephen King," who finds himself in a spooky old town where Edgar Allen Poe once lived. The town has some strange secrets, from stories of child murder to vampirism, and Coppola deals with the dark and quirky subject matter in a satisfyingly amusing way.

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