Some of the strongest voices at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival are female. Discover these incredible women who are transforming the way we view cinema and the world itself.
“There’s a desire to be challenged,” says Andréa Picard, curator of Wavelengths, TIFF’s year-round avant-garde screening program. A true cinephile, she has built a career championing voices and visions that sit outside the mainstream. “I work very closely with artists and filmmakers and independent producers who … don’t have an industry behind them, whether it’s monetary or societal,” she explains.
A History of Blurring Lines
Picard started with TIFF in 1999, and spent the next 12 years as a member of the TIFF Cinematheque programming team. She’s been curating Wavelengths since 2006.
Originally focused on experimental shorts, Wavelengths has always explored the intersection of cinema and other art forms. The program has since expanded to include documentaries and auteurist features, but has never lost its edge, or its egalitarian bent.
In fact, Wavelengths makes a point of eliminating financial barriers for filmmakers and filmgoers. There is no submission or screening fee for creators applying to the festival. Admission is also free to the public, giving viewers an incentive to take in films they might otherwise pass on.
The strategy has worked. Early Wavelengths screenings attracted 30-40 viewers. Now, the screenings regularly sell out 250-seat theaters. “There’s definitely been an appetite for more adventurous filmmaking,” says Picard, “and I think that’s encouraging across the board, because we really are showing challenging work.”
Picard believes in blurring lines. “It comes from my passion for art,” she explains. “I studied art history and was always attracted to painting, sculpture and photography, but also to seeing film as an art form.”
Her eclectic approach is very much in demand. On top of her Wavelengths duties, Picard is also the artistic director of the Cinéma du Réel festival in France, and writes the “Film/Art” column for Cinema Scope magazine.
Picard looks for diverse films that take stylistic, political, and financial risks. Representation is also important, in terms of who is making the film and who appears onscreen, but never at the expense of style.
Women Can Champion Themselves
As a woman who was worked in a male-dominated industry, Picard has faced discrimination, and is very much aware of the need for representation. She speaks fondly the way that TIFF has championed women, and has put them in programmer and senior management roles. At the same time, she also feels that women’s work “stands for itself and that “women don’t need other people to champion them, they can champion themselves.”
Picard cites 2018 Roger Ebert Thumb Award recipient Claire Denis as an inspiration and as a great filmmaker, not just a woman filmmaker. She also points to the important positions that women hold in the film industry, but which are often overlooked. “I’ve shown a lot of features that are made by men,” she explains, “but the producers are women … they’re doing the groundwork, they’re raising the money, they’re making things happen.”
Although she feels that the industry is making strides toward gender parity, Picard points out that far more women are making documentaries and short films than men. She attributes this to the way funding bodies work, and to how society in general views the role of women filmmakers. As a result, a lot more of feature films continue to be made by men.
Programming Films That Challenge Viewers
Two of the most challenging films Picard has programmed this year are the work of veteran male filmmakers, both of whom are pushing audience endurance to the limit. Wang Bing’s Dead Souls (China) and Mariano Llinas’ La Flor (Argentina) clock in at 8 hours and 14 hours, respectively. The first is shown as a single screening, while the second is spread over three consecutive days.
Stylistically and thematically, the pics couldn’t be any further apart. Dead Souls is a chronicle of China’s re-education camps of the 1950s. It constructs an oral history of one of the darkest events in China through interviews of elderly survivors.
La Flor is a multi-part, genre-hopping homage to the pleasures of cinema. Made over a 10-year period, with a female ensemble of four actors, the film’s six episodes pay tribute to B-movies, telenovelas, French classics and international thrillers.
Both movies are compulsively watchable but for different reasons. “I saw an importance within the films themselves,” says Picard. “They make major statements.” She considers Dead Souls a masterpiece — and a huge political risk. “It’s a corrective of Chinese history and one of the most urgent films of the year.”
Picard calls the self-financed La Flor playful and subversive. “You see the actors grow older over 10 years, and some of the women have babies … and you see them … pregnant.” She enthuses that “it’s a totally different trip.” Picard also adds that the structure of La Flor invites the members of the audience to interact with each other as well as with the film itself.
As a curator, Picard wondered whether TIFF was the right place for these films. She pondered their viewing context and reflected on the fact that many patrons are sitting through five films a day and don’t have time between screenings to process what they’ve seen. Reflecting on her own experience as a viewer at Cannes and other film festivals, she relates that this “can be exhausting, emotionally as well.”
Film as a Reflection of the World
Picard sees film as reflecting our times. Although she and her team curate the short film program — assigning a specific title and theme to each screening — she says that the themes tend to emerge from the films themselves, as the artists who make them are often contemplating the same issues.
“I consider filmmakers artists in tune with the world,” Picard concludes. “I think we’re really in a healthy place in cinema today.” Praising the diversity of the works she is seeing, Picard is also happy that international auteurs are pushing their artistic boundaries. The curator is also enthusiastic about the documentary film renaissance that has resulted in the creation of so many exceptional non-fiction works.
If she had one wish, Picard would like to see North American distributors put their financial clout behind more avant-garde and experimental films. The success of Wavelengths has shown that the audience is there, and eager for more.