By William Wolf


Film fans in Toronto enthusiastically kept lining up to see the avalanche of celebrities who descended on the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, including such luminaries as Brad Pitt and George Clooney, and many of the star actors, actresses and directors regaled the press either in private interviews or in press conferences. Generally the talk at the conferences tends to go over familiar territory. But of those I attended, the one that had the most substance starred Woody Allen. Once he got going, the director revealed fascinating details about his attitude toward filmmaking as reflected in his work.

The occasion was a conference for “Cassandra’s Dream,” Allen’s latest film due for release in November. Allen doesn’t generally do much of this sort of promotion, and on stage in the conference room he took the chore most seriously. The topic really opened up when two stars of the film, a dark story about human behavior set in London, Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor, commented on how few takes Allen relies upon, as opposed to other directors who ask for so many more.

Allen sent a shock wave through the room with his explanation: “I’m not a dedicated filmmaker. I’m lazy. Making a film is not the only part of my life. I want to get through with it and on with my life.”

He added: “I’m not saying it’s a good habit, but I don’t have the patience to do it the way others do.”

He went on to talk about some of his attitude toward filmmaking. He told about his early fascination with films of Bergman and Fellini and how he thought it would be so enjoyable to make films.

“I went into films for the most shallow of reasons—to meet women and not have a life of drudgery. I don’t want to work late and miss the basketball game, my children, my clarinet playing, dinner with friends. Basketball and baseball games are more important to me than making the perfect film.”

What was especially interesting is that Allen didn’t appear to be merely self-effacing. He seemed genuine in trying to communicate his perspective on life. However he explains it, the result has been a parade of superb films, of course, some more so than others, and he is always stretching to try to achieve something different than the one before, as is the case with “Cassandra’s Dream.”

Allen, who said that his intention is simply to tell a story that won’t bore anyone, also revealed why he is working so much in Europe these days. He said that he has always cherished his independence and by making films for about $15 million, he can maintain it, since it is always possible to at least earn that money back.

However, he found that increasingly, studio executives were starting to ask more about the script and whom he would cast, but he has found that producers in Europe let him totally alone. They have their reasons for putting up the money, and then, so long as he makes films $15 million, he can be totally free.

As for other press conferences, David Cronenberg livened his up with his persistent sense of humor. Regarding his film, “Eastern Promises,” there was discussion about the scene with Viggo Mortensen fighting for his life against would-be assassins while he is in the nude in a steam bath. When Cronenberg was asked to comment on the scene, he quipped:

“I discovered that Viggo didn’t have any genitals.”

Among the more interesting lunches that I attended was one for the Festival’s opening night film , “Fugitive Pieces,” at L’Espresso Bar Mercurio. The film is based on the novel by Anne Michaels, who was there. In our chat, she noted that she found many moving moments in the film adaptation. I asked about the difference in endings. What occurs at the end of the film was something she had in the beginning of the novel. She agreed with my observation that it had a different effect, but she didn’t take a position on the matter.

Michaels said she has finished another novel, but that it wouldn’t be published for another year.

Everyone was captivated by the young Robbie Kay, who plays the leading character as a boy who sees his family members killed during World War II and is rescued from his hiding place. He came over to me and saw that I was eating calamari. “How are they?” he inquired. He seemed pleased when I said they were good. The attractive lad does a fine acting job in the film and may well develop a worthy career.

The adult role is played by Stephen Dillane, who must portray a character who has trouble expressing emotion and convey the inkling that there are layers of feeling beneath what he can outwardly show. Dillane, well known for many fine performances, gives the impression that he is extremely serious about his work, whether on film or on stage.

I told him I always remembered something Clint Eastwood once told me in an interview—that it is more difficult to act silently than with words, whereupon he noted his admiration for some of the veteran actors who “would know just how far to go” in suggesting more than what could be overtly revealed.


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