With the advent of the internet, there's more access than ever to a variety of film titles, but it seems as if foreign films have less and less place in our popular culture. Going to the arthouse moviehouse in Toronto (especially the rescued Carleton Cinema) in the 1980s was something of a rite of passage for many an aspiring filmmaker/writer/artist, but foreign films seem to have far less cache and prominence than they did twenty years ago. It's hard to pinpoint when foreign movies lost their pride of place in movie-going, tiptoeing as they were along the line between mainstream and underground, but I suspect Pedro Almodovar had a hand in it.
The Spanish director, who's been met with mixed reviews for his latest work, The Skin I Live In, had been highly acclaimed in Europe (and by Madonna) up until he made All About My Mother in 1999. That movie, more than any other, created a sort of short-lived mainstream love affair with European movies - one whose inevitable fizzling-out coincided with the rise of the internet and download culture, and a general rise in mistrust of anything not in English and not easily digestible. Many people didn’t see Lars von Trier’s Dancer In The Dark, after all - but they all remember singer/actor Bjork’s swanish Oscar dress. Whether it’s the vagaries of pop culture or simply that a change in taste has coincided with shortened attention spans (or a curious combination of all three), there’s no denying that foreign films still have a hardcore fanbase in North America.
Enter the EU Film Festival. Started in 2004 as a kind of antidote to the very-mainstream blow-em-up aesthetic of Hollywood, the fest features, predictably, contemporary cinematic works released by member countries of the European Union. International versions of the festival take place in European as well as NorthAmericancities throughout the year, and the movies screened reflect the mixed and eclectic union they come from; romantic, political, historical and haunted movies are all part of the program.
This year's Toronto edition, which launches November 17th and runs through the 30th, features 24 different movies from 24 different countries. There’s award-winning filmmakers, chats, and screenings that cater equally to mainstream and alt tastes.
Some of the movies included in this year’s EU Film Fest were screened during this past fall’s Toronto International Film Festival; among them Ireland's creepily spectacular entry, The Other Side Of Sleep, a rural tale revolving around a corpse, a girl, and voyeurs in a small town. Academy Award-nominated Czech film Protektor will be screened on Friday night (November 18th). Along with screening of Hungarian-Slovenian-Canadian film The Maiden Danced To Death on November 19th, the festival has also arranged for acclaimed film producer Michael A. Dobbin to give a talk about the challenges of Canadian-European co-producing and filmmaking. He'll be joined by Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond in a Q&A following the film's screening at 6pm.
And what with with Poland's marking its six-month Presidency heading up the EU Council, the festival is fittingly opening with Polish film The Winner, a buddy movie with a classical music twist.
European film fans might want to skip their visit to the Carleton to the next few days and line up early at the Royal Cinema (608 College Street) -all screenings at the EU Film Festival are free. For complete schedule and screening info, go to EuTorontoFilmFest.ca.