On the evening of Sept. 10, at about this time last year in Toronto, a filmmaker and his posse of producers and sales representatives could not have been more euphoric. Gregor Jordan's Eurobacked festival film, Buffalo Soldiers, had just secured a US distribution deal through Miramax Films and there was high-fiving talk of lucrative careers being launched. Twelve hours later, their world, like so many others', fell apart.
Someone connected with the film was among those directly affected by the calamity in New York, and suffered a family tragedy. And an overnight change in the public mood ended any real hope that a M*A*S*H-style subversive comedy about U.S. soldiers dealing drugs and selling illicit arms from their military base in Germany would be seen any time soon - if ever at all - on the big screen across North America.
Like it or not, today's Festival schedule carries the burden of so many wounded memories. No matter how and where today is spent, those memories will be uppermost on everyone's minds. But, in so many ways, this emotional scarring has been already ever-present across the world of cinema throughout the last 12 months that led up to today's sad anniversary, and will keep on being so for the foreseeable future.
While nothing dramatically changed in the way films are made, other than the need to deal with the financial after-effects of a damaged economy that was heading south anyway, the way films are being seen now has undeniably shifted. For me, it is impossible to watch a film here such as Aki Kaurismaki's The Man Without a Past, about a middle-aged man who tries to reconstruct his life after losing his memory in a brutal mugging, without reverting to an allegorical reading. Even if those wider implications were never consciously intended on
Kaurismaki's part, he was nonetheless following in the footstepsof all artists in holding up an illuminating mirror to the society around them. Ararat, Atom Egoyan's meditation on historical events, also plays differently now than it would have done more than a year ago.
At its best, art also anticipates the horrors to come, allowing us to stare cathartically into the abyss from a safe enough distance. This is why Philip Noyce's The Quiet American, which unintentionally puts the blundering state of world politics into alarming perspective, may end up proving as relevant to our times as the handful of Toronto films that drew overtly from last September's experiences.
Films such as The Guys, Reno:Rebel Without A Pause and 11'09"01 are all required viewing because they will help open our reluctant eyes to a variety of truths about that infamous day exactly one year ago. That's how healing begins.
Similarly, The Quiet American, an admirable rendition of Graham Greene's classic, shows all too clearly how America's involvement in Vietnam was every bit as morally ambiguous as the French and the British colonialists that preceded the CIA. Nothing here is presented in fundamentalist black or white, just troubling shades of grey - which may be why Miramax Films has yet to declare a domestic release date for the film. But allowing The Quiet American to suffer the same ignominious distribution fate as Buffalo Soldiers for fear of offending or confusing American sensibilities is surely missing the point.
Now is as good a time as any for the public to understand that asking questions of America's role in the world is not the same as being un- or anti-American. In fact, their lives depend on it.