Where the frames take me: TIFF offscreen

Where the frames take me: TIFF offscreen

A festival detour between screenings

By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Welcome to this special dispatch from the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. I’m on a mission to capture experiences – frames of reference, if you will – from my extended journey in Toronto. TIFF is about the movies, the premieres and the galas, the red carpet photo opportunities and the first looks at the prestige films that will dominate the conversation for the next few months or more.
But I want jump off the beaten path, to seek out other moments, the ones in between the squats in darkened theaters, the ones where I find other funhouse reflections. Like Friday night (Sept. 7), when I happily skipped out of a screening of “The Sapphires,” an uplifting little gem of a story about an aboriginal girl group back in the 1960s who started out singing country music tunes, but switched to R&B and ended up touring Vietnam, playing for the troops. It’s loosely based on true events and feels goody-goody without completely going all “Good Morning, Vietnam” meets “Dreamgirls.”
I wasn’t quite skipping, but I had a little of that good soul backbeat in the blood in my ears, so I dropped into Chapters, the Barnes & Noble-style bookstore on the corner from the main festival theater, to check messages and unwind before my next dark encounter. There were signs announcing upcoming readings and events, to which I failed to pay close attention.
Escalator to escalator to the top floor and right there, standing in front of a screened backdrop was none other than Saul Williams, poet slamma jamma, holding court before a small but devoted crowd. The house lights were too bright and there wasn’t a true stage to frame his presence, but he made the space intimate and somehow found a way to dim the bright whites. I laugh thinking about it now because despite having seen him onscreen and determining that he’s not a huge physical presence, I still expect him to be larger than life. I want him to be big and broad, a giant of a man – the lovechild of Robeson and Welles maybe with some of that mythic John Wayne dimension thrown in for good measure.
Instead, he is thin, a thin black hole drawing us in, while also projecting a universe of words and ideas in each sentence. This may seem like I’m attempting to mimic him, his style, but no, I’m only struggling to fill in a few details of this overwhelming picture.
He didn’t recite verse, at least not by the time I arrived. He led us on a journey through his creative process, brief history of everything. It had nothing to do with film and yet, everything. His background is in theater and every movement and word contains energy and a sense of anticipation, even one-on-one.
I went up to speak with him afterward, picking up a book I had no notion I wanted just a few minutes before, back when I was walking in, headed for the restroom across the way. We talked about using the arts – poetry and hip hop in his case, music video and film in mine, to tap kids into the world; how these old school approaches might foster new social networks. And we acknowledged how good it was to see another face of color on the road, spreading presence and the word. In that new book of his, Chorus: A Literary Mixtape, he wrote, “May these words bring worlds.”
That is what I expect from film, from those projected frames. I seek worlds, familiar and foreign. I want the stories up there to take me off the reservation.
And at TIFF, you are your own camera, able to document whatever story captures your fancy.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com

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