Saturday, 15 September 2012

Why did TIFF go younger this year?

Anyone who takes even a basic look at the schedule for TIFF this year will notice a bit of a difference in the type of films which were scheduled to play. In the past you would have seen a focus on independent films and Hollywood films which would focus on a more experienced, filmmaker focused audience. You had films like “The Ides of March”, “The Informant” and “Shame”. This year however you can see more of a skew towards a younger audience with films like “Spring Breakers”, “Dredd 3D”, “On The Road” and even “Much Ado About Nothing”. What’s the significance of such a move? Is there a reason for it? What can be done about it?
The answer to most of those questions is yes, all with the exception the last one. Mainly because I’m not sure they need to do anything about it. Long time patrons of the festival might look at the people involved in this year’s films and say why do we need to appeal to a younger audience? Why do we need films starring Kristen Stewart, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens? Aren’t they all just attention grabbing Disney stars with no real talent? First and foremost I would say that anyone who insists upon saying such things probably hasn’t taken the time to actually watch any of the work of any such stars and I am a big believer in the idea that you can’t judge a person’s talent if you haven’t taken the time to give it a shot.
I’ve actually seen some of their work, including some of the films I mentioned earlier, and I would say that they have real talent. It’s a little on the rough side in some areas but they aren’t supposed to be seasoned veterans of the craft because they aren’t yet old enough to have put in the kind of time a seasoned veteran would need to appear as such. Plus in looking at some of these films, they may have actually done so. They’ve been given the opportunity in many of these films to stretch their acting muscles and turned in pretty good performances.
Some might say that TIFF has to be careful not to alienate its core audience of filmmakers. But who’s to say they did? “On The Road”, while starring Kristen Stewart, is based on a Jack Kerouac novel. Hardly the tween fluff she is often accused of doing. As I said in my review, Spring Breakers was a film by Harmony Korine maker of such films as “Kids”, not exactly someone known for creating films that teenagers are encouraged to see. In fact Selena Gomez actually encouraged her younger fans not to see it given its more adult content, even as hundreds of younger girls sat in the audience after the screening while she said it. These are not exactly films which betray many of the ideas that TIFF built its reputation on.
Even if it were, why is that so wrong? I’ve said it before and I will say it again, film is not a uniform media. It’s not required to conform to a particular idea of what a good film is or who should be in such films. Some filmmakers and their films may present themselves that way, but that’s only one of many narratives available to creators in the visual arts. The most prominent narrative is that film is a reflection of society, and if TIFF wishes to stay true to that above anything else, then it has to be willing to broaden its appeal to more than just its core audience.
TIFF has to stay relevant to the audiences of today and not all of them are 30+ filmmakers who remember Sylvester Stallone as Rocky instead of The Expendables. At a certain point you have to recognize the bigger audience and figure out if you can appeal to them as much as those you admire.
Why did TIFF go younger this year? I think that much is obvious.

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