TIFF 2017: Why the artsy Wavelengths program is more important than ever


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A still from Occidental, a film by French-Algerian artist-turned-filmmaker Neil Beloufa

In the bizarre and surreal climate of this year, with so many global issues converging and surfacing to public consciousness, there has never been a better time to get on TIFF’s Wavelength. Art and film have always independently been hailed as mirrors to society, and this year, Wavelengths, TIFF’s experimental and art film program, gathers talents from across the world to display provocative images and unique perspectives on topics ranging from Standing Rock and indigenous rights to surveillance in a post-privacy age. There’s even literal cannibalism. 

“Everything is so shaky and unstable and surreal,” says Andrea Picard, who’s heading into her 11th year as head programmer for Wavelengths. “I mean, you look at the news from this morning and North Korea is testing missiles over Japan, how can that be? We are living in these really surreal times, and artists are confronting that in their work.” 

As a result, this year’s lineup features some 40 international filmmakers and artists. Some, like French-Canadian director Denis Côté, are established. Côté’s documentary film Ta peau si lisse (“A Skin So Soft”) subverts typical perceptions of masculinity by following a team of extreme body-builders. Others are emerging talents; Chinese artist and former Ai Weiwei collaborator Xu Bing concocts a fictional narrative of love and violence from often sublime surveillance footage in his début feature, Dragonfly Eyes

“Art is there to enlighten us, and to give us faith, and to renew our sense of beauty, but also to interrogate the questions of our time and to grapple with what is troubling or disturbing,” says Picard. “Artists are responding to what’s happening in the world.” 

While TIFF as a whole is traditionally known for its celebrity-studded galas and world premieres of future Oscar winners, Wavelengths has steadily grown from relative obscurity into a main event in its own right, gathering interest from curious moviegoers and adventurous cinephiles to add to their increasing legion of international art-world people. 

“We’ve had a real diversity of audiences within Wavelengths and they’ll be drawn to a certain theme; it’s usually about 50% documentary, so it may be issue-oriented, or sometimes people are quite visual and they’re gravitated towards certain images,” says Picard. 

Her picks for this year include Occidental, a film by French-Algerian artist-turned-filmmaker Neil Beloufa. It centres around a gay couple who check into a Paris hotel (constructed out of plywood and cardboard in Beloufa’s artist’s studio) during a time of social uprising, and the suspicion that arises out of the tension. Another Picard pick is Jeanette, The Childhood of Joan of Arc by French director Bruno Dumont. This death-metal musical interpretation of writings by French poet Charles Péguy is about the pre-adolescence of Joan of Arc. The young actress who plays Jeanette will be in attendance for the screening. (“There might be some dancing and singing onstage, I’m going to guess,” says Picard.) 

Other notable features include Caniba, an interview-style documentary on Issei Sagawa, known best for murdering and cannibalizing a Dutch woman in 1981, who is now living in seclusion as a paralytic; Firenze, an experimental travelogue film shot in the late ’60s and early ’70s by the late electronic musician Erkki Kurenniemi, which roams between Italy, Switzerland and Finland; and Mrs. Fang, a documentary by Chinese director Wang Bing, which follows an elderly woman in a small fishing village in southern China who is dying of Alzheimer’s. 

TIFF 2017 runs from Sept. 7-17. For more information on the Wavelengths program, click here

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Jessica Wei is an associate editor for Post City. She has lived and worked as a journalist in Montreal, Hong Kong and, now, Toronto. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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