All the Cinephiles!

Talking films with filmmakers at TIFF 2019, including Bong Joon-ho, Beanie Feldstein and Daniel Radcliffe.

The 2019 Toronto International Film Festival brought pay-offs for the Letterboxd community from some heavily anticipated world premieres: Taika Waititi’s “anti-hate satire” Jojo Rabbit, Rian Johnson’s entertaining whodunnit, Knives Out, Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Todd Phillips’ Joker, and the Canadian premieres of big-hitters like Palme d’Or winner Parasite, The Lighthouse, Bacurau and Marriage Story.

The following films also went over well with the Letterboxd members in attendance: Blood Quantum, Saint Maud, Color Out of Space, La belle époque, Waves, 37 Seconds, The Burnt Orange Heresy, About Endlessness, The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão, Uncut Gems, The Obituary of Tunde Johnson, Dolemite Is My Name, Just Mercy and documentaries The Australian Dream and Collective.

We took the chance to ask some of the many filmmakers on the ground in Toronto about films they love (and the films they were there to represent).

Choi Woo-shik, Bong Joon-ho and Song Kang-ho at the Toronto premiere of Parasite. — Photographer… Tommaso Boddi/​TIFF
Choi Woo-shik, Bong Joon-ho and Song Kang-ho at the Toronto premiere of Parasite. Photographer… Tommaso Boddi/​TIFF


“All the cinephiles, the film geeks!”

We had just one question for Bong Joon-ho: how does he feel about Parasite being not just our highest rated film this year, but this decade? “I’m so happy with that. All the cinephiles, the film geeks! Me, also the cinephile, so I’m very happy with that news, thank you!”

Choi Woo-shik, who plays Ki Woo, the son in Parasite’s poorer family, described what it’s like to be directed by the acclaimed filmmaker. “This is my second time working with director Bong. He gives very friendly but subtle, very descriptive direction to actors, so I think that gave us a lot of confidence to act better.”

His favorite scene to film? “It must be the scene where the whole family’s drinking together in our semi-basement, right before my friend comes from work and gives me the stone. It was really fun working with director Bong and Song Kang-ho as my father. It was perfect.”

Parasite opens in US cinemas on October 11.

Producers Debra Hayward and Alison Owen, actors Beanie Feldstein, Alfie Allen, writer Caitlin Moran and director Coky Giedroyc. — Photographer… Phil Faraone/​TIFF
Producers Debra Hayward and Alison Owen, actors Beanie Feldstein, Alfie Allen, writer Caitlin Moran and director Coky Giedroyc. Photographer… Phil Faraone/​TIFF

How to Build a Girl

“That’s someone who’s really enjoying writing.”

Beanie Feldstein, admired for her work in Booksmart and Lady Bird, hit the TIFF red carpet for famed feminist writer Caitlin Moran’s adaptation of her semi-autobiographical novel, How to Build a Girl. Feldstein is a riot as Wolverhampton teen Johanna Morrigan, who reinvents herself as “Dolly Wilde”, a rock critic and “lady-sex-pirate”. Feldstein promised Letterboxd that if Moran’s next two books about Morrigan, which have been optioned by the same producing team, are also adapted for the screen, she’s in for the trilogy. “Of course! I mean, she’s my girl! I feel so protective of Johanna and I love her so much.”

We asked the reigning queen of the coming-of-age genre about the films that she loved, growing up: “I grew up obsessed with Funny Girl. Fanny Brice is my idol! Bridesmaids, my senior year of high school, was, like, the best movie ever. It was the most memorable theater-going experience of my life.”

How to Build a Girl is Caitlin Moran’s first film screenplay. (Working with her sister, she has previously adapted their family life for the British sitcom Raised by Wolves.) We asked Moran which screenwriters she most admires. “Oh my gosh. Who do I really love? If you read the scripts of Bruce Robinson, who did Withnail and I and How to Get Ahead in Advertising, those scripts read beautifully. All the description is there; he describes the sky looking the color of burnt sugar. That’s someone who’s really enjoying writing and you feel that vivacity come through on the page and in the character of Withnail. I love Bruce Robinson’s scripts.

Juno was my favorite film of the last ten years. The way that that story was told just made me incredibly happy. I just love Diablo Cody so much. Like, when you read her stuff you feel her heart, sometimes her groin, and her massively exploding soul! So that’s what I’m always looking for. I just want to see things on screen that look real, that someone went ‘I’m going to have to write this or bust’. I hate films that look like someone went, ‘Oh, we’d better make a film that looks like a film’. I want people to have sat down and done a list of things where they’re, like, ‘What would I like to see on screen that I’ve never seen before?’

“And that’s what we tried to do with How to Build a Girl. I just literally, when I was writing the book, just [had] a list of things that I’d never heard anybody talk about with girls.”

How to Build a Girl does not yet have a scheduled release date.

Willem Dafoe, Robert Eggers and Robert Pattinson. — Photographer… Tasos Katopodis/​TIFF
Willem Dafoe, Robert Eggers and Robert Pattinson. Photographer… Tasos Katopodis/​TIFF

The Lighthouse

“I think the fart jokes work.”

The Lighthouse, directed by Robert Eggers and co-written with his brother, Max, is a film that the word “bonkers” has been thrown around a lot to describe. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson go head-to-head in the black-and-white, claustrophobic, psychedelic and disarmingly funny psychological horror.

Max told us: “I came up with the original conceit that, you know, the sort of horror-genre of a lighthouse, I’d never seen done. And then Rob needed a writing partner. Well, actually, he had said to me, ‘Do you mind if I steal this lighthouse idea?’ And I was like, ‘Sure, fine, whatever,’ not knowing where it would land me eventually!”

Writing as brothers, says Max, involved “a lot of turpentine being drank! That’ll make sense for people who see it later. No, I’m just joking. It was a perfect fit. We trust each other, and I think that’s the big thing about writing teams is you gotta trust each other. And brothers, you know, it’s easy. You’d hope it would be easy. Sometimes it’s not.”

When we suggested that the brotherly relationship likely influenced a lot of the flatulence comedy in The Lighthouse, Max agreed: “Yeah, again, it’s one of those things where we took risks. Comedy is about that. You’ve gotta be able to be honest and trust yourselves. We didn’t know how it was going to play but, thankfully, I think the fart jokes work.” (When asked at the TIFF Q&A whether those farts were real, Dafoe replied: “Half and half.”)

Robert, when asked about the film he remembers as inspiring him to think about filmmaking, immediately offered Star Wars, particularly because of the available behind-the-scenes coverage that aided the “discovery process”. Max couldn’t recall the first film that inspired him into a movie-making career, but “one that reaffirmed my work would be a film by Elem Klemov called Come and See, which is the greatest, one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Amazing film.”

The Lighthouse opens in US cinemas on October 18.

Taika Waititi at the TIFF premiere of Jojo Rabbit. — Photographer… George Pimentel/​TIFF
Taika Waititi at the TIFF premiere of Jojo Rabbit. Photographer… George Pimentel/​TIFF

Jojo Rabbit

“Adults are ridiculous.”

“To me, Kak was so visceral and real.” That’s Jojo Rabbit producer Chelsea Winstanley talking about her imaginary childhood friend, for whom her family would set a place at the table and open doors, at her instruction. Jojo Rabbit’s writer-director Taika Waititi is also Winstanley’s husband, so her producing role naturally started early in the process, when they would share stories at home about childhood imaginary friends. Waititi plays the title character’s imaginary confidante: a stupid, vain, petulant and badly-dressed version of Nazi despot Adolf Hitler. It’s a character not found in ‘Caging Skies’, the Christine Leunens novel from which the film was adapted.

“We talked a lot, shared stories like that, so I think it’s very clever that he introduced that,” Winstanley explains. “It’s almost like we want to have some kind of heroes in our lives but we don’t know if they’re good or bad. Jojo doesn’t know the actions of adults. We’re just ridiculous. Adults are ridiculous. So it’s a really incredible way to show this kid that [Hitler is] not such a great hero.”

Winstanley, a director herself, was last at TIFF with the female-directed anthology film Waru, and produced the acclaimed documentary Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen, which was picked up by Ava DuVernay’s Array Releasing and is currently available on Netflix. “It’s amazing how I get messages, emails from people around the world who have watched it, because they can, thanks to Ava DuVernay. She championed this film to get out there. I have a massive girl crush on her.”

On the topic of inspiring women, Roman Griffin Davis, who has been gaining notice for his title role, praised his acting coach, New Zealand actor Rachel House: “She’s properly amazing. She’s a great actress and she’s very good at teaching acting. She kind of taught me how to act. Apart from my mother as well!” Fun fact: House is a long-time collaborator of Waititi’s (and voices Gramma Tala in Moana).

At the Jojo Rabbit Q&A, actor Stephen Merchant revealed the inspiration for his Nazi Gestapo officer: “I don’t think it’s going to come as a shock to anyone that I obviously watched Raiders of the Lost Ark. The great Ronald Lacey performance as the Nazi Gestapo officer… he’s very scary and terrifying so that to me seemed like a great guide; you can be comic but every so often you just turn on that chill factor.”

Meanwhile, Jojo Rabbit production designer Ra Vincent told us that the film Life is Beautiful—and the personal interests of filmmaker Sir Peter Jackson—were his key influences for the film’s design. “I’ve had quite a long relationship working with Peter Jackson and being around his interests, which are First World War memorabilia and stories. So I’ve had an opportunity to see how close to people’s hearts these stories are, and how it’s important to protect them.”

As for the films that made him want to be a filmmaker, Vincent, who began his movie career as a model maker, replied: “I think Star Wars did it to me. And also, oddly enough, Medusa [Ray Harryhausen’s work in Clash of the Titans], because of the claymation aspect to it. That’s my background.” Vincent is already working with Waititi on his next project, “a very nice little feel-good film about the American Samoa soccer team of 2011. It’s exciting to do a job at the beach!” (Michael Fassbender is reportedly in talks to play the team’s coach.)

Jojo Rabbit opens in the US on October 18.

Rhys Darby, Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving. — Photographer… Phil Faraone/​TIFF
Rhys Darby, Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving. Photographer… Phil Faraone/​TIFF

Guns Akimbo

“Life’s too short to work with assholes.”

Daniel Radcliffe hit the red carpet this year for New Zealand director Jason Lei Howden’s Guns Akimbo, the follow-up to his micro-budget, metal-horror, splatter-fest Deathgasm. Also starring Samara Weaving and Rhys Darby, Guns Akimbo finds Radcliffe drawn into a live-streamed game in which guns have been bolted to his hands. It’s a far cry from Harry Potter and, looking over his recent output, we couldn’t help but comment that he must be having the time of his life picking roles as far from the boy-wizard as possible.

“I mean, I’m looking to be happy and live a nice life,” Radcliffe replied. “I’m very fortunate to be in a position where I can really pick and choose what I wanna do. No actor is in that position. That’s such a gift, so I’m very lucky to just get to work on stuff that I love and is maybe, I am told, weird, but I love it. And, yeah, also life’s too short to work with assholes, so I generally love to work with lovely people like Samara and Rhys and Jason. It’s very nice.”

Getting Radcliffe to name the film that made him want to work in movies is a tricky ask, since he started out so young. “That’s what’s weird about me is that I feel like most actors get into it by becoming a fan of film and then, like, ‘I wanna be an actor,’ whereas I was on film sets already by the time I realized I liked film. And I love film sets. I love being here. I feel like that’s what I fell in love with, was actually the experience of making things on set.” When pushed, he ponied up: “The first films I remember falling in love with are, like, Toy Story. Those are the first films that I remember seeing and going, ‘Oh, this is amazing’.”

Rhys Darby, who plays a down-and-out character named Glenjamin in Guns Akimbo, had been at the premiere of his friend Taika Waititi’s film the night before (Darby played Psycho Sam in Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople). “There’s nothing like it,” he said of Jojo Rabbit. “He manages every time to cast these fantastically comic-driven, gifted children, and [to] have so much pathos and heart. It was a triumph. I’m just jealous I wasn’t in it!”

Asked what the film was that made him want to get into the entertainment business, Darby responded: “Wow, that’s a good question. To be honest, I’ve always been a James Bond fan. I grew up watching the Roger Moore James Bonds, and it was the epic-ness of those 1980s films, which are ridiculous. The Roger Moore ones, there’s a lot of humor in them, there’s gadgets, and there’s these great locations, and I kind of dreamed of the idea of maybe being part of that world. It just seemed so ridiculous that it would never happen to a kid from Pakuranga, but it’s kinda happening!”

Darby recently achieved a dream of visiting Bond creator Ian Fleming’s home. “I actually went to Goldeneye! Yeah! Who would have thought that I’d get to go to Ian Fleming’s resort in Jamaica, and sit on his chair, where he wrote these novels? That was really special to me.”

Guns Akimbo does not yet have a scheduled release date.


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