U2, Leafs nothing at Toronto film fest

“Two Irishmen walk out of a bar…”

If, like me, you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, check out the new U2 film From the Sky Down. The documentary was the kick start to this year’s 36th Annual Toronto International  Film Festival.
Thanks to the folks at Astral, I was among the crowd packed into Roy Thompson Hall Thursday evening for the opening gala.
TIFF is usually not on TV Boy’s agenda but I’ve been fortunate over the last decade or so to get invited to the opener. Astral has been the opening gala sponsor for almost every one of the film festival’s 36 years and is a classy and generous host.
And why not? The media company is celebrating their 50th year in comfort and style. Astral CEO and president Ian Greenberg pointed out at the pre-show party that the company has enjoyed 60 consecutive quarters of growth. Think about that: the recession that brought mighty CTV and Global to their knees did not touch these pay-TV boys. Their business model (which includes HBO Canada, The Movie Network and Family Channel) is booming not broken.

The pre-show party brought out the usual suspects. Norman Jewison and his partner Lynn (he seemed open to my suggestion we screen my 16mm print of his first film, 40 Pounds of Trouble, at some upcoming TIFF event), CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein, Ivan Reitman, CBC programming boss Kirstine Stewart and Zaib Shaikh and ex-PM Brian Mulroney (who arrived by airbus). Caught up with my old pal Orest Olijnyk, Sr. VP Disney Canada. Jason Priestley, happy with his seven Gemini award haul for Call Me Fitz, was in the house, as was Chantal Kreviazuk.
Bono and The Edge joined From The Sky Down director Davis Guggenheim on stage in what had to be the shortest opening gala speechapalooza ever. Everybody kept their comments short and sweet. (It helped that legendary TIFF blabbermouth Robert Lantos was kept locked off stage.) In past years the endless sponsor back patting and dying to meet themselves shtick went on longer than the bloody movie.
Usually the opening feature is a bust, the worst movie I see in a theatre all year. I’m still trying to scrub Paschendale out of my eyes. This is the first time TIFF has led off with a documentary and with U2 as the hook it was close to a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

Fellow white beard and Disney Canada dude Orest Olijnyk

From the Sky Down started slowly but grew on me. Not a traditional, history-of-the-band doc, it focuses in on the Irish rockers efforts to keep their heads after the spectacular success of The Joshua Tree and create their album Achtung Baby in a newly reunited Germany in 1991. Real U2 fans probably knew all the back story but I could have used a few Ken Burns moments.
Guggenhein, who has helmed such popular docs as An Inconvenient Truth and Might Get Loud (as well as episodes of Deadwood and 24), attempts to get deep under the band’s skin at a time when the Irish quartet could quite easily have broken up. He achieves this by jumping back and forth from tons of archival footage to today. The magical part of the film, one that sneaks up on you, is how he places the viewer in the moment of creation. The awakening that was One–drawn out of messing about with Mysterious Ways–is shared in an intimate way that truly puts the viewer right there at the birth of a song.
The film could have used a little more humour (some animated moments helped) but these were sombre times for the band. All those dour black and white photos taken in the late ’80s only made they seem even less humourless. They couldn’t have been that cranky. As The Edge said in his opening remarks, “We would have had a lot more jokes” in the film.
The Edge actually was quite funny on stage, saying he was glad to be back in Toronto, where “they named a radio station after me.”
Speaking of comedy, somebody at TIFF screwed up and forgot to run the Astral plug (a.k.a. Greenberg’s annual moment of glory) before the feature. They tried to jam it in onto the end of the feature but the sound was off. Oops.
There was an after-party at the Liberty Grand. It felt good to drive right past the hundreds of cars lined up to turn right onto the CNE grounds on the westbound Lakeshore. They may still be there.

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