Becoming Cousteau: This Liz Garbus newly released documentary at TIFF, first shown Saturday with the director and editor in attendance, shows some of the life of the incredibly complex Frenchman, Jacques Yves Cousteau. For those of us who were raised in the 70s, this man was an iconic figure on TV with his hour long specials showing the wonders of the undersea world. He and his small band of like-mind explorers sailed the seas on the Calypso, a converted British mine sweeper that one of the Guinness family (yes the Irish beer making family) paid to give him to do his work. He pioneered (and invented out of necessity) the aqualung as well as the underwater camera. With those inventions, he endlessly filmed the sea world that he experienced first hand for the early years of his life. Incidentally his first film of the seas, won him an Oscar for Best Documentary. He would add two more. He wrote books about sea life. It is odd, when thinking back on it, that a man who was so inspirational for many people to see the waters for the first time had all but disappeared since his death back in 1998, at the age of 87. The documentary decides to focus on the man, and his journey from a naval officer and making a living showing people the sea, to being an early observer of climate change, and seeing in a short 30 years how the oceans had been impacted by human ignorance and negligence. It does not dwell on his personal life beyond introducing us to his first wife, Simone, and their two sons Phillippe and Jean-Michel and then with his second wife the much younger Pierre-Yves and Diane. Here was a man who was instrumental in bringing together world leaders at the Earth Day Summit in Rio in 1992. He was at one point that Americans said that they most wanted to meet. Sadly it took 5 years according to the Director to get access to the video archives. The reason for the delay is the schism that has divided the Cousteau family and the legacy of Jacques. His second wife, a mistress and mother of two children was granted the rights to the Cousteau Society. Jean-Michel, the remaining son with first Wife, Simone, has been in litigation with her about the Calypso, the movies, control of the corporation and the legacy. What this clouds is a fascinating man who gave so much to the world. He is an inventor, explorer, film-maker, naturalist, and someone deeply committed to protecting the planet for future generations. He was before the US Congress in the late 1970s talking about the damage to the oceans, and the need to make efforts with action as opposed to talk. Unfortunately not much has happened since his impassioned plea. Environmental targets are missed, people are apathetic with the size of the problem. Meanwhile our oceans are warming. Coral is bleaching and dying. Fish are being massively over-fished. I think that in 2021 Jacques Cousteau would be very disappointed in the lack of progress by mankind. It is still an important message that it getting delivered, and I am hopeful that people can remember this man, and the younger generations can be introduced to someone who shaped much of our knowledge of the creatures in the sea. Well worth your time. It will be released to theatres in October.
As an aside I can say that on Friday I wandered the streets around King Street near Roy Thompson Hall. Usually the first Friday of TIFF there would be a buzz around the city. People in the streets, King Street closed, vendors on the street, people lining up for various films at numerous locations in and around the city. You could feel the energy. If you were lucky you may have a close encounter with a star. For me a couple years back it was Antonio Banderas and before that Jessica Chastain in 2017. The randomness of it all made it exciting. A black limo may pull up at any time and someone may step out. Now, there aren’t the lines. No vendors. No lines for movies. Fewer venues than ever before in my recollection. At the Saturday show at the Cinesphere there was no line outside. Inside masks were to be worn at all times in a socially distanced seating arrangement with about 25% of the patrons inside.. Hell, even the crowd didn’t give a pirate “Argh!!!” when the Piracy warning came up! It is not the same. It is TIFF Lite. And that is okay. I give kudos to those who have the unenviable task of trying to put together a world class event, and make no mistake that TIFF is one of the top film festivals in the world. For me personally, I won’t pay for a drive-in movie. I may pay for a digital film shown in my house. I will see a movie live with these Covid measures in place. I am hopeful that TIFF 2022 can be more like it has been in the past. Seeing Amercian college and NFL stadiums filled to capacity (106,000 in Michigan alone) one of us will be shown to be wrong with the D-variant.
The Grand Seduction: This 2013 Canadian production is showing on Netflix. It stars Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch. The story involves a struggling small fishing harbour in Newfoundland looking to re-invent itself. The fishing has been curtailed and the people (about 120) have mostly been on social assistance. They would like to attract a new oil based recycling facility. The catch is that they have been told that they must have a doctor to be considered. They don’t have one, and no real prospects. Think of this story like a Canadian Maritime Doc Hollywood, the 1991 Michael J Fox film set in the US south. My problem with it is the focus on deception from the town’s people. It is meant to be comedic, showing them showing themselves to be cricket fans to the new doctor (which is relatively harmless) but later lying to the corporate investors looking to place the new business. There is lying to the bank to try and find funds for a payment to the corporation. All in all, I would like to see the town be the honest hardworking people that we know that they are, and somehow they convincing the corporation for a chance. I did like the way they addressed the romantic side of this film. There is, naturally, only one possible option for the good young doctor to have any romantic connection. She however has better ideas, and her own mind. So while I like the scenery in Newfoundland, and the fishing village is quaint and pretty, the movie itself is a pass.