Kingsman/TIFF’s next act

By Amee Lê

This past weekend, the 2nd installment of Kingsman hit theatres in Canada. A big fan of the first one, I was curious to find out what the critics had to say just before I saw the film. Either way, I had accepted that this would be no Godfather II, and like most sequels, it would struggle to keep up the uniqueness of its predecessor, or to find new ideas to stand on its own. The critics did not appear to love it, which made sense. I was surprised, however, to see them critique the film’s politics, something about its right wing support and its cynicism with regard to world politicians. As a woman of colour, I definitely can’t see Kingsman as anything more than a white boy’s fantasy, you know, super spies and Swedish princesses who are open to anal sex. Like seriously, LOL, why would anyone want to take this film more seriously than that?!

What I loved about the first one was Matthew Vaughan’s superb synthesis of visuals and sounds. I can see he tried to replicate this in the second one. But no way the Take Me Home, Country Roads climax, despite the touching performance from Mark Strong, was anywhere near the Pomp and Circumstance head explosion climax of the first film. It had neither the tight beat, nor the poetic irony. Not to mention the new villain’s sidekick and his ultimate fight scene with Eggsy were far inferior to Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle and her kick-ass moves set to KC & The Sunshine Band’s super funky and disco-y Give It Up. It was absolute pleasure for my eyes and ears. So those critics who chose to focus on the second film’s politics, and not style, sorely missed the point of these films.

Speaking of pulp fictions that are all style, and almost no substance, the recent “exposé” of internal struggles at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) by the Globe and Mail definitely came to mind. Coming out on the last day of the festival, the article titled TIFF’s next act was super entertaining with so many plot twists & insiders’ info that I read the entire 6300-word article in one sitting. Like Kingsman, TIFF’s next act was more concerned about the exploitative bits designed to satisfy the sensation-craved minds. I loved it. In this age of information bites, it still captured my attention way more than the posts on my Instagram feed. Unlike Kingsman‘s critics, I wouldn’t judge the article’s political acuity. However, I want to use it as a pretext to talk about Canada’s lack of public funding of the arts and its infrastructure.

The root cause of TIFF’s problems is the same as of many other arts organizations’ in Toronto: the working conditions that breed self-exploitation from art professionals, the confused identity between corporate sexiness and artistic independence, senior management that is probably more cliquey than business-savvy. This is all nothing new. So, should we talk about the options TIFF has in the context of the Canadian art scene? Is this fair to critique TIFF’s sponsor-friendly programming, membership models that are based more and more on privilege and access (e.g. TIFF Noir), or ticket prices that are less and less accessible? Sure. It’s also fair however to point out that its public funding only accounted for 25% of its revenues in 2008, and decreasing to a little under 12% in 2016 (i.e. almost CAN$ 5 million out of 40.5-million total revenues). Berlinale, its counterpart from Berlin, for example, received 30% (i.e. €7.2 million out of 24-million total) of its funding from the government in 2017. French Cinematheque, perhaps TIFF’s Cinematheque’s equivalent of France, received almost €20 million of its 25-million total revenue, i.e. a whopping 80%.

So no wonder TIFF “sucks” and its employees are leaving when their penchant for self-exploitation is maxed out. But again, TIFF is not alone. So until the provincial government gets rid of its loan (i.e. be the pioneer in bailing out cultural institutions instead of banks) and their public funding goes back up to at least 25%, then we can talk about how TIFF needs to transform itself?