MIFF Director on Juan of the Dead Premiere at Toronto International Film Festival
The 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival continued all weekend long with three more popcorn-packed days. After weeks of steadily building anticipation, director Cameron Crowe world premiered Pearl Jam Twenty on Saturday afternoon at the Princess of Wales Theater, followed by a full-blown concert by Pearl Jam on Sunday night at the Air Canada Center.
Even non-fans of the great rock band came away moved by the film, especially a profound scene of never-before-seen footage of Eddie Vedder slow-dancing with Kurt Cobain backstage at the 1992 VMAs, while Eric Clapton was on stage performing "Tears of Heaven."
Prior to Saturday's screening, Vedder had himself never seen the
footage, although he vividly remembers the moment, only about 18 months
before Cobain's suicide. (MIFF will co-present Pearl Jam Twenty
in Miami next week as part of a nation-wide series of screenings the
band has organized, one-night-only on September 20.)
While many of a certain age claimed "PJ20" as THE film experience of
TIFF so far, Film Fiend's personal preference for most unique moment of
this year's sprocket opera was the late night Saturday world premiere of
the first-ever Cuban zombie comedy, Juan of the Dead (Juan de los
Muertos). The cheesy, good-natured hilarity of this movie is a
Mariel-boatload of fun.
The premise is that in Castro's Cuba, the entire population is turning
into zombies. The joke is, who can tell the difference? The zombie
mamacitos still shuffle along at their same dragging pace.
opens with Juan (Alexis Días de Villegas) and his good friend Lazaro
fishing from their tire-tube raft one lazy afternoon in the harbor just
off from El Morro. Lazaro asks Juan if he's ever tempted to just go for
it and paddle to Miami, an idea that Juan readily dismisses. "In
Miami," he says. "I'd have to work."
The zombie revolution is as fast and furious as the revolution of 50
years ago, and soon the "normals" are reduced to a ragtag crew that
includes Juan, Lazaro, "California" (a surfer cutie), "China", a
transvestite with a mean slingshot, and her massive black bodybuilder
boyfriend, "8th Wonder", who faints at the mere hint of blood.
particular island economic ingenuity, Juan and friends quickly set up a
business of killing zombies for family members who are getting harassed
by their former loved ones.
While loaded with giddy action sequences and dozens of zingy one-liners, Juan of the Dead frequently steers into gently bittersweet political
commentary. The government dismisses the zombies as "dissidents" paid
for by U.S. interests.
At the Q&A session after the
film, director Alejandro Brugués revealed that he based the character of
Juan on his real-life brother, also named Juan, who is now living in
Miami. "There is a melancholy to Cubans who have lived in Cuban up to a
certain time," said Brugués. For all the tongue-in-cheek fun of the
movie, the ending has a lovely beauty that will leave a lump in many a
A lump in the throat was something Film Fiend and most other TIFFgoers
also throughout the day felt yesterday, on September 11th. TIFF, with
the consent of all its sponsors, withdrew all of the usual pre-film
sponsor trailers and instead played a four-minute documentary where
long-time Festival participants remembered 9/11's 10th anniversary, when
TIFF stopped for one full day, before starting up again in defiance on
September 12, 2001. Art and life must defy terror, was the short's
simple but powerful message. As they must.
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