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    Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Toronto – The Music news

    The global film festival circuit went through highs and lows, trials and tribulations, as well as changes in 2023.

    The Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes impacted some of the big events of the year, Berlin and Tokyo rang in new eras, Toronto shone the spotlight on local talent, and Karlovy Vary proved why it is Central Europe’s biggest film party of the summer. Here’s The Music news highlights of the 2023 film festival season.

    Berlin puts the spotlight on Ukraine and Iran – and sows the seeds for major changes.

    The Berlin film festival is one of the first big international stops of the film festival circuit, and it has long enjoyed getting political. This year was no different as the Berlinale unspooled a program full of serious movies, led by various political dramas and documentaries, and took a stance, banning companies, journalists and film delegations with direct ties to the Iranian or Russian governments from attending. 

    The first year of the war in Ukraine was also a featured topic across the Berlinale lineup, thanks to the likes of Sean Penn and Aaron Kaufmann’s doc Superpower, featuring several interviews with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky shot just before and after Russia’s invasion, as well as such Ukraine docs as Roman Liubyi’s Iron Butterflies, Vitaly Mansky and Yevhen Titarenko’s Eastern Front, Alisa Kovalenko’s We Will Not Fade Away, and Piotr Pawlus and Tomasz Wolski’s In Ukraine. In addition, Tonia Noyabrova’s Do You Love Me provided a dramatic take on the war in Ukraine.

    In addition, several docs in Berlin shone a spotlight on anti-government protests and political unrest in Iran, including Mehran Tamadon’s My Worst Enemy and Sreemoyee Singh’s And, Towards Happy Alleys.

    The Berlin fest’s future itself then came under a microscope when co-heads Mariëtte Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian decided to step down after the 2024 edition of the festival in February. They have been in charge as the first dual heads of the Berlinale since 2019.

    Just before Christmas, Tricia Tuttle, a former director of the BFI London Film Festival, was named the new Berlinale boss who will be in charge of the 2025 edition. 

    Oscar buzz and Harrison Ford honor in Cannes.

    Cannes once again lived up to its reputation as a stage to premiere films that go into awards and Oscar season with much buzz.

    Among the Cannes 2023 titles that did so were the likes of competition entries The Zone of Interest, directed by Jonathan Glazer and starring Christian Friedel and Sandra Huller as Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife Hedwig, which won the Grand Prix, and Justine Triet‘s Anatomy of a Fall about a woman (also played by Huller) trying to prove her innocence after her husband’s murder, which won the Palme d’Or. Plus, Martin Scorsese brought Killers of the Flower Moon, his film about murders in the Osage Nation during the 1920s starring his two muses Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, plus Brendan Fraser and Lily Gladstone, to the Croisette in an out-of-competition slot.

    But Cannes also served up some nostalgia. Harrison Ford received an honorary Palme d’Or and helped launch Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny on the Croisette. The Hollywood veteran was visibly moved as he was greeted with a standing ovation. “They say when you’re about to die, you see your life flash before your eyes, and I just saw my life flash before my eyes,” he said after a reel filled with a lifetime of performances in popular movies played.

    Ford also told THR in Cannes that he felt “flattered and uncommonly reflective” after the career tribute and discussed his career, thoughts on TV and being busier than ever with Shrinking, the fifth Indiana Jones and 1923.

    Russell Crowe, Alicia Vikander, Morcheeba and, yes, ice skaters bring the party to Karlovy Vary.

    The annual film festival in the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary has a reputation for being the biggest cinema celebration and party of the Central European summer.

    So it should have come as no surprise that the 2023 edition kicked off with an opening-night bang, including honorary awards for Alicia Vikander and Russell Crowe, an on-stage performance by ice skaters and musical performances by Morcheeba and Crowe plus band.

    Scottish star Ewan McGregor and jury member Patricia Clarkson added further star power, with an event to honor McGregor turning into a big love fest.

    And Johnny Depp also returned to Karlovy Vary, kind of. The opening night of the 57th edition of the fest featured the much-anticipated premiere of its annual trailer starring the Pirates of the Caribbean actor. It adds to the long-running Karlovy Vary tradition of featuring stars in trailers, which explore what artists who have received the fest’s Crystal Globe lifetime honor actually do with their statues. Among past trailer stars have been the likes of Mel Gibson, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Andy Garcia, Jude Law, Danny DeVito, Miloš Forman and Casey Affleck.

    A nearly starless Venice doubles down on awards season contenders and scandal.

    With the Hollywood strikes putting many planned celebrity appearances on ice, Adam Driver injected much-needed star power into the 80th edition of the Venice film festival, bringing Ferrari to the Lido, in which he plays legendary Italian car maker Enzo Ferrari.

    Jessica Chastain also amped up the celebrity factor in Venice but shared that she wanted to show support for SAG-AFTRA even though she was “nervous” about her appearance. So, she wore a T-shirt saying “SAG-AFTRA on strike” to the Venice press conference for the film Memory.

    Venice jury president Damien Chazelle and other filmmakers also showed solidarity, sporting WGA T-shirts to the opening press conference.

    The winners of the top Venice awards, meanwhile, once again made a splash heading into awards season, led by Golden Lion winner Poor Things, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Among the other Venice 2023 honorees that have garnered acclaim are the likes of Grand Jury Prize winner Evil Does Not Exist by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone, who got the best director honor for Io Capitano, as well as Special Jury Prize honoree Agnieszka Holland who screened her Green Border on the Lido.

    Venice 2023 also courted some controversy with its decision to screen new films from Roman Polanski, Woody Allen and Luc Besson. But veterans weren’t too surprised given that festival director Alberto Barbera has embraced, or ignored, scandal in the past.

    Toronto provides a stage for Spike Lee, Pedro Almodovar and local creatives.

    The Hollywood labor disputes may have left the Toronto Film Festival’s 2023 edition short of Hollywood on-screen talent, but big-name filmmakers still made the journey.

    Proud New Yorker Spike Lee shared his thoughts during a keynote address, including reflections on the 22nd anniversary of Sept. 11. The night before, he had received the Ebert Director Award at the TIFF Tribute Awards.

    Celebrated Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar was also the toast of Toronto 2023, bringing Strange Way of Life, a short Western starring Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal, to town for its North American premiere and receiving the Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media at the TIFF Tribute Awards. Plus, in an interview with THR, he discussed his fondness for Toronto, working in the short-film format, why he passed on Brokeback Mountain and how is “not a big fan of superhero movies.”

    With SAG-AFTRA members barred from promoting studio or streamer projects in Toronto also allowed Canadian talent to fill the vacuum on red carpets, panels and parties. “It’s a bittersweet opportunity,” said Toronto filmmaker M.H. Murray whose debut feature, I Don’t Know Who You Are, had its world premiere at Toronto.

    Tokyo looks for global prominence.

    The Tokyo film festival focused its 36th edition on taking a bigger step towards increasing its profile around the world as veteran Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda again assisted it by programming and hosting the Asia Lounge talk series.

    The 2023 event’s gala program was packed with such crowdpleasers as Yorgos Lanthimos’ Venice winner Poor Things, Cannes best director winner Tran Anh Hung’s The Taste of Things, Taika Waititi’s soccer comedy Next Goal Wins, Chinese blockbusters Full River Red and The Movie Emperor, and Japanese kaiju flick Godzilla Minus One, which closed the fest.

    Tokyo opened with a gala screening of acclaimed German auteur Wim Wenders’ Tokyo-set drama Perfect Days, which was selected by Japan as its official entry to the Oscars for the best international film race. Perfect Days‘ star, local screen legend Koji Yakusho, won Cannes’ best actor award for his performance in the film. Wenders also served as the head of Tokyo’s main competition jury. And Chinese filmmaking icon Zhang Yimou received the Tokyo festival’s lifetime achievement award. 

    Also in Tokyo, leading filmmakers from China, Germany, Japan and the U.S. spoke of their admiration for Yasujiro Ozu as part of celebrations for the 120th anniversary of the legendary Japanese director’s birth. Wenders introduced the screening of a 4K digitally restored version of the 1959 comedy Good Morning, describing Ozu as “the master,” before Jia Zhangke, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Kelly Reichardt shared their appreciation of Ozu.

    Tokyo Story is a form of road movie. But whereas in a U.S. film the story would be in terms of an existential crisis where you leave and find yourself, and it’s your family holding you down, in Ozu, the search is here. You are where you’re supposed to be,” Reichardt said at the event. “The idea of ‘I’m happy as I am’ that is expressed in by characters in Ozu films is such an un-American thought. Dissatisfaction is so central to U.S. film.”

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