McQueen, Cuaron, Fiennes, Soderbergh -- directors talk directing at Toronto fete

Felicity Jones in "The Invisible Woman."

Sunday: lots of interviews and lots of running around from one posh, palatial hotel to another (most of them fronted by throngs of barricaded fans, hoping to see the stars pull up in black Cadillac Escalades). 

Talked first with Steve McQueen about 12 Years a Slave, about Henry Louis Gates' powerful essay on the film (Gates was a consultant), about the differences between black and white relations in the U.S. and the U.K, about discovering the book by Solomon Northup -- the free black man's account of his abduction and nightmarish decade-plus as a plantation slave. "As The Diary of Anne Frank is must reading in schools, so should 12 Years a Slave," McQueen says. "Especially in America." McQueen, London-born, lives in Amsterdam now; his family originated from Grenada.

Alfonso Cuaron spent four-and-a-half years making what he and his screenwriting collaborator, and son, Jonas Cuaron, envisioned as a very simple story about two astronauts in orbit around Earth. But it turns out that shooting actors almost entirely in simulated weightlessness, bobbing and floating, wheeling and spinning, while they deliver lines and try to emote, is no simple thing. "The technology wasn't there -- we had to develop new ways of shooting, and prototypes -- and the problem with prototypes is that they are prototypes. Sometimes they don't work." Never mind: Gravity, with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, works beyond reason. It is THE movie everyone's buzzing about, and not just because Clooney's astronaut comes across a little like Buzz Lightyear. 

Ralph Fiennes does double-duty on The Invisible Woman: he directs this melancholy tale of Charles Dickens and the mistress he kept secret from the world, pretty much abandoning his wife and family for the young actress Nelly Ternan. And Fiennes stars as Dickens, the seriously prolific scriber and a serious thespian, too, mounting plays and performing in them, and doing reading tours that turned into one-man shows. Fiennes, wearing a Paris street cleaner's blue jacket, happily chatted about Dickens, his cruelty and genius, and about casting Felicity Jones as young Nelly. Jones (Like Crazy, Hysteria) was in the adjacent room, alone, writing in a notebook when it was time for her interview. Fiennes had just compared her to Jessica Chastain, who he worked with in his directing debut, Coriolanus. Something about working from the "inside out," full of inner confidence and quiet. Fiennes confirmed he's contracted to do Bond 24. Jones confirmed she's in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but couldn't talk about who she plays, and what's going on. Look for her opposite Guy Pearce in Breathe In, as a different kind of homewrecker than the one she plays in The Invisible Woman, coming next year. 

Over at the gilded, glamorous Elgin Theater, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra was in the pit, providing live accompaniment for Godfrey Reggio's black-and-white, silent, non-narrative Zen epic, Visitors. Like the filmmaker's Koyaanisqatsi, released 30 years ago, the score for Visitors is by Philip Glass. Both Reggio and Glass came onstage after the film, along with producer Jon Kane and supposedly retired director Steven Soderbergh -- the presenter of Visitors -- to lob questions at one another. Reggio, tall and bearded, proved self-deprecating and droll. The nature of man's relationship with Earth, and the nature of the experience of watching a film, and how we relate to it, were up for discussion. The film, shot in New York, New Jersey, New Orleans and "over the moon," stars Triska, a lowland gorilla from the Bronx Zoo, and the faces, hands and bodies of a modest multitude of people.

In the elevator with Paul Dano, who has both 12 Years a Slave and Prisoners at TIFF this year. He also has a cane -- he tore his ACL playing basketball. A little later in another elevator with Dano's Prisoners colleague, Terrence Howard.

In the ScotiaBank Theater seeing Philomena, the surprisingly moving (and funny, and barbed) Stephen Frears film, based on a true story of a British journalist (Steve Coogan, who cowrote the screenplay) and a spirited retired nurse from Ireland (Judi Dench) on the hunt for her son -- whom she birthed out of wedlock and who was then sold off to adoptive parents by the nuns in an abbey where Philomena was forced to live and work for years, paying pennance for her "sins."