Music underpins eclectic array of Toronto film festival features

TORONTO (Reuters) - From dramas about mentors and their apprentices, to imaginative musicals, biopics, and documentaries, music underpinned an eclectic swathe of movies appearing at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

These ranged from high profile galas like Francois Girard's'Boychoir' and the Canadian premiere of Sundance favourite'Whiplash' to Ethan Hawke's intimate and well received study of a former concert pianist.

Girard, who also made 'Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould' and 'The Red Violin', said he does not want to be pigeonholed as a director of music-related projects, but that once again a story centred around this theme spoke to him.

"Music is important to all film makers. It's a very important part of the film vocabulary and we all cherish the tool," Girard said. "I trust music more than the words when it comes to depicting emotions."

Girard's 'Boychoir' and director Damien Chazelle's semi-autobiographical 'Whiplash' both portray students striving for greatness under genius teachers - one simply demanding and one monstrously abusive.

In 'Whiplash', which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, Chazelle uses drumming as a visual and tension-building tool to drive the film to its energetic climax.

In 'Boychoir' the focus is on voice, and the efforts of a traditionalist choirmaster played by Dustin Hoffman to bring harmony to the life of an angry, orphaned 11-year-old attending an exclusive boarding school.

The heartbreak of broken dreams form the basis of two musicals which had their world premieres at 11-day festival, which ends on Sunday: Richard LaGravenese's 'The Last Five Years' and Jeffrey St. Jules' debut feature, 'Bang Bang Baby'. 'The Last Five Years' is a sung-through musical chronicling the failed relationship between a struggling actress and her successful author husband, while 'Bang Bang Baby' is a surreal take on the aspirations of a small town girl in the 1960s.

LaGravenese told audience members at a screening of the film - based on Jason Robert Brown's off-Broadway production - that having the cast sing live was a crucial component.

"It's the only way you can do it, because it's so emotional, it's so intimate," he said.

Other music-related projects making their world debuts in Toronto included 'Love and Mercy' - a biography of Beach Boy Brian Wilson covering his creative peak in the 1960s and painful recovery from mental illness and addiction - and 'Roger Waters: The Wall.'

The latter documents the monumental and pyrotechnic three-year concert series launched by the Pink Floyd co-founder. By contrast, in Hawke's documentary 'Seymour: An Introduction', the titular pianist, Seymour Bernstein, shares valuable life lessons on the role of music.

"We all know passion, joy, sadness, longing. We all know those emotional conditions. Music encapsulates all of human emotion, in a way, more succinctly even than words do,"Bernstein said. "It affords the performer a means of communicating in a way that you can't communicate in any other form."

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