Not a good start to the week. Jonathan Ross on Film 2004 called Trauma the worst film he'd seen all year. Stephen Daldry called to say that he'd said that about The Hours too, which made me feel better. There is some solidarity amongst British directors after all, bound together at least in the knowledge of how difficult it is to make a film. Whereas the British press seem united only in one thing: to slag off British directors. If you don't believe me, see the reviews afforded myself, Michael Winterbottom and Ken Loach this week.
"WHATEVER ANYBODY TELLS YOU: CRITICISM HURTS"
I don't know whether it's a good thing to be out here at the Toronto Festival screening Trauma while it opens in cinemas in the UK. I feel strangely dislocated, even though I know that there is little I can do for the film on the week of its release. Except obsess about the reviews and worry about attendances. OK, there is something potentially exciting about paying to go and see your film at your local cinema on the night that it opens, but that excitement can soon turn to depression if there is hardly anybody else in the auditorium. And if the reviews are bad, it can all get pretty demoralising. Whatever anybody tells you: criticism hurts. The whole process can throw flattery and insult at you in equal measure; force you to question your vanity and challenge your self-belief.
The Toronto Festival experience certainly errs on the side of flattery. Visiting filmmakers are welcomed here with open arms and the films are shown in huge theatres which are invariably sold out. Best of all, the crowds are made up almost totally of Torontonians, ordinary people with a massive hunger and enthusiasm for the films. So there is an element of schizophrenia induced on Friday - the day of the Toronto screening as well as the UK release - as I try to absorb the bad reviews Trauma receives back home (oh yes, there are some stinkers!) while simultaneously facing enthusiastic journalists and TV interviewers here in Canada. I tell myself that I must adopt an outwardly positive attitude, however vulnerable I am feeling, and talking to these people who have come from as far as Russia and Australia to interview me has a certain therapeutic effect. I imagine a Trauma poster hanging beneath a chandelier in a Moscow underground station, with the title in Russian script. This cheers me up and almost makes me forget about the Siberia that I have been sent to by most of the British press.
As the interviews proceed however, I become aware that my family and friends back home are dutifully going out to see Trauma at their local cinemas. I imagine them sitting there watching it. Then I make a few calls to discover that the screenings have not been very well attended. Then I decide not to punish myself any further. My technique for this is a simple one. I remind myself that it is far more heroic to be unpopular than popular. I mean, who would I rather be: Johnny Rotten or Barry Manilow? Well neither actually (especially after I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!). But surely it's more exciting to be alternative than mainstream? I remind myself that Luis Buñuel spent years in exile in Mexico; that Michael Powell's Peeping Tom was condemned to the gutter on its release; and that Terrence Malick's Badlands had the worst test results ever. Then I have a drink and propose a toast to Jonathan Ross. It seems to work.
"I WANT TO HAVE YOUR BABY!"
Going to dinner with a bunch of friends and survivors from the British film industry only makes things better. The most important thing, above all others probably, is never to lose your sense of humour, and luckily for me Colin Firth has arrived in town with his intact (I thought actors were meant to be the neurotic ones, not directors!?). His presence at the screening, yet again, makes a difference. If you can produce a star or two from your movie, the audiences are really on your side and the red carpet treatment we receive on arrival at The Ryerson Theatre is overwhelming. Flash bulbs and TV cameras, screaming fans. "I want to have your baby!" shouts one during one of Colin's interviews. It's great fun. And after all the introductions and applause, the lights go down and there's silence. Showing your film to an attentive full house of over a thousand people is really quite thrilling. You can feel the collective heat of the crowd in the darkness. It transforms the cinema experience, which on a rainy afternoon in an empty auditorium can seem like a very solitary and internal one, into something more communal and theatrical. It's probably how cinema felt in earlier, less critical times. I am swept up in the moment and I'm glad that I came.
So, with the screening over I find myself basking in reflected glory rather than wallowing in self-pity. And there's a party too! See what I mean about schizophrenia? It's certainly been a week of mood swings. And of course there's plenty left to worry about: the weekend press for a start, and the opening weekend's figures... but luckily, by Saturday morning, I have other things on my mind. Like my hangover. And my next film, Snow Cake (see Diary No. 1).
We have already met with Sigourney Weaver in Toronto, who also has a film in the festival (Imaginary Heroes). She has told the local press that Snow Cake will be her next project and she tells us that she has spent time over the summer with some autistic adults to try and get a feel for her character in the film (a high-functioning autistic woman called Linda). This really impresses us - her commitment is a real inspiration and we get to work. Andrew Eaton and Gina Carter - the two producers from Revolution Films - have come over to forge relationships with Canadian producers and financiers and I am sent off on a recce, or a "scout" as they say over here, to look for locations. We want to shoot the film here in January, in the snow. It's hard to imagine that right now as Anthony, the locations finder, drives me three hours north of Toronto in bright sunshine. But as the September sun sets over the vast golden cornfields and Miles Davies blows his horn on the car radio, I can't help but feel a certain optimism. Hopefully another journey has just begun. Or maybe it's just another mood swing?