Taika Waititi has been the talk of the Toronto International Film Festival for his film Jojo Rabbit – a passion project he not only acted in, but adapted the screenplay and directed.
It’s been a controversial project. The studio, Fox Searchlight - a subsidiary of Disney - has staged a careful, slow release plan and is prepared for harsh criticism. Disney executives are said to have been nervous, and have held executive-level meetings in recent months over potential fallout.
Fans and critics at the premier showed their love with a two minute standing ovation. But the reviews have been mixed – it’s divided Toronto right down the middle.
How did a satire about Nazi Germany – where Hitler was played as a whimsical imaginary friend by a Māori Jew – get over the line?
Mediaworks’ entertainment editor Kate Rodger is in Toronto for the festival. She’s in the middle of a Taika love-fest, where the crowds have been chanting his name, asking for selfies and autographs. She was taking a photo of a poster advertising his film when he drove by and shouted out to her from his car.
Rodger says the festival is huge – a massive springboard into the North American market.
“It is huge and it dominates the whole city because it’s a public festival as well as a trade festival,” she says.
“Jojo Rabbit came into this festival as one of the most talked about films … it was the most sought after ticket.”
Waititi is the director being honoured at the festival this year, and he’s being called a rock star.
Ironically it was Thor Ragnarok, a huge Marvel film which he directed and played a very kiwi rock monster, that opened all the doors.
“When you do that you crack open this fandom – it’s huge.”
Jojo Rabbit was been on the boil long before Thor came out, but Thor “opened the wallets”, she says. Waititi in this project has adapted a book given to him by his mother, and says this film is pretty much a love letter to his own mother and to solo mums everywhere.
Waititi has a great way of connecting with his fans. Rodger says he’s naturally hilarious, but uses comedy as a gateway to really crack into the humanity and the heart of something.
But here “he’s pretty much broken the lid on subject matter that is going to be controversial in the sense that he’s decided to turn Hitler into a comedy. It’s not something that hasn’t been done before … but it’s very Taika, because he takes his on his journey where he’s playing this imaginary friend of a 10 year old boy.”
Rodger says he manages to “mine that story for such extraordinary emotional nourishment – it’s quite frightening.”
She expands on his work in today’s podcast – and tells Sharon Brettkelly why Waititi makes her cry.