New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi’s latest comedy ‘Next Goal Wins’ is the first film selected for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. For the first time, the organizers have announced the name of a film during the selection process for the festival, which will be held from September 7 to 17, 2023. The complete list of films will be released in the second week of August.
Taika Waititi co-wrote the screenplay for this biographical sports comedy-drama with Iain Morris. The film is based on a 2014 British documentary of the same name by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison. Starring Michael Fassbender in the lead role as Thomas Rongen, the underdog Dutch-American coach, the film follows Rogen’s effort to lead the weakest football team in the world, the American Samoa national football team, to transform the perennial losers into a FIFA World Cup-qualifying squad. After a 38-match losing streak, the team qualifies for the 2014 World Cup by defeating Tonka 2–1 in November 2011. The film also has Elisabeth Moss, Oscar Kightley, David Fain and Kaimana in the lineup of actors. As usual, the director too plays a role in this film.
”It is a great pleasure to welcome Taika, a former award winner, to this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, especially with his new film, a soccer comedy”, said Cameron Bailey, artistic director and CEO of the festival, at a press conference the other day.
Taika Waititi uses the weapons of irony to weave through life’s most difficult dilemmas and obstacles. He picks up on many things for his films that we miss in our daily lives. Unseen skeletons are seen dragged out of the corridors of power.
Taika Waititi’s previous film Jojo Rabbit won the 2019 TIFF’s top audience award and an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay that year. Jojo Rabbit is a film adaptation of the 2004 novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, set in the context of World War II. Taika, who wrote the screenplay, has also played the role of the fictional character in the film- Hitler. Johannes Betzler (Jojo), a member of the Jung Volk, the Nazi’s child force, struggles with the harsh training of anti-Semitism when he discovers Elsa, a Jewish girl who has been secretly kept at home by his mother. JoJo’s story as a ten-year-old boy who has to deal with these two contradictions is interspersed with his role model, Hitler, who appears and interacts with him frequently. Jojo and his mother are getting dead-locked in a precarious situation as the secret life of Elsa would lead to the execution of all three by the authorities. Jojo fails many of the brutal training camp tests.
In Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi has developed a method in which drama is predominant in the events of the novel, but satire is equally maintained in film-making. Perhaps, Jojo Rabbit was a film with its own existence, which can be put together with films like THE GREAT DICTATOR, TO BE OR NOT TO BE, THE PRODUCERS, HOPE AND GLORY, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, which told the stories of Nazi cruelties. Taika’s unique style of expression has made it a new-age movie with Hitler as a laughingstock in the new era of political correctness. Hitler was the epitome of arbitrary judgments without analysis of right and wrong. Taika created a novelty in the history of cinema by lighting it with the right ingredients of comedy through that film. Roman Griffin Davis’ child actor’s innocence and grace stole the hearts of the audience. Scarlett Johansson as the mother and Thomasine Harcourt Mackenzie as Elsa did their jobs inimitably. Famous actors Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant and Rebel Wilson were in other important roles in Jojo Rabbit.
Taika Waititi is a New Zealand filmmaker of Jewish-Maori heritage. Before becoming a filmmaker, he was a writer. His mother, who was a teacher, inspired him to write. She was the first to read all his writings. His father was a Maori who was skilled in sculpture and painting. It is the Russian-Jewish mother who first reads Leunens’ novel and narrates the story to Taika. When Taika gives it a film adaptation, he leaps into the sky of neo-classical tradition, crossing the theatrical boundaries of the novel. He spent the lion’s share of his twenties in Germany.
After seeing the film, Christine Luenens said: If my novel is a conventional panel painting, Taika Waititi’s is a Picasso!
”Adolf Hitler’s brain matches that of his ten-year-old friend in the movie. On the bank of the Vltava River in Prague in the summer of 2018, the Hitler of the new world, wearing a khaki suit with a swastika and wearing blue contact lenses, staring at the crew on the other side, was ridiculous to me. As a Polynesian, I hesitated, but the only courage I had was the Fox Searchlight Pictures production company (formerly 20th Century-Fox), which insisted that I become Hitler of the movie. Those were the moments where I felt like Hitler in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator!”, said Taika.
His debut was a short film called Two Cars, One Night. It also received an Oscar highlight as the Best Live Action Short Film of the year 2004. The film, which is less than 12 minutes long, is based on some of his childhood memories. The only characters in it were two boys and a girl waiting for their parents in two cars outside a liquor store.
Taika has acted in more than twenty films and a few television serials and written and directed more than ten films. Children are the lead characters in many of Taika’s films and he claims Boy as his favorite movie. He loves children so much and is confident that they can lead his films to success.
The Maori people of New Zealand faced discrimination of racism in their life. Taika also experienced such bad patches on the basis of color from a young age. Taika firmly believes that those differentiations gave him the ability to resist political injustices and use comedy as a weapon through the medium of film.
TIFF’s Roger Ebert Director Award went to Taika Waititi in 2019. His notable past films include Eagle vs Shark (2007), Boy (2010), What We Do in the Shadows (2014), Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017).
Taika Waititi was chosen as the best citizen of New Zealand in 2017.
Next Goal Wins will have its global premiere at the 2023 Toronto Film Festival and be released commercially by Searchlight Pictures on November 17, 2023.
Suresh Nellikode is a film critic