The pros and cons of life during the mother of all film fests.
From the moment the first flashbulb pops at Roy Thomson Hall’s red carpet on Sept. 6 to the final credits of the last screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Sept. 16, there will be one incontrovertible fact about life in Toronto: the Toronto International Film Festival will own the city—the rest of us will just happen to be here.
For those in the throes of it, the festival experience continually shifts between exhilarating and exasperating. Nothing else in the city’s cultural life has anywhere near the same impact. But something so overwhelming is bound to generate a huge set of emotions and opinions, and there are as many reasons to love the festival as there are to regard it as a hostile occupying force. Here are five of each as we head into the fray once more.
It’s still about the movies. As central as star-spotting and party-going now are to the experience, TIFF Festival remains an invaluable showcase of world cinema that caters to a variety of moviegoers who rarely cross paths at other times of the year. Whether it’s the patrons who want to be first to see Hollywood’s fall wares while in the presence of their creators, those who seek out exports from family homelands, or anyone with an allegiance to a specific genre or category (horror, docs, etc.), they get it here and they get it fresh.
Of course, it’s about the stars, too. Yes, we get a lot of ’em. In fact, it’s a wonder that they don’t collide with each other more often, given how many we see posing for pics outside premieres, swanning in and out of the Ritz-Carlton, and enjoying themselves in roped-off zones in our swankiest clubs and restaurants. Meanwhile, we commoners do what we can to bask in their reflected glory. Why? Because it’s warm there.
Famous filmmakers wanna know what you think. Sure, those post-screening Q&As are sometimes rife with egregious ego-stroking from the A-list guests, as well as audience members who love the sound of their own voices. But there’s always the possibility that artists and spectators will make the kind of bona-fide connection that yields insights for everyone involved.
Festivalgoers are friendly. When else do Torontonians talk to strangers standing next to them in lineups? What’s more, it feels like a natural thing to do. Even if you realize that your fellow rush-line punter has terrible taste, it’s nice to know you both share the same spirit of film enthusiasm.
Things usually go right. For all the kvetching caused by screenings that start late or subtitles that don’t start at all, the festival is positively Swiss when it comes to logistics. With movies simultaneously playing on as many as 20 different screens, it can seem less like a film festival than a plate-spinning act. And keep in mind that most films come in digital formats now, which has actually made things more complicated.
Tickets seem hard to get even when they aren’t. As the festival has gotten more popular, the ticketing system has grown so complex that trying to figure out the array of ticket books, packages, and passes is a full-time job. The latest round of grumbling has to do with changes to the daytime ticket packages that have always been dear to hardcore fest-goers. How long before the last of the longtime loyalists are fed up for good?
Hollywood rules the roost. From the streets and sidewalks packed with onlookers to the traffic snarl of luxury SUVs, those celebs leave a mighty big footprint when they’re in town. Of course, we bend over backwards to accommodate them but there’s not a lot of time, energy, or oxygen left for any visitor who’s not an A-lister. Homegrown talents can also lose out.
King ain’t king. Now that the festival’s southward shift is complete, it’s hard not to feel nostalgic for its former home in Yorkville. For one thing, it was easier for the fest to make its presence felt in those relatively low-rise environs than it has amid the towers and Mirvish theatres—already buzzing with sports fans and tourists—in the Lightbox’s patch of King Street.
Battle of the VIPs. The festival is a massive convention and market for the film biz, which, if we learned anything from The Player, is a hotbed of cheats, scoundrels, frauds, and scumbags. In other words, the city fills up with folks desperate to feel more important than the next VIP.
We can’t be in two (or 10) places at once. It’s integral to the festival experience to feel like you’re always missing something. It could be a movie that might change your life or a party with a superlative selection of crudités—either way, you missed your chance because you were somewhere else. Then again, it’s probably good for the soul to be reminded that the festival will never be ours to master. Instead, it makes mincemeat of us all.