I write this as I’m relaxing in the Toronto Island airport lounge, about to board a plane back to Nova Scotia.
The Toronto International Film Festival is a blast and a bit of a monster, and while I loved being here I also feel like I’ve been hanging on to the festival’s vast, scaly hide as I’m dragged along from screening to press conference to event to cocktail hour. I had hoped for more interviews with filmmakers than I got, but many of my email requests just went out into the void. Granted, I also received invites to speak to various people whose films I hadn’t seen so I can hardly complain.
The past week is a bit of a blur having watched 21 films in eight days, but it was fun to be immersed. I learned a lot. Lemme share just a few observations and hard-earned nuggets of advice should you do what I did.
- Always pack a snack and water.
More than once I got stuck at a screening that ended later than scheduled, something due to a press conference or other uncontrollable x-factor, and that had me rushing to the next screening without time to go source a meal, which inevitably ended up with me stuffing my face with late-hour fast food. Also, and a nod to Norm Wilner, formerly of Now Magazine and now a programmer at TIFF, for this suggestion: gum. It’ll keep you paying attention in slow moving or deadly dull features, the kind you’d otherwise fall asleep in.
2. Your favourite movie is unlikely to be the one you think it will be.
I mean, there were very few outright stinkers, but of the films I watched this year the huge majority were good-to-very good, with a few outright triumphs. The tops (IMHO) were: One Fine Morning, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Catherine Called Birdy, Triangle of Sadness, and Living. Plenty of other movies I wish I’d seen, including Aftersun, The Menu, and The Woman King, but recognizing that latter title was about to be released in cinemas I figured I’d give it a pass at the festival.
3. The vibe at Public Screenings is entirely different than the Press and Industry screenings.
Public screenings are always more of a party atmosphere, especially if any of the talent from the film is there to participate in a Q&A afterward. Surprisingly, I noticed more assholes looking at their phones with the light turned way up in P&I screenings than I did with the public screenings — you’d think the industry folks would have more respect. The P&I screenings are essential for maximizing your time at festivals, and as a press pass holder I could go see as many of them as I wanted. I was also granted tickets to 20 of the Public Screenings, more than I could fit into my schedule. Some were already sold out… so I had to choose carefully. If I do this again I might try to get into more of the first public screenings of a film, to pick up that initial energy and excitement.
4. The festival runs over 10 days, but the first four are the big-time.
Last Monday morning felt so weird, with King Street West — which had been entirely blocked off between University and Peter with events and stages and Bombay Sapphire stalls from Thursday to Sunday — opening again and many of the hoardings taken down. It’s like the circus had left town. The packed-house screenings continue, but many of the filmmakers and talent fly out by Sunday night.
5. Not all screening rooms are made equal.
I’m always dubious when a space made for performance is transformed into a screening room, but full marks to the Princess Of Wales staff and technicians for making it feel entirely comfortable, with great sound and vision for all the movies I saw there — including Empire of Light (which was interrupted mid-movie by an amber alert on people’s phones in the audience, and it still worked).
However, The Royal Alexandra Theatre, a few doors down the street from the POW, is another matter altogether. There the seats in the Dress Circle (where I sat for two films) are as cramped and uncomfortable as an Air Canada cattle-car class over two hours, and if you’re off to the left or right, the screen looks small and askew.
(I didn’t see anything at the Roy Thompson Hall, so can’t comment on it. The TIFF Lightbox and Scotiabank Theatre [formerly the Paramount, on Richmond] were excellent, as you’d expect. I was surprised when the towering escalator at the Scotiabank didn’t break down — I’d been told it does almost every festival.)
6. Audiences make their own fun.
Full marks to those folks who “Arrrr”ed every time the anti-piracy warning came up on screen in the pre-show ads, or the ones who clapped along with Paolo Sorrentino’s Bulgari promo, starring Anne Hathaway and Zendaya.
There wasn’t much fun to be had the day the public screening tickets came online — few people had luck via the online portal. I called in and waited an hour to speak to a person and secure my tickets — though I waited another hour at the Industry Box office to have my tickets printed out because they only had one printer that worked. That seemed like a small inconvenience compared to what I heard from other attendees… horror stories that were much worse than what I experienced. I hope they solve the problem next year.
7. Bill Nighy is a tall man.
It was so much fun seeing the gentleman actor looking so dapper in his blue suit at the press conference for Living, as it was fun seeing a lot of the attending celebs, including Olivia Colman, Malcolm McDowell, Roger Deakins, Harry Styles, Sam Mendes, Darren Aronofsky, Brendan Fraser, and Sadie Sink.
I would’ve also enjoyed seeing Jennifer Lawrence, Jordan Peele, Viola Davis, Ralph Fiennes, Steven Spielberg, Ewan MacGregor, Andrew Scott, Daniel Radcliffe, Sarah Polley, and her amazing cast from Women Talking… but then you can’t have everything.
8) Speaking of Sarah Polley, the festival was both a dream and a nightmare for her.
I don’t think it’s too much to say Polley was the toast of the festival, the local filmmaker who broke her decade-long absence from feature filmmaking with the very well-received drama Women Talking, adapting the Miriam Toews novel. She also had something to say on Twitter about the t-shirts TIFF was selling at their gift shop with her name on them.
9. Buzz is hard to quantify and sometimes hard to catch up to.
I certainly have no regrets for the films I chose to see, but titles like This Place, How To Blow Up A Pipeline and I Like Movies gathered real word-of-mouth steam while the week went on. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to see them at the festival, but I’ll certainly keep my eyes open for them going forward. (I Like Movies screens at the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival this week, but I have a conflict, damn it.)
10. Your wellbeing is not worth sacrificing for a film.
I had scheduled a couple four-film days, but no five-film days. I think it was Roger Ebert who said any more than four movies in a day and you start to do a disservice to the movie. Even four is a lot to properly absorb, especially if following them you have to go off to some hotel room — or, in my case, a friend’s basement — to write about them on the internet. It’s OK to miss a movie… says the man who has a ticket to see a screening in Halifax two hours after getting back into town. *Shrugs*