Not a bad festival tally for me — 23 films in little over a week. With more than 200 features screened trying to plot trends from having watched 10% of the festival is a fools errand, but I’ll say stories told from the perspective of women was something I very much enjoyed — good to great work from Thea Sharrock, Mahalia Belo, Ariane Louis-Seize, Fawzia Mirza, Anna Kendrick, Patricia Arquette, and Kitty Green.
Here’s a list of my 10 favourites at #TIFF23:
10. The Critic 9. Wicked Little Letters 8. Gonzo Girl 7. The Royal Hotel 6. Dream Scenario 5. Shoshana 4. The Pigeon Tunnel 3. American Fiction 2. Woman Of The Hour 1.The Zone Of Interest
Of course, there were plenty of features I wish I’d seen but sadly missed due to scheduling demands. Amongst them is the addiction drama Memory starring Jessica Chastain, Ava DuVernay’s late entry Origin, the French sci-fi picture, The Beast, the new one from Drive My Car director Ryusuke Hamaguchi called Evil Does Not Exist, Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, the Saudi Arabian coming-of-age picture NAGA, and Taika Waititi’s crowd-pleasing Next Goal Wins.
A few films I know will be opening in cinemas or on streaming soon, including the John Carney picture Flora And Son, Dumb Money, Pain Hustlers, and the hedge fund drama Fair Play, so didn’t prioritize them figuring I can wait a few weeks, and others, like the Danish drama Promised Land and Cannes prize-winner Anatomy of a Fall, I’m happy to see at AIFF.
Last year I did a list of 10 things I learned at the Toronto International Film Festival. As you’d expect, returning to the festival was less of a learning experience and more about comparing notes with my previous visit to the fest. Here’s five things I took away from the Toronto International Film Festival this time:
1. Cell phones are a serious problem: I was pleased that the audiences at the public screenings I attended were, for the most part, robust and well-behaved. At the Press and Industry screenings, however, almost every one I attended featured at least one person in eyeshot who couldn’t help repeatedly checking their phone during the film. One of them sitting next to me in a screening of Shoshana did his best to hide his phone under his jacket from those sitting on his left, but I was on his right. After half a dozen checks of his texts I asked him to stop it. “Don’t lecture me,” he said. “It’s my kids.” TIFF needs to get on this and do more than just post a card asking people to be respectful, they need volunteers willing to chastise offenders and throw them out if they won’t listen to reason.
2. The folks at the Industry Box Office are the best: The strike, which diminished the numbers of stars, didn’t seem to have a lot of effect on the enthusiasm of the film-loving crowds, which was great. Maybe there were fewer people willing to pay premiere prices without those celebs showing up, but for the most part this festival seemed as busy as it was last year, both at public screenings and packed press and industry events. That also meant that a week before the festival started, when I was granted access to 10 public screening tickets (half the number from last year, but that’s fine), all the most in-demand screenings were completely full. Fortunately, the folks working at the Industry Box Office were there to save me — if you show up at 8am when they open, same-day tickets to these public screenings are frequently available. Thank you, Industry Box Office, for your early morning kindness!
3. Food is an issue at TIFF, even with four Starbucks within a couple blocks: No gatekeepers will stop you if you have granola bars in your bag, which were lifesavers for me on three- and four-movie days. But if you’re going into the Scotiabank, Princess of Wales, Royal Alex, or Roy Thomson Hall, expect to have your bags searched. Roy Thomson won’t let you bring a bottle of water into the venue, which is friggin’ inhuman. Getting food on the run takes planning — Starbucks breakfast sandwiches aren’t the worst, but it would be great to have more nutritious and fast food options in the area. I found the underground Metro Centre food court (opening through the day during the week) a big help.
4. The TIFF Lightbox 1, 2, and 3 are some of the best cinemas in Canada. My criteria is audiovisual excellence, seat comfort, and overall experience even from the side and front rows, and the Lightbox rules. The 12 screens at the Scotiabank Cinema (formerly Paramount) on Richmond are mostly solid, though as with many Cineplexes across the country they cram in seats too close to the screen, which makes fantasy blockbusters, films with a lot of handheld camera, and pictures with subtitles, nearly impossible to watch. Princess of Wales and Roy Thomson are both converts to film for the festival, which will always bring compromise, but I still enjoyed seeing films there. I’m with the Globe‘s Barry Hertz when it comes to the Royal Alex: burn it down, build another Lightbox. Uncomfortable seats too close together and one of my screenings was even an obscured view because I was sitting off to the side.
5. Toronto is buckling at the seams. Anyone attending the festival, especially from out of town, should be aware: The housing crisis the entire country is seeing is most evident in its largest city — the homeless problem is epidemic. I see it here in Halifax, too, but it’s to Victorian proportions in Toronto. There’s something about the chronic hustle at TIFF — especially with all the industry meetings and buzzing conversations about business in the P&I line-ups, wedded with the artificial glitz of red carpet events — that’s both exhausting and depressing when a few steps away human beings are stretched out across the sidewalk, frequently unconscious, around the festival venues. I’m not blaming the festival for this — it’s a failure of our society as a whole when we can’t take care of our most vulnerable citizens, and it makes a celebration of cinema seem less joyful and more like a distraction from real problems we’re facing.
Thank you, #TIFF23. Now, onto AIFF.