My Weird, Wonderful Experience at the Toronto International Film Festival

30 movies in 8 days. 

This was the goal before I left – knowing that I could average four a day, with two more on the final morning before I dashed to the airport. To pull this off requires a lot of planning, hustling in and out of venues, and a long list of alternates, in case the carefully orchestrated first, second or third plan goes awry. 

Photo of TIFF Schedule on Sept. 11, 2019The very first day I was thrown a curveball when I couldn’t get a ticket to what would have been the fourth film of the day. There was nothing else I needed to see, and a long gap before anything else I wanted to see, so I decided to give up and go back to the airbnb where I was staying. 

I was a bit dismayed; on day one I was behind. Not a great feeling. Talking to my husband about it, I tried to figure out what I could have done differently. Perhaps I should have waited in the rush line, or gone to a film that started at 9pm. He reminded me that the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is a marathon, not a sprint and I had seven more days to try to catch that film. Which I did! On day four. And – triumph of all triumphs – on the penultimate day, I saw five films, so I was back on track to hit my goal of 30. 

Despite what you might think, TIFF isn’t the most glamorous experience. As an industry delegate, I have automatic access to all industry screenings, but having the *right* to see a film doesn’t guarantee a seat. Which means there’s a lot of waiting in lines to make sure you can get into the screening you want – usually 45 minutes to an hour before the posted showtime. This is the time when you wolf down food, check email, and make new friends in line while you discuss what you’ve seen and what you hope to see. 

And then there’s the mad dashing from venue to venue when your screenings are scattered between different venues all over the city. Each theater for the major films holds between 500-800 people, so there’s always an incredible crush of people vying to get into these films, talking about the film they just saw, plotting how their going to make it to the next film. 

It’s a very strange environment. A wonderful one, but very unlike my average work day. Every morning I’d pack my meals for the day and map out what I hoped I would get in to see, while also strategizing the plan B, C and D if I couldn’t get my first picks, and then head out around 7, not getting back until at least 12 hours later. 

The real juggling comes at the ticket booth for the public tickets. My pass entitled me to free access to public tickets on the day, which means I had to be at the ticket booth when it opened at 8am every day to try to get into the major films at night, which were usually premieres. These were the screenings with the directors, stars, producers and writers in attendance for introductions and Q&As. These were highly-coveted tickets, each one a major event with lots of press and red carpet fanfare. These events added to the strange atmosphere. Celebrity culture doesn’t hold much fascination for me, but it is an odd experience to watch Jon Hamm or Luke Wilson walk by your seat after you’ve just watched them for two hours on the screen. 

And then, of course, the main event is the films themselves. Most of the time when you see a film outside of the festival environment you have time to reflect, discuss, sleep on it, talk about it some more and then it lingers with you for a few days. Seeing 4 films a day doesn’t afford you that luxury. If you’re lucky you have those 45 minutes while you’re waiting to get into the next film, or dashing down the street to the next venue, to think about what you’ve just seen. On my busiest day (that 5-film day) I *ran* from Bad Education to Harriet to Waves without a moment between. Thankfully they were in the same venue, but the start time of one was minutes after the end of the previous, and I was lucky to squeeze into one of the last seats in the house. It was a whiplash of perspectives, emotions, tone, and subject matter. And then I watched two more films after that! 

One of my least favorite parts of the festival is people telling you too much about a film before you’ve seen it, so no spoilers here; just a list of films, in the order I viewed them, and not ranked in any other way.TIFF Schedule Cover

  • A Hidden Life
  • Varda By Agnes
  • The Lighthouse
  • Radioactive
  • Pain and Glory
  • I Am Woman
  • Dads
  • Just Mercy
  • Hope Gap
  • Cunningham
  • The Capote Tapes
  • How to Build a Girl
  • Hustlers
  • Collective
  • Tammy’s Always Dying
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Knives Out
  • Ordinary Love
  • The Truth
  • Ford v. Ferrari
  • The Laundromat
  • This is  Not a Movie
  • Guest of Honour
  • Bad Education
  • Harriet
  • Waves
  • Burnt Orange Heresy
  • Lucy in the Sky
  • Motherless Brooklyn
  • Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

My job when I go is to focus on what films I think might be of interest to OGT’s audiences. What’s most likely to be nominated for an Academy Award or be noteworthy in some other way? As a cinema historian, there were dozens more I would have liked to see, but I was on a fact-finding mission for all of you, to discover the hidden gems and be able to make the best call on what you’d like to see come at our theater. 

There were also many more that I wanted to see but couldn’t get tickets to, or couldn’t fit in the schedule so I was faced with some impossible choices. Over the next few months we’ll be bringing in many of these films, along with some of the ones I couldn’t manage to see. 

I can’t wait to share them with you, and I promise not to ask you to watch four in one day…

 

 

 

 

 

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