By Nigel Smith
An Arts Journalist’s Road Trip to the Toronto Film Festival
A mere four hour drive north of Syracuse stands Canada’s metropolitan behemoth, Toronto. The city is a multi-cultural smorgasbord that never sleeps, much like NYC. They’ve even gone so far in recent years to emulate the Big Apple by carving out their very own Times Square lookalike, Dundas Square, smack dab in the middle of downtown, amid the theaters, cinemas, shops and restaurants that line the central corridor.
During the month of September, the Square and surrounding businesses teem with even more people than usual – a sign that the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has rolled into town.
Next to the Cannes Film Festival, TIFF is the largest (and many would argue the best) film festival in the world. Directors love the festival because, unlike Cannes and Sundance, there is no official jury panel. The only award given out is the People’s Choice Award, a prize allotted to one film that captures the hearts and minds of the general public.
This year, that voting contingent had 20 Newhouse Art Journalism M.A. students thrown into the mix for a whirlwind TIFF initiation. Before heading off, our class received a briefing on how early to arrive before each screening, what to wear, how to leave time for meals, and run on no sleep. Screenings were booked from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m. and the class was advised to rise at the crack of dawn (5:45 a.m. to be exact) to wait in line for day-of tickets.
Arriving on a Thursday evening, those of us who had tickets to An Education – a tender coming of age tale – at 6 p.m., thought we were ahead of the curve by showing up a full hour ahead. Boy, were we wrong. In past years, Newhouse found that showing up half an hour before a screening
guaranteed a decent seat in the house. This year was different. Looking at the two-block line that had assembled, it was clear that people had been staking out their spot for a good two hours. Once the line started moving, a mad scramble ensued to find prime seats.
Once seated, the director, Lone Scherfig took to the podium to thank her colleagues and TIFF. The audience applauded, the lights went down, and so commenced the film, preceded by a string of advertisements from sponsors (no surprise there).
A Q&A session followed the screening, allowing audience members to get their kicks by asking the stars and director questions or simply heaping praise upon them. One eager fan asked actor, Alfred Molina: “Why is it you never suck?”
The rest of the weekend followed suit, with classmates gawking over beers late at night, after days spent in darkened spaces feeding on tubs of popcorn. The hardcore among us saw up to six screenings in one day, while some chose to take a day off here and there to take in the sights.
For the close knit nature of our class it was odd not seeing familiar faces everyday. It wasn’t until the last day that the full class reunited over a brunch lecture given by Entertainment Weekly film critic Owen Gleiberman. We were a spoiled bunch to say the least.
But in all seriousness, attending TIFF and reaping all the benefits a festival of its magnitude has to offer was an enriching experience. It provided invaluable insight into the artistry that goes into making a film and the marketing blitz required to get awards buzz going. Learning from a veteran film critic was icing on the cake of a trip that gave a glimpse into the life we could potentially achieve as critics – a life that could be pretty damn sweet.
Coming Soon! Look for Nigel Smith’s TIFF film reviews on the Jerk blog (jerkmag.wordpress.com).
Image courtesy of ctv.ca