It is with great awe, more than anything else, that I am here in Toronto for one of the biggest film festivals in the world. While Cannes can boast of its glamour and farther-reaching history, the Toronto International Film Festival (or TIFF, as the cool kids call it), with its strategically positioned post-Labor Day run, is the one with the real clout for awards season. (Fun fact: “Black Swan”, “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire” are just a few of the Academy Award winners in recent years that enjoyed debuts at TIFF). For 11 days in early September each year, downtown Toronto becomes a hotspot for distribution deals, early Oscar buzz, celebrity sightings and more. Thanks to my official press badge, I get to take part in all the excitement – well, some of it anyway.
As part of the media, here primarily to review films, my day revolves around the Press & Industry (P&I) screening schedule. Basically, I flash my badge and attend as many as I wish for free, the catch being that the more high-profile the film, the earlier one needs to arrive in order to get a good seat. The first screenings typically begin around 9 or 9:30 a.m. (thus making me reconsider my aversion to morning classes), and over the course of the day I see anywhere between two to four films total. This seems to be pretty average, although I once sat next to a guy boasting about watching six in one day. He made me feel like an underachiever.
If I’m lucky I have breaks between screenings, which are then usually spent downing coffee in order to stay alert in the next one. But in the event that there’s actual downtime, I head back to the posh Media Lounge upstairs at TIFF’s headquarters, which offers free food, drinks, Wi-Fi and live streaming of press conferences for those reporters that are either too unfortunate or too indifferent to attend the real thing. It’s also not a bad place to people watch. (I heard Roger Ebert is here, but I have yet to encounter him).
While my press badge provides access to most industry events and locations, as well as affords a certain swag over civilian ticket-holders, there’s definitely a culture here that’s a little harder to tap into. Most of the P&I people I’m surrounded by have been attending TIFF for years, which means that: a) they’re significantly older than me and b) they all know each other. I’ve since gotten the hang of making small talk with the person next to me in line or in the theater, but showing up to my first screening on my first day was not unlike being the new kid at school surrounded by cliques.
Luckily, most everyone I’ve met has been more open to imparting wisdom and telling stories after they learn that I’m a student. Because after all that’s what I signed up for; future gold statue winners aside, this past week has been incredibly eye-opening.