Film festivals can be all things to all people, as this last week in Toronto has proven. This is not my first time at the Toronto International Film Festival (or TIFF, as everyone in Hogtown irritatingly calls it, assuming that everyone else knows what TIFF is, from sea to shining sea). It is, however, the first time I have turned myself into a muttering lunatic at the prospect that Pedro Almodóvar was behind the door of Room 320 at the Intercontinental hotel, when actually he wasn’t. But that’s another story.
I am staying with a friend here. She works in another industry, but loves the TIFF. She bought a ten-pack of TIFF tickets for films that she and a friend had handpicked, sight-unseen, out of the festival program: “We’re specializing in gay coming-of-age films and Thai ghost stories.” She’s also seen future repertory favourites like the new François Ozon film 5x2, South Korean director Kim Ki-duk’s family comedy 3-Iron, and Innocence, the sequel to Ghost in the Shell. And, according to her, Theo Van Gogh’s horrid Cool was like the Dutch 8 Mile. She, like many local, civilian festival-goers, is having a great time, as are some hometown industry personalities I’ve run into. God bless Johanne Senecal of TVA Films for squeezing me out of the Clean (Olivier Assayas) and Childstar (Don McKellar) party line-ups in front of the Drake Hotel (I had a pass!), and Claude Chamberlan of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, for being all starry-eyed outside the Varsity Cinemas about Ki-duk’s latest opus.
This is not the whole of my experience at TIFF 2004. After spending seven days milling about in the third-floor hallway of the Intercontinental at Avenue Road and Bloor Street West (a bunker for indie festival junket-hounds if ever there was one), I’ve been representing for The Man par extraordinaire. My day job as an editor and head writer of the Montreal weekly Hour means that TIFF is a war zone for me. Three weeks ago, I began plotting my strategy. I called the Toronto publicists of local companies in order to develop a packed schedule of press screenings and one-on-one interviews for every single film that will be released in Montreal between now and spring 2005. After my roster of twenty films and forty-odd interviews was lined up, I crossed over Bay Street to the Four Seasons and tried to get in on some of the truly big release junkets: Kevin Spacey’s Bobby Darin bio-pic Beyond the Sea, Alexander Payne’s wine-tasting-road-trip dramedy Sideways, Danny Boyle’s Millions, Bill Condon’s Kinsey (with Liam Neeson as the eponymous sex researcher) or David O. Russell’s I ♥ Huckabees.
None of it happened, and all that schmoozing left me with a bad taste in my mouth—not to mention the sneaking feeling that my festival coverage was careening out of control. After fourteen-hour days of interviews and screenings, I always end up with a head full of mush and a mealy mouth. Which is sad, because once in a while you snap out of it and realize that you are having a really good time.
At 11 AM Wednesday morning, I was already over the ten-minute interview limit with Jeff Daniels (who was in town to promote Imaginary Heroes, the whacked-out family set-piece he stars in with Sigourney Weaver, which is directed by X2 writer Dan Harris), and my TIFFed brain was thinking, “Omigod, I have to move on, I don’t have time for this, all I wanted was a chance to ask him about being directed by Clint Eastwood.” My feet were itching to move on toward the patio, where there was a chance I could catch Gael García Bernal, who was doing a meagre forty-five minutes of international press for Almodóvar’s upcoming Bad Education (it didn’t work out).
Next thing I knew, after asking Daniels about comedic timing, he had completely recreated the scene from Dumb and Dumber where he and Jim Carrey walk into the restaurant in bad suits. Here I was, sitting alone in a conference room with a man who has worked with three of my favourite directors (that would be Eastwood, Farrelly and Farrelly) and I was getting my own private show, complete with sound effects and choreography, of comedy being taken apart piece-by-piece before my eyes. This is the best job in the world.
In the last forty-eight hours, I have had conversations with directors who are legends in their craft, including Walter Salles, John Sayles and John Waters, as well as newcomers like the talkative Niels Mueller, whose The Assassination of Richard Nixon, starring Sean Penn, will be the talk of the town in November. I ogled Claire Danes, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair and Kevin Bacon, all while asking them serious questions about prosthetics, Footloose and the possibility of mounting an all-sex version of Jackass. I got to ask Sigourney Weaver how her characters in The Ice Storm and Aliens informed the archetypes of American motherhood (and roll my eyes when some Brit journalist asked about her absence in AVP: Alien vs. Predator).
And that was only yesterday and today. Tomorrow is another country.
Montreal-based journalist Melora Koepke is in her element when the theatre lights dim. Camera Obscura lights up cinema culture every second Thursday.