Thursday, September 8, 2011

On the road to Toronto: Lights, camera, notebook

For years I’ve heard about the Toronto International Film Festival, from friends and relatives who live there and through news reports.

 It’s a festival that celebrities and the public both enjoy.

"When the big stars come to this festival I think what they really like is that it's a public festival," said Cameron Bailey, co-director of the festival in a story by the Canadian Press. "Unlike some of the big industry festivals in Europe, they can actually really connect with the fans here. And the Toronto fans are cool - they're not going to go crazy with them, but they really admire and appreciate their work."

I'll agree my friends are cool. And they have bumped into celebrities on several occasions during their pilgrimage to the festival, only to find themselves in a deep conversation over the French-Canadian delicacy known as “poutine.” This French-Canadian delicacy (very) slightly resembles American cheese fries with gravy. Being a native of Canada I will say fries and gravy rock, but hold the cheese curds, please.

So back to the film festival.

“You got to come, eh?” my friends would always say.

“Someday, maybe,” was my reply.

However, this year I took my friend's invitation seriously. But instead of attending as guest, the journalist in me decided to cover the event while I’m there.

 Ryan Gosling in a scene from The Ides of March.
So began my quest for TIFF.

I envy the Hollywood mainstays such as George Clooney and Brad Pitt – who can just fly in and out. It’s not that easy for a reporter covering the event. 

Did I mention the paperwork involved with getting the interview 
with these stars?

Still, it's worth it. TIFF is not as old as Cannes (a baby by comparison), but it is much bigger in terms of the number of films (268 features and 68 shorts) and the media exposure. 

Therein lays my biggest dilemma since starting this adventure -- narrowing down the screenings that I wish to attend. A lot of journalists covering TIFF are there for the entire week. Being Cinderella and attending the ball for the first time, I have only the weekend.

So choose one screening and one interview, right?

Francis Ford Coppola on the set of Twixt.

At the top of my list was Francis Ford Coppola. He’s at TIFF promoting his new film "Twixt" starring Val Kilmer. Besides being the director of the “Godfather” he was a Detroiter before he was a New Yorker. It was a good start.

Once I started hearing from the publicists, including those with Clooney, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling and Rhys Ifans the list quickly changed. Clooney's Toronto contributions include the family drama "The Descendants" from director Alexander Payne (“Sideways”) and a political saga he directed, "The Ides of March" in which he plays a presidential candidate, opposite Ryan Gosling. Gosling, who will be returning to his native province of Ontario as a breakout artist, is also in Toronto promoting his new action film, "Drive." Hopkins is starring in the sexual thriller "360" along with Jude Law; Rhys Ifans stars alongside Vanessa Redgrave in the Shakespeare film, "Anonymous." 

I tried to include as many press opps as possible.

One of several documentaries at TIFF.
But then there’s the logistics: maintaining a thorough schedule of theater locations and travel time. Most of the screenings are in downtown Toronto, but we're talking Canadian (metric) blocks as opposed to American (feet) blocks. So I allowed extra time for scrambling. But just when I thought I had mastered TIFF, a wave of emails arrived from the international contingent. By the time I left the shop I was feeling the ill effects of too many sweets in one sitting.

As of today I have several back-to-back interviews within minutes of a screening and at least three or four more confirmations to come in. None of which include Coppola, who will be there when I’m gone.

Film festivals are a crazy event to cover.

I'm not even there yet and already I can see myself racing between events with a sweat ball dangling from my nose. Yet I could not be more excited. 

So, despite the paperwork and tummy knot, I am delighted to be covering TIFF.

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