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American Women's Club of Hamburg

The Toronto Film Festival 2013

The Toronto Film Festival September 5-15, 2013

Reported by Imelda Nurwisah

For me, September is a month of energy, anticipation and excitement. For over 20 years, it has been synonymous with the first day back at school, where you take on new courses, reunite with friends, and show off the wardrobe and school supplies you purchased for the year. But for the last decade, since I first moved to Canada’s biggest city, September has signaled the glamour and discovery of the Toronto International Film Festival, now in its 35th year.

For the public, the ramping up begins in July and August when ticket packages go on sale, when barely a dozen films are announced. For the inexperienced, they hesitate and hem-and-hah and the thought of making a $200-purchase before even knowing what’s in store is vexing. They will wait to see what big-name films are announced before they jump on the bandwagon, too. Then there are the die-hard, loyal fans (me!) who do make the blind commitment who know that year after year the words “SOLD OUT” will strike dread in the hearts of the skittish and uninitiated. There are many kinds of movie-goers at TIFF and the festival’s marketing has astutely reflected this in their “What’s Your Festival Personality?” campaign.

This year TIFF was more glamorous and crowd-pleasing than ever with stars like Brad Pitt (12 Years a Slave), Scarlett Johansson (Don Jon, Under the Skin), Keanu Reeves (Man of Tai Chi), a pregnant Kate Winslet (Labor Day), and Julia Roberts (August: Osage Country) to name a few! Part of the reason that TIFF is so well received by the public is because it affords us Canadians the opportunity to be boisterous, loud, in-your-face, and even a little bit rude (bordering on pushy!). Some turn into weeping, pleading stalkers as they crane their necks to glimpse stars in the flesh, plead urgently for autograph books and headshots to be signed, queue for hours in impossibly serpentine lines to get into a sold-out screening. The TIFF audience is also more responsive than a typical theatre, and the slightest facial expression elicits a veritable tsunami of chortles from the audience. Yes, TIFF exalts itself as being a public festival, with one part star power, one part lucrative industry transactions, and one part adrenalinized fandom.

Now there are over 75 film festivals in Toronto a year, and there are filmgoers who would not deign to reduce themselves to people-stalking in Yorkville or celebrity selfies. These are the very same people who won’t go watch a splashy Hollywood movie that will hit mainstream theaters in a matter of weeks. These people will watch foreign language films, avant-garde films from the Wavelengths programme, and the even more eclectic will watch a Midnight Madness film. Programmer Colin Geddes has said that there is no other audience as raucous as the MM bunch, especially for a large film festival like TIFF. Showing at midnight everyday during the festival, these filmgoers will dress up as Cosplayers for directors like Takashi Miike and considering that with opening remarks and Q&A, the audience won’t be out of the theatre until about 3 a.m.  MM-goers are loyal, they love gore, they love a hilarious plotline but they are also a sophisticated bunch and major distributors monitor the film’s reception by MM fans, looking at Twitter, blogs, film reviews as well as gauging audience reactions themselves. As Eli Roth, the director and actor, once said at the screening of his film Aftershock last year, “Please, please tweet and retweet our film if you love it. The distributors are watching.”

Toronto public are a hungry bunch but they are an appreciative bunch as well. Actors are increasingly making themselves available on the red carpet even as their uncomfortable faces might indicate they’d rather run away into some posh after-party. Toronto crowds love an actor who makes an effort to connect with the audience, as was the case with Joseph Gordon-Levitt who high-fived a block of fans at the World Premiere of his film, Don Jon.  But as any PR rep knows, you live and die by the sword – Toronto audiences won’t tolerate any sort of diva-ing and excoriated Madonna when she allegedly did not want security guards looking at her and ordered them to turn their backs during her red carpet moment. 

But TIFF is different than Sundance and Cannes. As the last few years have shown, darlings from other film festivals will result in sold out showings, but crowd favourites will crop up on their own. Just from TIFF 2012, Secret Linings Playbook, Argo and Amour were crowd favourites that hit the note between mainstream appeal and heart. Perhaps the star power is seducing the public, and it shows no sign of stopping. First moving to their new digs at King, gaining ever more sponsors (such as Timberland, Groslch, Loreal, Tiffany, and Blackberry among others), and curating more intimate events (Speaking with... series and Live Readings this year with Director Jason Reitman), TIFF only seems to be gathering speed in notoriety and fan experience. If you ever get a chance, I invite all of you to get caught up in 10 days of popcorn eating, patient queuing, and fan-bonding and let yourself get lost in that dark theater.

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