Once again the Toronto International Film Festival has crash-landed in the heart of our city like a giant bomb filled with celebrities, glitz, glamour, and the occasional film screening. With all of the red carpet galas, the “who will be in Toronto?” lists, and the critical “where will they be eating?” lists, it’s easy to forget that we are hosting a celebration of film. Over the years TIFF has become a launching pad for Hollywood’s newest product, despite it’s origins as a stage for art house, independent cinema. This year for instance films featuring Matt Damon, Meagan Fox, Ricky Gervais, and George Clooney will draw a good deal of attention from smaller films trying to pick up a distribution deal. But behind all of that big business, it is still these smaller films that are the true cinephile’s delight. Walking into an unknown film with zero expectations, and having one of the best viewing experiences of the year is incredibly gratifying. The viewer feels like part of an exclusive club, suddenly granted the right to claim, “I saw that movie before it was big!” Bragging rights are worth more than gold in the blogosphere.
Since there is such a vast array of product at the fest it is appropriate that there are several types of viewers to watch for.
The Film Fan: The viewer who wants to explore what modern cinema has to offer beyond the commercially viable blockbusters that keep the major studios in business. The Film Fan will often skip a more popular movie to see a small film from Holland that may never play in Toronto again. Usually carrying a peanut butter sandwich.
The Money Mind – Similar to The Film Fan in that they will go to see many smaller movies. The difference here though lies in the Money Mind’s intention to gauge the film’s marketability. The Money Mind may be a producer, a distributor, an exhibitor, or maybe a film booker. Often when you see somebody leaving within the first fifteen minutes, it is a Money Mind that sees no profits to be gained from involvement with the film. Usually blinding audiences with Blackberry glow.
The Critic – The critic is present to let us all know which films warrant attention. This can be very helpful for The Film Fan and The Money Mind who may be taking in multiple films but aren’t sure where to start. The Critic does however change one’s expectations of a film, erasing some of the mystery and excitement. Often heard scribbling maniacal praise for Pedro Almodovar and his use of colour.
The Stargazer – The audience members who come out to see the Bradley Pitts, Matthew Damons and Benjamin Afflecks on the red carpet. The Stargazer often doesn’t have a wide knowledge of film and generally attends galas just to be involved in a big event. If this weren’t the case they would spend half the price a week later when these major films are widely released. Usually swooning whilst taking photos whilst planning how to sneak into Penelope Cruz’s hotel room.
And where does the writer of this column fall? See answer below.
“Well, I don’t like labels but when Andy and I go to the festival we are definitely going as Film Fans. Then again TIFF also gives us a bit of an idea of what kind of films will do well at The Fox, so I suppose there is a bit of The Money Mind in us as well. Since The Beaches is so supportive of foreign and independent cinema, TIFF is a great way to pick and choose which films our members will be interested in viewing. At last year’s fest movies like Gomorrah, Waltz With Bashir, Pontypool and Hunger all debuted only to find themselves being played for our East Enders less than a year later. This month we are featuring The Hurt Locker and 50 Dead Men Walking, two more films that debuted at TIFF ’08.”
So there you have it. While on the surface TIFF seems to have sold it’s soul, it is encouraging to know that the programming staff still retain some of the early spirit, and these smaller films from the fringes can find an audience alongside the wolves of Hollywood. Without the avant-garde, the documentaries, and world cinema, TIFF would be nothing more than a collection of red carpet premiers. It’s important that we remember where the focus should fall. Support these rewarding films and encourage Hollywood to create something more stimulating than sequels, remakes and talking robots from outer space.