Year after year, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has attracted the crème de la crème of the film industry with the likes of Oscar winners 12 Years a Slave and Argo having had their premieres there. This year was no exception and I was there to soak up the atmosphere, catch a few films and maybe do some star spotting along the way.
So what makes Toronto so special? Well, from my point of view, timing is everything. TIFF occurs every year in the month of September and showcases films from all over the world with and without distributers. It’s common for most of the Oscar front runners to start releasing their movies from around this time to be in with a shot for glory, so putting in into a film festival and starting the buzz around September is a great way to get some free publicity. For example, the winner of the People’s Choice Award in 2013 was 12 Years a Slave, and in 2012 was Silver Lining’s Playbook (with Argo a close 2nd). All of these films were not only Oscar winners but each of the most talked about films of those years. This year saw the honour go to The Imitation Game starring Keira Knightley, Killiney native Allen Leech, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear and fan favourite (or worldwide favourite) Benedict Cumberbatch. The film is about English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, who helps crack the Enigma code during World War II and is now hotly tipped to be one of the Oscar hopefuls in 2015.
As my cousin is a huge fan of Benedict, we were there in the crowd waiting to catch a glimpse of the man himself. Alan Leech was the first to arrive and signed a few autographs and gave me a wave when everyone around me shouted to him that I was from Dublin. Matthew Goode delighted fans by signing autographs and posing for photos but, he was overshadowed by the deafening roar when Benedict Cumberbatch arrived. Goode was even quoted to saying “It was like the Beatlemania”. Benedict arrived early, as he knew how many people had camped out to see him and he ran straight from the car to the fans. Not even a wave to the press, straight to the fans. And he nearly made it the whole way around but due to a tram getting in the way, he missed our section and only our section. Disappointing for the fans around me but he did pose for a goofy photo for us all to apologise. Still, fair play to him! Keira Knightley was the last to arrive and honestly, I wasn’t impressed. She went straight to the press and had to be told to come over to the fans. She signed for 1 minute maybe 2 and then retreated back to the press. There were some very upset people especially after the effort other stars made. Not cool.
The film festival is affordable (10 tickets for $200ish) and overall the experience was a good one. One of the most common things you’ll hear is “TIFF loves a good line” and it’s true. Some people wait in line for up to 3 hours before a film in the hopes of getting the best seat possible. There is, of course, a few issues though. To vote you can either do it online (which the majority of us forget to do) or you can drop your ticket into a box at the end of the film to cast your vote. Personally, I like to keep my tickets as souvenirs so if they had a stub on the ticket you could use to vote instead that would be better. Also, on one occasion we witnessed a member of staff (TIFF badge and all) save 6 seats and repeatedly telling people they were saved. Her companions only showed up just before the film started and 2 of them not at all. She then proceeded to tell her friends that she came in before they opened the doors to the public. A clear abuse of power that I’m sure happens more often than not. During another screening, there was a priority line which was then extended to “Visa Card” holders. Oh sorry, only Visa Infinity card holders which wasn’t specified to everyone. Half the line was then told they couldn’t go in and had to go to the back of the line. After many an angry comment thrown in the direction of the volunteers who had provided the incorrect information, they were allowed in and everyone seemed happy enough but things like that can be avoided so easily and can really hamper an enjoyable evening.
The popularity of TIFF seems to be growing and growing each year with the committee even having a building built for all things festival related. Toronto is a great city with friendly people, great beer (check out the distillery district) and let’s not forget, Tim Hortons! What you may not know/realise is that Toronto has a booming film industry with many major films and TV shows using it as a double for another city. So add this to the growing popularity of TIFF and Toronto is fast becoming THE place for film, and rightly so.