This week is a big one for movie fans in this country as the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival is under way in Canada's biggest city.
It is not only the most important film festival in Canada but also one of the more important ones in the world, ranked behind the Cannes festival but ahead of pretty much all the rest of them with maybe the exception of the Sundance festival.
I really don't have a lot to say about this year's festival, because I'm not in Toronto right now and not really well-versed on what movies are going to be making a big splash down there this year. I did notice that George Clooney and Brad Pitt were there again on the weekend, as was Seth Rogen. Also, this is the high point of the year for all the entertainment journalists in this country who give this event saturation coverage. I was watching some of the live TV coverage of the Film Festival streamed on the Web and noticed my former co-anchor from Rogers TV, Farah Nasser, was covering the red carpet for eTalk.
That makes me jealous as heck. Here's my ex-colleague Farah Nasser on the red carpet meeting big celebrities, while I am spending this exciting week covering dull city council meetings for the paper. (To be fair, though, Farah goes back to covering the usual boring Toronto mayhem for CP24 after the film festival is over.)
Rather that let the reporters in Toronto monopolize all the fun this week, I thought I would share some memories of my own from my time when I lived in Toronto, where I actually was a volunteer at the festival in 2006.
Now, if you're surprised that I would volunteer at a film festival, you're probably right. To make a long story short, I had hoped to work in the press office and help hand out press passes to people, which I thought would be good experience.
But the volunteer positions there were cancelled (so they said), and I ended up working at the actual theatres instead. So I didn't get the experience I hoped I was going to get. Moreover, I more or less realized by the end of it that I was not really a film festival type of person to begin with. I have zero interest in anyone's fashions, for one thing. The event seemed better suited for the real artsy-type people and the cultured folks who had a lot of money.
I'm just an ordinary person interested in movies. The next time I go back to the Film Festival, then, it ought to be as a serious journalist. Or better yet, as a filmmaker, because they get the royal treatment.
They had all these red-carpet gala openings for these movies at Roy Thomson Hall, and I would go down there to gawk at these famous actors and actresses. I remember that at the gala premiere for Volver, there on the red carpet was Penelope Cruz. I saw Penelope Cruz!!
There was also a premiere for a movie that featured Reese Witherspoon and Christina Ricci! I also remember one where Justin Timberlake and Morgan Freeman showed up, and they'd even sign autographs for people.
It was very easy to spot these stars on the red carpet, and it was also interesting seeing media people standing outside waiting to interview everyone on the red carpet, including these big names. I remember seeing Jerry Penacoli and Maria Menounos there, all these TV entertainment news bigshots, outside Roy Thomson Hall.
The best part is that this was free entertainment for the fans. You didn't need to spend any money to just stand there and gawk. This is why they call this the "people's festival," because the stars are so accessible.
I remember going to the Star! Schmooze, hosted by that entertainment TV channel outside the Citytv building. People would stand outside to see the show aired live, with all these stars on the red carpet being interviewed. The crowd went especially nuts when Samuel L. Jackson showed up there in 2006. "Samuel L! Samuel L!"
On one of the assignments I was one of a few people sent to do crowd-control at a cinema that was showing the world premiere for a movie called Copying Beethoven, shown at one of the theatres near the University of Toronto. My job was to help fend off autograph hounds while stars like Ed Harris walked out of their limos onto the red carpet and into the theatre. This turned out to be a very easy assignment since Toronto crowds are noted for being so polite and orderly.
What I remembered the most was there was a gorgeous actress there who everyone was going nuts over, and she stepped out of the limo and the photographers were going crazy for her and calling out her name. "Over here, Diane!" She was standing there getting photographed along with Ed Harris, and she looked like a million bucks. I figured "Diane" had to be famous, but I had no clue who she was. She definitely looked like a movie star that night.
It turned out this actress was none other than Diane Kruger. (Maybe you saw her in Inglourious Basterds, or National Treasure: Book of Secrets.)
To this day, I get interested whenever I hear Diane is in some big movie. And it's all because I saw her, live, at the Toronto International Film Festival.
One of the perks about volunteering was the fact that we would get free movie passes to see movies at the festival just for working a shift. I ended up getting six of these passes.
Unfortunately, finding movies to use free passes on proved tough. You'd think it would be easy, since there are hundreds of movies shown at the film festival over several days, but a lot of the ones I really wanted to see were difficult to get into for various reasons. The screenings either conflicted with a shift, or the movies were already over before I found out about them, or they were just too popular.
I had hoped to use a pass to see Bobby, a star-studded movie about the day that Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. That was shown at Roy Thomson Hall, and I wasted three hours of my life standing in the long rush line outside in hot weather, hoping to get in, before a fellow volunteer came out to tell us there were no more seats in the theatre.
This is what I ended up seeing: Breaking and Entering starring Jude Law, which was interesting because Jude Law and the whole cast were in Roy Thomson Hall and got big applause when they were introduced.
I went to a press screening of Borat, a hilarious "mockumentary" starring Sacha Baron Cohen as a Kazach TV reporter, which was very funny but also very revolting. I think the rest of the audience liked it more than I did.
I went to the Ryerson Theatre downtown to see When the Levees Broke, directed by Spike Lee, who was also in the theatre to introduce the movie. It was a very good documentary but also very angry in tone. It was about what happened to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The movie was blaming all these government officials for the fiasco down there. There was a very left-leaning crowd in the theatre, and whenever George W. Bush was shown on screen everyone booed him like crazy.
The other three movies were utterly forgettable, but by that point I was desperate to find something to use up my passes on. One was a German-language bio-documentary about some terrorist. Another was a documentary about life in a call centre in Bangalore, India. (I wish I was making this up.)
The last movie I saw wasn't even screened at the Film Festival. Instead, it was shown at the Art Gallery of Ontario weeks later. The art gallery was taking all the leftover passes that the volunteers hadn't used up. The flick shown that night was a black-and-white French-language National Film Board of Canada production from 1964 that film historians had saved from the vaults and had fully restored.
The reason I went was because I needed to use up my last movie pass before I moved out of Toronto. I remember walking out of the theatre on a very rainy and cold night, and walked over to a Country Style Donuts place and sat in there drinking a coffee, and I remember feeling very sad because I knew I was leaving Toronto soon and leaving all this movie excitement.
We seriously have to consider starting up some more major film festivals here in Saskatchewan. Folks around here are really missing out.