Boom town

If you can get past the whiners, the yellers and the celebrity stalkers, the Toronto International Film Festival is an amazing place to be.

Filmic Frenzy Sean Penn of All the King’s Men.

The first thing you notice is the energy.

Toronto is a fast town. Millions of people live here. They drive fast, they walk fast, they text fast. A normal day in Toronto is a fast one.

Add some more people, then, and you’d think you might not notice. At Sundance every January, the tiny resort town of Park City, Utah, swells to more than 30,000, from a population one-third of that. Those same 20,000 movie people—directors, producers, actors, writers, celebutantes, distributors, executives, photographers, fans and 1,000 accredited members of the media—come to Toronto.

And they bring Hollywood with them in a way the residents of Park City should be relieved they do not yet know. This festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, has become the traditional launching pad for the Academy Awards, with pre-buzz built up in classier locales in Cannes (May) and Venice (August). The stakes are higher than a bidding war for some digital video dramedy about a quirky dysfunctional family—TIFF is about prestige, it’s about building a base for your marketing campaign, it’s about word of mouth and, unfortunately, it’s about splashy premieres. What happens here can dictate much of what is to come.

So there is a new energy barrelling its way through Toronto’s already frenetic core. It’s not a kind force—desperate, frantic and rude, it turns normally polite people into shrieking harpies. (Witness the man outside Sean Penn’s All the King’s Men, a ridiculous hour wait and a line spanning the entire lobby of the eight-theatre multiplex it was screening in, repeating his name over and over to the helpless volunteer, his voice skidding upward into petulant teen territory: “But I signed in!”) It reduces classier individuals into screaming fans, wondering where their lunch hours went as they waited outside a hotel’s side door, behind a velvet rope—really—holding their cameraphones aloft. It ignores education—kids who should be attending their first full week of school skip off to hang on the curbs of Yorkville, the tony neighbourhood with its upscale shops and high-end hotels, fighting with paparazzi for their own celebrity encounters.

And it makes journalists angry. The screening rooms, the press conferences, the lanyard supply—all of it is first-come, first-served, and there is not nearly enough room to accommodate every member of this year’s record crop of media at one time. In the past it was possible to bolt from one screening to the next with three minutes to spare—now it results in bad timing, lobby gridlock and two suddenly free hours. It seems like no big deal, but interviews don’t happen if the movie has not been seen. Blogs go un-updated. Deadlines are missed. Oscar buzz goes uncaptured. It’s not good.

Like the filmmaking process itself, TIFF has become Hurry Up and Wait. (Or Hurry Up and Wait for Brad, as the case may be.)

But it’s worth it. (Oh yes, it is.) Because once you clear the crazy—past the publicists shuttling talent through back alleys, past lines of unwashed people who have spent days in rush lines, past the general sense of entitlement emanating from every single person with a plastic card around their neck, once you beat all of that and finally find a damn seat and yawn through the same lame ads and then see that picture come up—you’ve got nothing to bitch about.

You’re seeing some of the very best films of the year. You might never see some of them again. Some you will be happy to gloat about months in advance. And inevitably you’ll spend the next year watching in horror as even more of them, undeserving films buoyed by their receptions here, pick up steam and storm awards season. (Last year it was Crash. This year it will be All the King’s Men.)

But, dammit, you will watch. And that energy will flow on, forgotten.

You don’t need a lanyard to catch up on Tara Thorne’s daily dispatches from TIFF.

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