Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Looking back: thumbnail sketches of my past TIFF experiences

Killing time…killing time…one week until the full film list is up and a week more after that until Program Book Day so I figured some self-indulgent autobiography is in order. Not my own life history, which is boring enough, but my history of the TIFF. I moved to Toronto permanently in late summer of 2000 after four+ years off and on in L.A. My only previous film festival experience was mostly the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and occasional one-off screenings at other local L.A. fests, of which there are dozens if not hundreds. So now, a year-by-year rundown of how I became such a TIFF junkie.

2000: Didn’t go. I’d just moved to Toronto a couple of weeks before and was barely eking out a living at the nameless video store. This was, however, my first experience with movie actors setting up accounts for a couple of days so they could rent movies then run off to California with them.

2001: The year everyone would like to forget, in which the 9/11 attacks happened at the midpoint of the festival. I actually wasn’t in town; I was taking a week off work around by birthday (which is on 9/11) and was in Ottawa visiting my folks for most of the fest. That day I went to a sparsely-attended matinee of Peter Hyams’ The Musketeer and the next day took a road trip to Montreal in a daze.

2002: Didn’t go. I was working on the set of The In-Laws at the time, though, and many of the cast went to galas and parties. For several days in a row the press person for the shoot would drop off stacks of party invites to my boss and would tell me very pointedly: “And remember, these are non-transferable.” Yeah, yeah, I get it. Didn't want to go to Jewison's barbecue anyway (pout).

2003: Finally took my first tentative steps. Went up to the box office after work the day individual tickets went on sale and stood in line for two hours as more and more screenings got crossed off the big board. I didn’t have a program book, so I borrowed the one of the guy standing in front of me. Picked three more or less at random based on the photos. Opening night I saw the brilliant documentary Mayor of the Sunset Strip and was made painfully nostalgic for L.A.; the film even opened with footage of an X concert that I had attended. Met Rodney Bingenheimer and director George Hickenlooper after the show; got to tell the latter that I’d been at the Dogtown premiere at the LAIFF back in 1997. Saw four more movies at the fest: PTU, Prey For Rock ‘n Roll, Elephant and Cremaster 3, which nearly put me to sleep. One was a particularly good score; I was walking past the Uptown when somebody in the crowd said “Does anybody need a ticket for Elephant?” I said yes and was reaching for my wallet when he pressed the ticket into my hand and walked off. Van Sant was there for a Q&A after the screening with his cast; little did I know at the time what a rare occurrence that would be for a third-fest-screening of a movie.

2004: Planned ahead, but still wasn’t plunking yet down for a ticket package. I lined up on FanExpo Saturday for a gala ticket to Clean, then arrived at College Park at 4 in the morning for a handful of individual tickets. Some memorable moments: the gala was a “never again” experience. Forty-odd dollars for nosebleed-section seats at Roy Thompson Hall, Maggie Cheung could have been Jacky Cheung onstage for all I could see. It was pretty funny when a staggering Nick Nolte slurred into the mic that his favorite city is Montreal. Also, in memory of the time Wim Wenders had let me buy him a glass of wine at a Harry Dean Stanton concert, I gave him a bottle of Ontario cabernet after the Land of Plenty screening. Saw about six movies, the best was Johnny To’s Throw Down.

2005: Another crack-of-dawn lineup experience, this time up at Manulife. First time going to a Dialogues presentation (Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream) and my first Midnight Madness screening, albeit in the afternoon (The Great Yokai War on the final Saturday). Some pretty terrific films (Wah Wah stands out, partly for the fantastic Q&A) and I got to chat with Robin Tunney for the first time since The In-Laws wrapped after her screening of Runaway. This year’s Nick Nolte moment was David Boreanaz using the phrase “we were all in agreeance” during the These Girls Q&A. But the year felt like a bit of a letdown; unlike the previous two years, there was no one movie I saw that was a transformative experience. I went home after TGYW and thence to the Beach Cinema to see Lord of War, which was more powerful than anything I’d caught at the fest that year.

2006: The year I finally got it right. Booked a week off of work and bought a ten-pack of tickets. Had a fun moment with Saffron Burrows after the Fay Grim screening; I’d driven her around on her first American movie as she didn’t have a driver’s license (in clear violation of favored-nations clauses in the actors’ contracts) and when I said hi to her from the crowd on the way to the limo she recognized me and came over to chat, leaving a confused Jeff Goldblum stewing in the car wondering what the holdup was. Fave movies of the fest: Severance and Snow Cake. Least favorite: Dans Les Villes.

2007: I knew I should have booked an extra day off; The Mother of Tears opens Midnight Madness and I can’t go ‘cause I’ve got work the next morning. Fricking frick. Lou Reed concert movie on my birthday, Peter Greenaway in the Elgin theatre, Bill Maher at Ryerson and a Roger Ebert book signing. A pretty perfect week if you ask me. Except, I suppose for that lousy Austrian science fiction movie that I walked out of halfway through. Son of Rambow was my last screening of the fest and became my favorite movie of the year. I saw fifteen movies in total and can’t remember a better time.

2008…gonna be a great one, I can feel it…

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