I hope you, fellow movie lovers, can see most of my picks in the next year or so as they begin to appear in theatres, or in some cases, as indicated, on streaming services very soon. But what is it really like to be at the festival itself? Here are a few moments from my fangirl seat.
Best off-screen moment: Opening night party…of two, at the Library Bar at the Royal York—where security detail stands in front of a hotel elevator and tells you, with a straight face just shy of a wink, Just another guest, in response to your question, Who is in that elevator?— with my swish TIFF date of decades who has been into movies in the same insane way I am, from way way back in the days we didn’t need to worry about comfortable walking shoes…clinking glasses and knowing this is the only cocktail (delicious!) we can drink for the next ten days if we are to stay awake for the creative behometh to come.
Best TIFF ad: This year, every TIFF screening began with one of a series of short interviews of a few articulate folks who have had positive encounters with TIFF volunteers over the years. These warm fuzzes were greeted with applause every time for the three thousand volunteers who make the festival what it is: a community. Like I said, my peeps know how to show love. Most of the time…Worst off-screen moment (s): Looking at a wall of hunched backs in the lineups, scrolling their phone screens instead of dishing on What have you seen that you liked so far?, standard currency to trade at TIFF. Encountering too many episodes of rudeness on the streets to discount it as anything but a decline in civility—one TIFF-goer gave me the middle finger when I moved away to another seat after overhearing an angry exchange he was having with a stranger next to him. I just wanted to watch the movie. When you live in a big city all your life, you’re not shocked by much. Still, that middle finger told me this world is getting angrier by the minute — Thankfully, there are artists working on how to translate it back to us so we can see ourselves for what we are becoming. Decency is still hip, no?
Best on stage cast moment: Watching lives change as the exuberant Rocks cast, newcomers to show business, who expressed their devotion to one another and to British director Sarah Gavron and the entire creative team, who workshopped this wonderful film for a year with young people in the community to come up with context before coming up with a script.
I was working on a story for my sister (who is up there in the balcony tonight) to say to her, Thank you, for being stronger than you needed to be, for being so full of joy and love like so many young women, who have to be stronger than necessary, but beneath that is joy and laughter. Sometimes we don’t get to see all of that. These girls are magical and you can’t be in a room with them for five minutes without laughing so hard that you cry. These were the rights ones to contribute their own stories about sisterhood and womanhood because we’re all best friends now, so, for my sister up there and my sisters here in this cast, it was perfect.British playwright Theresa Ikoko, co-writer of Rocks screenplay
Best proof Torontonians don’t recognize greatness: The French screen legend Isabelle Huppert strolling on Richmond unnoticed by the downtown crowd. I’d know her anywhere but caught only her backside on camera. Never promised to be a paparazzi.
Some directors are arrogant, some humble, others hilarious.
I actually went to Bruce (Springsteen) home studio and set up an edit room right next to this music studio. He would be in the studio recording music and walk in and sit with me while I was editing and we had a constant dialogue, constant collaboration. I think it brought the film to a whole other level. I wouldn’t want to dream this up because the idea of hanging out with Bruce running back between rooms sounds too cool but it happened. It really happened.Thom Zimny, director, Western Stars
As human beings, we are fucking complex. I hope this movie feels like it has empathy for everyone. What our culture is doing right now is just about good and evil. That’s what our internet culture is: this kid is evil and he’s a monster and so on and so on. We just need to understand complexity and empathy for everyone right now. More than ever.Trey Edward Shults, director, Waves
I was amazed by how modern the book (David Copperfield) was in terms of the themes of friendship, love, social anxiety, riches and poverty…It instantly opened itself up to me as a film so I hope I’ve managed to capture the spirit of it and that it reaches out to you with contemporary connections today.Armando Iannucci, director, The Personal History of David Copperfield
Water flows from top to bottom and that’s the tragic and sad element in this film. Water always flows from the rich to the poor. It never flows the other way.Bong Joon-ho, director, Parasite
I want to thank you guys for showing up. This is the best audience in the world and so I shouldn’t have to say this but this movie is an old school whodunnit and it doesn’t open until Thanksgiving (American, November 27th) so don’t ruin it for your friends.Rian Johnson, director, Knives Out
I loathe children. They’re the worst. It’s true what they say, “don’t work with children.” I’ve only done it for five films.Taika Waititi, director, Jojo Rabbit
Movies and art can be complicated, and sometimes they’re meant to be and that’s a good thing. There are some people who watch this movie and think none of it happened, that he (the Joker) imagined the whole movie and that’s interesting thing too and I’m not saying this is our theory. You don’t want to define it for people. I hate as the director to define it for people.Todd Phillips, director, Joker
Most actors at these audience Q&A sessions know this is part of the job and pirouette as expected. Most are thrilled to be here and are generous with sharing background information on the creative process. For the stars of A Hidden Life, the two talented leads were happy to spill what it was like to work with the famous recluse, filmmaker Terence Malick, who is renowned in the industry for using natural light in his past several films.
We were constantly on. No breaks. It was exhausting. There were no light changes. No shot changes. We were constantly on. This brought us closest to real life. We lived on the farm. I would go on the set and think, I have to change the hay again.…we lived it, we lived that life. I fell asleep once in the meadow and when I woke up the camera was on….that’s what it was like the whole time.August Diehl, actor, A Hidden Life
What was most striking was the amount of freedom he (Malick) gave us, in every sense. In the sense of time; like we often had thirty minute takes…In the sense of place: those farms in the mountains were a playground for us. We could run about and the camera would just follow us. There were no cables. There was no lighting. There was so much space to be free that I could also contribute to the story. In the end, a lot of scenes you see are scenes we improvised and Terry was very welcoming to that. That was the most unusual thing and the most wonderful!Valerie Pachner, actor, A Hidden Life
Best TIFF honesty: The always sexy Antonio Banderas kissing his friend of four decades, Pedro Almodovar, on stage as the two reminisced about how Banderas was discovered by Almodovar, and gave him his first film role in the cult film Labyrinths of Passion, a comedy about a nymphomania pop singer who falls in love with a gay Middle Eastern prince.
I got into movies with my balls.Antonio Banderas, actor, Pain and Glory
That’s it from TIFF for me this year. Go see these movies if you can and see them on the biggest screen possible.
Nothing can replace the experience of sitting in a darkened theater, sharing an intimate film with a group of perfect strangers. In a theater, you’re vulnerable — you’re there, and it’s happening in front of you. It also gives you the opportunity to give things a chance. Some of my favourite movies, maybe you don’t know right away what you think. Then, when you come to it, you love it that much more. Because, in a way, you found it.Noah Baumback, director, Marriage Story