Memories of TIFF
Visitors look at an Academy Award statuette at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in this 2010 file photo. REUTERS FILE/Adrien Veczan
Once upon a time, long before personal publicists and paparazzi took over everything, Toronto's film festival was a relaxed event devoted to film.
You watched a lot of movies and went to a lot of parties. You could go to someone's house for a beer during the festival in those days and find Jack Nicholson in the back room playing with the dog. That was then.
A lot of film fest memories involve the old Four Seasons Hotel on Yorkville: Jamie Foxx playing a piano on the second floor, Casey Affleck's child running around the coffee shop, Michael Moore talking about being educated by Jesuits.
For working reporters now, TIFF is a blur of running madly between interviews and movie screenings for 10 days every fall. But some stuff stands out.
- Talking to Heath Ledger and a very pregnant Michelle Williams about making Brokeback Mountain together. The phrase he used to describe the experience was,"Working with my best girl by my side."
- Listening to Mark Ruffalo talk, years ago, about his return to work after the removal of a brain tumour. It was a benign tumour and everything, of course, but still …
- The most surreal experience at TIFF ever was probably strolling down a Toronto street with Bruce Springsteen on the way to lunch — no handlers, bodyguards, fluffers, agents, protective camouflage or anything else — in the company of a handful of laid-back, cheerful people from his record label, Sony. Springsteen was here to talk about a documentary called The Promise: The Making Of Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
- Speaking of surreal: Interviewing Lauren Bacall.
- Worst experience ever was listening to a big Hollywood producer scream at a local studio publicist for something she didn't do. I wanted to drive my Bic pen up his stupid nose. But I didn't. Sins of omission.
- Second worst experience was listening to a British reporter torture Dakota Fanning, then aged about 11, about how much money the actress had earned. The reporter would not stop hounding Fanning; Fanning was unfailingly polite. At the end of the interview the British woman asked for an autograph. Bic. Pen. Nose.
- During an interview with Emile Hirsch, the conversation turned to art and he suddenly decided to show some pictures of his recent paintings. Impressive.
Liz Braun, QMI Agency
It may be routine for the media but it never gets old: Covering the Toronto International Film Festival is a blast of pure oxygen!
This edition — number 37 since it was founded as the Festival of Festivals — is my 36th. I missed only number one. That was because editors at my then-employer — The Toronto Star — were too stupid to see the festival’s potential and refused to send me out to back up their prime guy. They thought the fest would not last another year, so who cares?
The Toronto Sun cares. Always did. Everybody in the film world cares. And so TIFF 2012 triggers memories. Here are my highlights:
• 1977: Dusty Cohl (who co-founded the fest with William Marshall and Henk Van der Kolk) gets furious over what he thought was a negative story I wrote about his beloved stepchild, Outrageous. We hashed it out and — just like Casablana — it was “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
• 1980: My first assignment for The Toronto Sun was an interview with Bette Midler for The Divine Miss M. Thank you, George Anthony (the Sun’s day one entertainment editor).
• 1993: TIFF presents The Strange Objects of David Cronenberg’s Desire, an exhibit that renews interest in the Canadian filmmaker’s early work, reminding us that the home-grown “horrormeister” is a true artist. This is why filmfests exist, to go beyond the obvious. Another Cronenberg exhibit is planned for 2013.
• 1995: Antonia’s Line, which Dutch director Marleen Gorris calls her “feminist fairytale”, wins Toronto’s audience award and remains one of the most moving films I have ever seen. This is why we sort through filmfest fare — to find gemstones.
• 1999: Sam Mendes’ American Beauty debuts at TIFF and later wins the best picture Oscar, initiating a trend that continues today. Oscar’s favourite often gets seen here first.
• 2008: TIFF elegantly honours Cohl, who died earlier that year, the end of a marvellous life of sharing. The same year, I write a Sun series on TIFF’s growing elitism and the sellout to corporate interests, something that Cohl would finding embarrassing.
• 2009: While TIFF organizers did not agree with everything in the 2008 analysis — there was tremendous controversy — many things do change in a direct response. Hurrah! TIFF renews its claim on being a populist film festival — although it will never be as democratic, and as much fun, as it was originally.
Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency
Within a few days in Sept. 2001, I witnessed things heartwarmingly memorable and too horrible to erase. Both were in the presence of celebrities during TIFF.
On Sept. 8, I was at the Elgin to screen Thirteen Conversations About One Thing starring Matthew McConaughey. Two-thirds through, a woman named Janice Flisfeder collapsed and McConaughey sprang into action, giving her mouth-to-mouth.
As she recalled later, "I felt a man stroking my hair and kissing my forehead saying 'It's okay, sweetheart,' and realized it wasn't my husband. When I opened my eyes and looked back to him I just thought 'Nahh can't be.'"
Alright, alright, alright!
It was a scoop, of the sort that would soon cease to be front page news.
On Sept. 11, perspective happened. My day started with an interview with Adrienne Shelly, an actress/filmmaker who’d be murdered in her New York apartment five years later. We heard the first reports of a plane crashing into a building in that city.
An hour later, I was interviewing a kid named Ryan Gosling, and we stared dumbfounded as a second tower collapsed. Somehow we both knew the interview was over.
The scene: the Elgin again, 2006. I’d taken my son to a midnight gala screening of a movie called Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
Michael was a huge fan of the character from Sacha Baron Cohen’s Da Ali G Show and was thrilled to see him show up with a pony on a cart pulled by babushka’ed women.
But 15 minutes into the screening, the projector broke down. Michael Moore – yes, that Michael Moore – made his way into the booth right behind us, insisting he knew how to fix it. He didn’t.
After thanking “this fat man” for his futile efforts, Borat and director Larry Charles took questions from the audience. Everyone was given tickets for a make-good screening the next night.
There we saw the movie without incident, and without celebrities
The place: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel last year. I’d just seen and loved Moneyball, particularly Jonah Hill’s supporting performance.
Hill was quiet. He had that flat expression that says an interviewee is only half there.
He’d publicly joked about his recent, dramatic weight loss – including a bit on the MTV VMA Awards, presenting with Nicki Minaj, obliquely referencing the notion that he was less funny since he lost the weight.
“Is that something you actually worry about?” I asked. Suddenly I had his attention. Furious, he got on his feet, poked his finger in my face and shouted, “How can you ask that? You should feel ashamed to ask a question like that! Michael Cera's a thin guy and he's f---ing hysterical! Ben Stiller's a thin guy; Jim Carrey's a thin guy!”
Hill had issues and there was no talking him down. I called a halt to the interview and was soon dealing with phonecalls from concerned handlers.
I hope the Oscar nomination helped his self-esteem.
Jim Slotek, QMI Agency
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