Sunday, September 2, 2012

#TIFF12 - The Toronto International Film Festival may just be the best film festival out there, & here's why I say so:


'Tis the season!  Hold off on the chestnuts, and throw water on that open fire. It is indeed the most wonderful time of the year, but I'm not talking about mistletoe, and Cameron Bailey is no Santa Claus - although, that becomes less true the more I paw through the TIFF film guide like an eight year old expectantly shaking each present under the Christmas tree.

I've attend my fair share of film festivals. I got the bug when I was 18 -- some 500 years ago as a new resident of Los Angeles, obsessed with Clea Duvall (seriously) and hell-bent on seeing her new film, premiering at Sundance the next weekend. "Couldn't I just go?" my naive but adventurous teenage self pondered, to no one in particular. Priceline and a cheap flight to SLC was all the confirmation I needed (though remind me to blog about how my "oh I'll just find a hotel once I get there" plan ended up), and I was well on my way to a life-long devotion two the perfect combination of my two passions - travel and movies.

Fall 2006 found me less than a year into my love affair with NYC.  Living a mere seven-hour drive from Toronto, still having a car and a serious affinity for all things John Cameron Mitchell (which in fact was very few things at the time) meant it was a no-brainer to load up my Saturn with fellow film fan friends for the premiere of Shortbus at the Ryerson. Once we got all the Sundance comparisons out of our system ("WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE IS NO FREE SHUTTLE"), and despite the serious misstep of staying out by the airport, we found a giddy, "omg why haven't we done this before" appreciation for the great Canadian movie geek-out that has become my most recommended festival experience for the past eight years.

Skip ahead to today,  <coughwouldn'tyouliketoknow>  years into my film festival obsession.  I've live-tweeted Full Frame, found an excuse to SIFF it up in Seattle twice, meandered to Mill Valley, made several Tribeca appearances, hobbled in heels through Hollywood for AFI, filled up on countless Drafthouse cookies four years in a row at SXSW, and will even be venturing to Fantastic Fest this year.  And though Sundance will always have a special place in my heart as the most intense and exciting film-going experience one could have in a 10-day period, I stand behind this statement:  the Toronto International Film Festival is the best film festival and the one I would most easily and passionately recommend to just about anyone.

Here are six reasons why.

The weather

They could hold a film festival in the frickin' Arctic circle and if Lili Taylor were starring in a movie there and I could get the time off of work, I'd be packing my warmest coat without hesitation.   The more people I meet, though, the more I find that most sane folks have a breaking point when it comes to the elements.

If you're adverse to heatstroke and frostbite, never fear. Cram your most comfortable cardigan into your carry-on, guys. TIFF is the festival for you.

Wide Variety of Films

People always ask me what TIFF is known for.  What makes it different. Probably because a lot of my non-moviegoer friends understand Sundance's iconic position amongst the American indie film lexicon. But TIFF doesn't have that name recognition yet - not with my co-workers, my cousins, etc.  

As much as TIFF has become synonymous with Oscars in recent years, this isn't TIFF's legacy, not entirely.  "There's something there for everyone," I tell the inquisitor each time. "They've got it all."  The film festival with multiple personalities – each as dominant as the next!   I could meet someone every day there who says “I come here because TIFF is the best place to see documentaries” or “You just can’t beat their selection of international films.” Even the teenagers standing by red carpets would swear that TIFF caters specifically to them. And you know what – they’d be right, all of them.  

Midnight Madness

Ask anyone - I hated horror movies. Gore or violence in general? Not for me.  Disturbing in any way? Huh uh. Didn't even see Requiem for a Dream, for example, until a couple years ago.

To what do I owe the sudden acceptance, the total 180? Video games? No, I don't play them. Desensitization - sure, I'm sure that happened.  But it's more than that.

I suppose I can thank one Colin Geddes for my relatively newfound love of all things bloody, twisted, shocking, and fucked up.  My first midnight madness movie was probably something easy on the blood and guts - maybe A Town Called Panic.  Though, what I was exposed that night to was more than just the delightfully twisted world of Belgian animation.  I discovered a place where you can go and be surrounded by hundreds of similarly dorky, offbeat, night owls who oh yeah just happen to love genre films.  "This is awesome," said I. "I can withstand my squeamishness," said I. "I'll just cover my eyes if things get really scary," said I.

Then what happened?  With all the pirate "ARRRRRRR!!"ing and the blow-up-doll-beach-ball-tossing came something I wasn't expecting- an acceptance, approaching  appreciation, of scary movies.  Symbol, Super, Kill List, The Incident - I'm an expert now.  Or... at least I'm not a pussy anymore. I'm even venturing to Fantastic Fest this year - can those crazy Austin cats top the Toronto Midnight Madness insanity? Time will tell.

Ease of ticketing

I have few marketable skills. One of them is getting myself and my friends into sold-out events.  Hustling. Working it. Making it happen. Whatever you call it - I don't take no for an answer and I am rarely turned away.

That said, most people don't have the level of comfort I do to show up without a ticket. I would not send them to  Sundance (fun, but hard as hell to get into).  SXSW would be a sheer impossibility.  But TIFF might as well have a statue with "Give me your ticketless" engraved.  Stress-free, options a-plenty, and kind-hearted Canadians with extra tickets, around every corner? Yes, please.

The Lightbox

"I get around," I like to say, a play on words that is as purposely questionable as it is ultimately true.  You'd rack up more than one stamp on your passport visiting my top five movie theaters in this world, and one of those pitstops would be the corner of King and John, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

This mecca of film past, present and future seems custom-built for someone like me - a voracious consumer of movies, not to mention my love of merchandise, good wine, comfortable seats, pretty things, and popcorn topped with real butter.

The film community

Having grown up in the Twin Cities, I always knew of the thing called "Minnesota Nice," I just didn't realize until a few years ago that we may actually get that from our proximity to Canada.

Canadians have The Kindness to them.  On top of that, they love the hell out of some movies.  Go to enough Q&As and you'll memorize the filmmakers' mantra: "there's no better audience than the Toronto Film Festival."

You won't feel out of place here even if you're not wearing black and sporting sunglasses indoors.  This festival, unlike other top tier festivals, doesn't judge you by your IMDB page or how many Facebook friends you have in common with Harvey Weinstein.
What's more, I am convinced that the love of film and the communal experience of appreciating it is one that is just as palpable long after the orange signage has come down.


  1. LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! This sums it up perfectly! If you could add one more reason you personally love TIFF, it would be to see us

  2. This is THE best blog post on TIFF! And huzzah for THE best film festival! You are so right - it has the best audiences and is an amazing experience for a film goer.

  3. Would love to invite you to our annual film blogger pub night on Monday September 10th!