Reporting on a film festival is like covering Prêt-à-Porter Paris, only in a more comfortable pair of shoes. There is the frantic running around and juggling between meetings, interviews and press conferences; the endless queues of accredited press and industry insiders, and the high-brow critics over-sharing their views of what we are all are about to see. At the Toronto International Film Festival, however, things get even more challenging with over 360 films being screened in the 11-day festival. I set myself a (realistic) goal to see 16. Five days on and I am half way through my target. So here we go:
“It’s an amazing embarrassment of riches,” says a slightly overwhelmed film producer, Kira Davis, of the cast and crew of Prisoners at the Saturday morning press conference following the screening of the gripping thriller the night before. This is the highly anticipated Hollywood breakthrough of Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve who, in 2010, took over big screens and critics’ hearts with his drama Incendies.Prisoners doesn’t disappoint either. Au contraire, it is a rough thriller that made even the clued-up sceptics sitting two rows behind me finally zip it, while I was frenetically checking the time to make sure we still had enough screening minutes left for the bad guys to get caught.
On the other hand, The Fifth Estate fell a bit flat – maybe a victim of its own high expectations… The film premiered at the festival with all key cast members in attendance but after two hours of listening to the dawdling Australian accent of Benedict Cumberbatch as a freakishly spot-on embodiment of Julian Assange, I felt nothing but relief when the film was finally over.
Meanwhile, third time might really turn out to be lucky for team McQueen-Fassbender. After previously working together in Hunger and Shame, the duo have pushed their director-actor collaboration even further in the Oscar-buzzed 12 Years a Slave, which received standing ovations from the sobbing crowd.
This same crowd is the real box-office game changer – an audience made up of die-hard film fans who, at a price of CA$23 (€16) for a regular ticket and CA$45 (€33) for a red carpet premiere, have been given the privilege of lining up for hours to get a glimpse of a bashful (and surprisingly short) Daniel Radcliffe trying his best to bounce back from all Harry Potter references at the screening of The F Word … or of a heavily pregnant Kate Winslet gushing about her work with co-star Josh Brolin in Labor Day – another big Hollywood-star packed offering by Canadian filmmaker Jason Reitman – the same who gave us Thank You for Smoking and Juno.
After all TIFF is not just red carpets, big screens and camera flashes. It is the place where big deals are being signed, future film hits being sketched on paper napkins while large production companies and distributors are looking to expand their markets. TIFF itself is also considered a money-making machine, a local economy cornerstone that allegedly brings nearly CA$190m (€138m) to Toronto in tourism revenue, restaurant and hotel bills. The festival and the year-round special events and programmes at the Bell Lightbox (TIFF’s official home in downtown Toronto) have so far created 2,300 jobs, and last year alone, the festival attracted nearly 30,000 out of town visitors.
“An embarrassment of riches,” as Davis has put it referring to Prisoners. The same can easily be applied to TIFF itself.
Nelly Gocheva is Monocle's Toronto bureau chief