What's Wrong With The Toronto International Film Festival

[Update: This post was written by guest reporter John Foote, who is covering TIFF]

TIFF is almost perfect... almost.

Don't get me wrong, I believe Toronto is the best run, finest film festival in the world, the most important of the Fall, and a Canadian cultural event that has become a global cultural event. For ten days the eyes of the cinema world are focused intensely on Toronto - stars walk the streets, fans are respectful, and the world press is here to review films. It's an exciting time to be in the city and you can feel the energy on the streets while walking to the screening rooms in the early morning.

But there can be a downside to anything, and the Toronto International Film Festival has a couple of problems to work out.

With so many films spread over ten days there is an obvious overlap that occurs with many films, so we are left to choose which films are more important than others. Do I see the film for which I am doing an interview, or cancel the interview and see the film my gut tells me to see? When the program book arrives I go through it and read every single synopsis to see if there is something that grabs me about a particular film, then I cross-reference directors and actors and come up with my initial list - usually about 60 or so films. Then the interview set ups start and I have to make hard choices about what to see and what not to see, knowing I will see some of them later. Once the schedule is announced, the almost final decisions are made (notice I say almost final) and I head off to the festival.

Once here anything can happen.

Actors may cancel their interviews for the morning, or an actor (like George Clooney) decides he is not doing press (well other than the LA & NY Times and Roger Ebert, which leaves the rest of us in a lurch and having to make time for the press conference, which he and all the major stars do attend). There may be round tables, as opposed to one on one interviews, and frankly I loathe round tables because there is always - I repeat ALWAYS, one loudmouth who monopolizes the conversation, cuts in on other questions, interrupts the stars answers, and generally makes the experience hell [I can attest to this - Ed.].

I once witnessed a major star tell a journalist to be quiet for a while and let someone else ask some questions. The writer would not be quiet, so the star simply ignored every question that person asked and invited the rest of us to ask!!! It was the coolest thing. Once booked of course, the interviews times start changing and we are often left waiting on a call from a publicist about an interview we might really want, thereby being at their mercy. And it is not their fault AT ALL - the publicists are incredibly hard working people who love film, but likely do not even get out to one during the festival. Their job is to make sure the press sees their client, and that the schedule is kept at all times because at some point the star or director is going to have to go out the door for a red carpet event.

I had an entire afternoon blown this year by a publicist who could not decide which time to give me, and knowing I was free, kept me waiting for more than two hours for her call. In two hours I could have seen a film, but as she has said, "when I call you will likely have five minutes to get here... can you do that?" Uh... no, handicapped, remember? So I park myself and my laptop in the lobby of The Four Seasons so I am at least close to being there in five. I hate that my schedule is determined by others for ten days, though I accepted it a long time ago - it is part of the job.

The screening thing really bugs me because last year the festival programmed extra screenings in the evening that allowed us to see everything we could possibly want to see. No missed films last year... not one - but budget cuts forced some screening cut backs, and in some cases there is a single press screening for many films. I have already griped about the line up thing, and you know what? I have no doubt that will change next year.

Those small beefs do not even begin to approach what the festival folks do so incredibly well, and I would not want their job for anything. I have watched the staff be horribly abused by press and industry folks, yet always remain smiling and never get angry, while I would blown my stack. They listen to the abuse very calmly and then offer a solution or an apology - always an apology, because it cannot be the fault of the press or industry can it? Hey, well-known critics, I am talking world-renowned critics cut into line, refuse to stand in certain lines, or expect special treatment from the volunteers or the staff of the festival. The last time I checked my blood was as red as theirs, they were no better than the rest of us, and certainly had no right to treat anyone so terribly. One member of the press lost the respect of anyone who knows him by his terrible behavior a few years ago and I have to wonder if his tirade was worth that? They will not remember his work, just the fact he made himself look like an ass. Or as President Obama called Kanye: "a jackass."

We are all here for the same reason, we love movies. And it is sort of the Woodstock of cinema: A love-in for the movies in which the public is invited to join us in celebration. Together we sit in the crowded theater and have an experience together, sharing something in the dark that will stay with (some of) us forever. So many of the actors and directors say the reason the festival is their favorite is quite literally because the public is so involved. Indeed, I know folks who take their vacations and buy a festival pass, (for close to a grand) so they can see everything the press are seeing.

So yes, there a couple of small issues that could be ironed out I think, though I think the publicist thing will always be there. And again I need to say loudly, this is not the fault of those busy publicists who work tirelessly to fit us in to their talent's busy schedule. I was personally given great treatment by those incredible people at 42West out of New York, and the wonderful Warner Brothers staff.

So perhaps the festival people could add some screenings next year? If they could do that, this festival would be perfect.

Utterly perfect.

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