A Film Fest Pet Peeve

The world premiere of The Fall would have been a fantastic opportunity for filmgoers to ask director Tarsem about how he managed to pull off this multi-country epic. But it was screened at the Visa Screening Room, a.k.a. the Elgin Theatre, which, for whatever misguided reason, refuses to allow questions and answer sessions after the films. So he waved at us before the film and told us to enjoy it.

One of the best aspects of attending the Toronto festival is not only the chance to see great films from around the world but to speak to directors and actors about the film you've just seen. Some of our best film fest memories have occurred in the moments after a movie as we ask the cast about how their creation came to be. We usually try to avoid the Elgin, but weren’t able to this year.

Other than Galas at Roy Thomson Hall, it appears that the Elgin is the only other film fest venue that doesn't do Q&As . Simply put, that policy tears the heart out of the film fest experience. Often the cast has flown in for the premiere of their film only to be allowed a cursory nod to the audience before being shuffled off stage. After The Fall, Tarsem and two of the main actors stood around to chat with appreciative fans in the few minutes before aggressive staff shuffled everyone towards the door.

We saw the dramatic Hotel Rwanda three years ago and hated the fact that Paul Rusesabagina, the heroic man the film was based on, was only able to acknowledge the standing ovation from a side balcony. That’s just cruel. Thankfully Michael Moore purposefully ignored the policy with Bowling for Columbine and held a great Q&A after his screening.

We’ve been pissed off about this policy for years but have done little other than grumble about it while in line for our next film. So this year we’ve decided to challenge it. We’ve already accosted two film fest directors this week to ask what was up. Noah Cowan, co-director of the festival, explained that while “we understand that interaction is integral to the festival experience, emptying the theatre is a logistical nightmare.”

Jesse Wente, part of the Canadian feature film selection committee, echoed the sentiment saying that getting 1,000 or more people out of the theatre was a “logistical nightmare” and suggested that instead of going to the Elgin, go to the second screening of any film (which would be at a different venue) that is shown at the Elgin first.

But is it really the logistics that are the problem? Ryerson Theatre seats upwards of 800 and there are Q&As there. Yes, it’s a lecture theatre, but it doesn’t seem to empty out much quicker. The Uptown (we lament its destruction but not its scrunched seating) was massive, seating close to 1,000 people and Q&As were held there too. Yes, the Elgin is more a performance theatre than movie theatre and might take longer to empty, but why does it have to ditch the most enjoyable part of the festival? Why not just leave more time in between films so questions can be asked? Or set one mike up front so people can ask questions, and if you’re in the balcony, well, sucks to be you. Line up earlier next time. Even limit it to 5 questions if need be, or have a film fest director ask a few obvious questions to the director — anything is better than nothing.

So, is anybody else annoyed by this policy? Should we call for a boycott of the Elgin? Write cranky letters? Tell Visa they’re wasting their money by sponsoring the theatre since its money doesn’t support the true film fest experience? The festival will only change if we demand it.

Look out Piers Handling, we’re looking for you next!


  1. I'm pretty sure the reason for your frustration is that the Elgin is a union house, and the boys go into scads of overtime after a certain point, probably 11 P.M., so ain't no Q and A action happening there. Roy Thompson Hall is the same way, but Rye High is staffed by students, so no overtime worries....

  2. Based on personal experience I think the reason there are no QAs at the Elgin or Roy Thompson Hall is that the films shown there tend to have the biggest stars and big stars attract moronic questions. When they did have QAs at the Elgin I suffered through more than one painful QA session with people either gushing over stars or hogging the limelight asking really long but ultimately pointless questions. It was embarrassing.

  3. There was a 20-minute or so Q&A at the Elgin after the Monday screening of For Your Consideration. Seemed to go fine.

  4. While we're on the subject of film fest pet peeves, is anybody else annoyed by the fact that the festival in all its glory has yet to invest in www.torontofilmfestival.com or some other URL that makes much more sense than http://www.e.bell.ca/filmfest/2006/home/default.asp?

  5. I don't buy the logistics argument either. I think it is simpler for them and so they picked the easy way out. If the festival doesn't get the message, I hope the sponsers do.

    I completly agree about the url. Keeping it the way it is seems to be a method to give sponsor (that word again) Bell a product placement. Like they don't get mentioned at every screening.