TIFF: A Tale of Two Festivals

If you're planning to attend the Toronto International Film Festival, you've got to want it. Since early July we've made one phone call, waited in three long lines and spent two nights pouring over detailed film schedules — all just to get tickets. Some may describe TIFF as the "people's festival, because of the relative ease for the public to get tickets," but don't let anyone tell you it's easy.

When I describe the process to people they often stop me part way through, already deciding to give it a pass, which is a shame as it really is worth the effort. Gill and I have seen more than 100 films at the festival over the years and only but a handful have left us disappointed, such is the depth of the talent that unspools in the darkened theatres across the city every September.

This year our festival will be short and sweet — five films in three days — due to the logistical wrinkle called baby-sitting. But despite having a limited window to choose from, I'm pleased with our results, even with a poor showing in the ticket-box raffle. Our five flicks are:

Waltz with Bashir: an animated documentary from Israel about an attack on a refugee camp in Lebanon
Vinyan: a couple searches, perhaps hopelessly, for their son following the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004
Detroit Metal City: A Japanese music geek unwittingly becomes the front man for a death metal band
Sea Point Days: Another documentary about a beach area in post-apartheid Cape Town
Pontypool: Bruce McDonald's take on Tony Burgess' cottage-country gothic zombie tale. Wrap your head around that.

We will also miss a few, of course. We had really wanted to see O'Horten, from Norwegian director Brent Hamer, as we'd seen his earlier film Kitchen Stories in 2003, but it was already sold out by the time our picks were processed. Who knew Norwegian films had such a following? Sadly, it may mean we'll never get to see it as it's hardly the kind of film that makes it to screens any other time of the year. One of the joys and curses of the festival.

We also wanted to catch Quebec director Philippe Falardeau's movie C'est pas moi, je le jure! (It's Not Me, I Swear!) but both screening were booked solid. We've become fans after seeing his last two festival entries, La Moitié gauche du frigo and Congorama, and it appears others have as well. At least that one may make it to theatres, so there is still hope.

And to me, that's what the festival is all about: discovering new talent and seeing films that rarely make it out of the festival circuit. Meanwhile the vast majority of coverage the festival gets is about who will walk the red carpets, will Angelina join Brad at the premiere and what party will they attend afterwards? It is wall-to-wall celebrity worship, right down to a list of freebies these already wealthy people will get while cocooned in luxury, briefly appearing before the start of their films, at a press conference, a few interviews and a party before jetting off.

There really are two festivals in Toronto, the Hollywood sideshow which has come to dominate the press and public's imagination, and the rest of the films. There are 312 features and short films this year and the vast majority have little star wattage. But that's where you'll find me, at my own private festival.

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