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A TIFF Cherry Popped: Reflections On My First Toronto Film Festival

A TIFF Cherry Popped: Reflections On My First Toronto Film Festival

Ever since I moved to Canada from Sweden and saw myself end up in a social context that completely revolved around cinema, the Toronto International Film Festival has become a comet on a yearly cycle — speeding towards the sun, its tail growing longer and longer to finally peak in the first half of September, and leaving traces behind well into the award season of the following year. Personally, it has always been an observation from a distance, often through the frantic updates on social media that usually surround these natural phenomenons. So this is the brief story of when my TIFF cherry popped last week.

My only strategy was to basically tail a friend of mine, who had in his journalistic capacity put together a rigorous schedule of screenings with notes of which ones could be free or not, but also the ones we were going to wait in the dreaded rush line for (we woke up hungover to get tickets for “The Danish Girl”, but bitterly failed). Having the tickets printed, a free McDonald’s coffee from their monstrous EDM-DJ-in-a-mug truck, and several stories I had made up to legitimize my presence at industry parties, I felt ready to press the launch button. 

The gala red carpet glitz took shape in the blond curls of Elle Fanning sweeping by when I was walking past the main venues on King Street. A girl next to me commented “you have the best view”, and I guess with my 6 feet and 8 inches, my head does get above the sea of various Apple products taking photos — many of them of such bad quality they probably won’t even end up on an external hard drive. Nonetheless, a part of me, despite the non-elitist Swedish upbringing, felt blessed to be in the vicinity of the American big shots. Even though after the screening of “About Ray” Ms. Fanning delivered the Q & A equivalent of a grade 11 social science presentation, it felt nice to be invited into the well-groomed warmth of Hollywood.

My main objective, however, was to infiltrate the activities that are sparked by the closing of the velvet curtain. The world where exchanging your LinkedIn and Twitter are as much pick-up lines as creating business liaisons; where the gay film journalist mafia downs complimentary vodka sodas, or other so-called low calorie cocktails for that matter, at an impressive frequency. To be honest it was daunting at first: the lines, the muffled sound of laughter and lounge music from inside, not to forget the mandatory five girls abiding to the maxim that headset means power defining who’s in and who’s out in a more cold-blooded manner than Heidi Klum on “Project Runway”. These feelings quickly disappear when you have a bar with bartenders whose ties are matching the expensive department store coasters all at your disposal. The only thing that could let you down was the shameful lack of vegetarian hors d’oeuvres. I know I’m throwing rocks in a very privileged glass house here, but really?

The industry mingle lingo didn’t take long to master. It was probably during an effort not to disrupt the flow of the conversation, modifying the truth by saying I work in Swedish radio, that I missed out on the presence of Rachel McAdams not once, but twice. Along the way there was also a concrete reminder of how small the world is when, after a few beers, I was taking a selfie with the CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, a woman whose daughter went to my high school.

Ingrid Bergman said that she lived in a made up world of film and theatre, and that she never wanted to leave it. I could relate to those words taking off from Toronto, dehydrated on a bus without functioning A/C. The bubble had definitely burst. Having experienced this cinematically diverse 40th jubilee (half of the films I saw had a transperson in the leading role), I cannot wait to see the comet sweep by again.   

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