DISPATCH FROM TORONTO: The Festive Side of the Festival
by Eugene Hernandez
Next to 'What have you seen today,' the most popular question at a film festival is, 'What are you doing tonight?' Over the past week here in Toronto, many industry types have been partying with a 'what happens in Toronto, stays in Toronto' sort of mindset,' shuttling in cabs from club to bar, getting to bed in the wee hours, only to be up shortly thereafter for morning screenings and meetings.
A true highlight of the week was, without a doubt, Sunday night at Remington's, Toronto's popular all-male stripper bar that welcomed an impromptu after-party for John Waters' "A Dirty Shame" on its weekly ladies night (females welcome). What a fitting venue to celebrate Waters' new movie, the story of a band of sex-crazed Baltimore residents at odds with conservative group of self-described "neuters" who are hoping to restore decency to the city. The director, along with stars Johnny Knoxville and Selma Blair, not to mention New Line chief Bob Shaye, were joined by a number of gawkers who ogled and giggled as the club's "men of steel" pranced entirely naked. Blair was given a free lap dance on stage and later some guests scored private dances of their own after the crowd thinned out a bit.
"You don't get this at Sundance," quipped a publicist attending the event (of course, there was that infamous "Party Monster" fete last year that featured a completely stripped down festival volunteer dancing atop a platform).
Over at the Bovine Sex Club on Queen St. last night, filmmaker and actress Asia Argento joined writer J.T. LeRoy in the DJ booth to entertain a packed crowd at a rockin' post-midnight bash toasting the U.S. debut of Argento's "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things." Revelers munched on grilled cheese sandwiches and mini-burgers, while bouncing to the Sex Pistols. The film, based on LeRoy's book of the same name, is a harrowing story of a drugged-out mother trying to care for her son.
At the Windsor Arms hotel on Tuesday night, Time Magazine and THINKFilm threw one of the best bashes of the fest, laying out a fine spread of food and drinks to celebrate the world premiere of George Butler's "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry." Butler, a longtime friend of Kerry's, mingled with attendees (a Kerry daughter was rumored to be among them as well) and guests buzzed about the impact that the movie might have leading up to the election. THINKFilm will release the movie in more than 200 theaters next month and a DVD debut will swiftly follow. The company held an equally fun breakfast party on Friday at the same hotel, sending guests home with a large gift bag of beauty products and an Agnes B scarf emblazoned with a THINKFilm logo.
Friday's annual bash at CityTV, broadcast live on television, was again a sprawling celebration that filled the ChumCity studios and parking lot with hundreds of locals gathered on the sidewalks to watch the celebrity arrivals. In the VIP green room, a staging area for the many live interviews that made up the TV broadcast, Olivier Assayas, Maggie Cheung and Nick Nolte greeted well-wishers and chatted about their new film, "Clean." Nolte, always a distinctive presence, strolled around the room waving a geisha-style fan and decked out in a long, flowing overcoat and dark glasses hanging off the tip of his nose. In the film, Nolte and Cheung star as a mom and grandpa who are fighting for custody of a child.
"Clean" is one of 26 French films and 26 French co-productions showing in Toronto this year. Unifrance celebrated its presence with a bountiful lunch spread at Prego on Tuesday. Filmmakers Agnes Varda (Cinevardaphoto), Yvan Attal ("...And They Lived Happily Ever After"), Catherine Breillat ("Anatomy of Hell"), Claire Denis ("The Intruder") and Jacques Perrin ("Les Choirestes") were among the directors who sipped wine and mingled with attendees at the popular annual gathering.
Among the other afternoon soirees that made a mark were a Trigger Street Independent bash launching the new company, offering a nice lunch. Company founders Kevin Spacey, Dana Brunetti, Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen mingled with guests during the intimate gathering.
Festivals have weighed in with their own celebrations. SXSW offered a Monday afternoon celebration featuring bands The Sadies and The Fiery Furnaces and a late-night bash to toast the doc "Be Here to Love Me," offering insiders a high-rise bash at the Four Season. Meanwhile a group of fests (The Bahamas, River Run, Sarasota, Denver) joining Festival Consulting Group for a party at Sage, while Kodak and indieWIRE teamed up for a bash later that night at the same venue. Among the most distinctive bashes in town this week as a party at the Windsor Arms hosted by the Dubai International Film Festival and his Highness Sheikh Ahmed bi Saeed Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai. The festival transformed the hotel into an Arabian village, with music, belly dancers, camels, sand and a falcon. Organizers of the annual festival announced that Toronto International Film Festival co-director Noah Cowan has joined the programming team for this year's event, December 6-11.
After hours, many guests have gathered at hotspots such as Bistro 990 on Bay St. -- the restaurant is one of a few local bars given special permission to serve drinks until 4 a.m. nightly. Like the Grand Hotel bar in Cannes, the site is popular with New York film industry execs and festival chiefs who gather until the wee hours. However, the site has seemed a bit subdued at times this week. One insider speculated that the tragic Lobby bar, near the Intercontinental Hotel, has drawn away some guests. That venue, worth avoiding at all costs, offers an annoying mix of guests and poorly chosen music.
Palm Announces "News" Pact
Johnnie To's "Breaking News," which debuted at Cannes this year, has been acquired by Chris Blackwell's Palm Pictures. Palm nabbed North American and Caribbean rights to the new film, having its North American debut here in Canada.
"We are big fans of Johnnie To's body of work and released 'Fulltime Killer' and are releasing To's 'PTU'," said Palm's David Koh. "We look forward to introducing the prolific filmmaker and his latest work to an even wider audience in North America."