TORONTO: From Cinephiles to the
Industryites; A Tale of Two Festivals
by Stephen Garrett
(indieWIRE: 09.13.02) -- Ever hear about the ophthalmologist in L.A. who closes down his practice and comes to Toronto every year just to watch movies? Or the woman in her late seventies who could care less about Hollywood stargazing and just goes from theater to theater seeing everything she can? Or the Manhattanites who pooh-pooh the New York Film Festival ("too few movies," they claim) and take a week off to come to Toronto and steep themselves in world cinema?
Film festivals around the world always encourage people from outside the film industry to buy tickets and enjoy their events. But there's something about the Toronto International Film Festival that attracts true, dyed-in-the-wool cinephiles to be annual spectators.
It's the other side to the festival that's somewhat cut off from the eyes of working journalists and film industry types, who generally stick to their own special screenings and only occasionally attend public shows. Every time they, do, though, the experience feels genuinely heightened -- as opposed to the jaded industry types who mute their excitement, the public is much more energized and hyped-up. How else to explain the 900 people who show up at 12:30 a.m. to pack a Midnight Madness screening of the Elvis vs. Mummy schlock horror flick "Bubba Ho-Tep"?
"There are a lot of people right here in Toronto who even take their allotted two-week vacations from work during the festival and just buy the most expensive passes," says Bonnie Voland, the president of B. Voland International and a 20-year veteran of the festival. "Like no other town, Toronto really is a place where the festival is very present in metropolitan life. It's part of the fabric of the city."
But Toronto's charm extends beyond local borders. Up until the early '90s, Milos Stehlik, the founder of Facets Multimedia in Chicago, organized a bus trip -- including hotel accommodations and movie tickets -- for Windy City movie lovers eager to make it to Toronto.
"The audiences are fantastic here," says David Cronenberg, a Canadian director with a long history of having his work screened at the festival (including his this year's "Spider"). "They're more like a real film audience than you get at some festivals where it's more of a specialized audience. Here, the people see films all the time. They don't come for the social excitement."
The 10-day length of the festival and the sheer number of selections are always a draw. Toronto also boasts relatively easy ticket buying, large venues, and supportive crowds.
And there are those within the film industry who are also unexpected enthusiasts. It's not uncommon for a famous director or actor who is already a festival invitee to catch a movie or two during a spare moment. This year, sharp-eyed viewers could have spotted Gus Van Sant checking out Alexander Sokurov's "Russian Ark" and Ken Loach's "Sweet Sixteen," Ralph Fiennes popping into Chen Kaige's "Together" or Willem Dafoe in the audience at "The Man Without a Past."
But how many industry types actually go out of their way to attend the event just because they like watching movies? "People constantly ask me why I'm here," says Brian De Palma, who since 1978 has been coming to Toronto whenever his schedule permits. "And I say, 'I'm watching movies,' which always seems to surprise them."
This year, De Palma has a more pressing reason to be here: his latest thriller, "Femme Fatale" is the closing-night selection. But, as in years past, he's been here since the very first day. He's a fan of the Montreal Film Festival as well, but Toronto is a particular favorite. "Toronto is a film town, and the audiences are very enthusiastic," he says. "What I don't understand is why I don't see more directors going to festivals to watch movies. Where else do you get the chance to see the work of your peers