TIFF17: The Aftermath
It’s been a long time since I really dug into the meat of a film festival like the Toronto International Film Festival. I had the great pleasure of covering the AFIDOCS festival in DC not too long ago, which is obviously a much more focused festival. No, I’d have to go back to 2003 and the 10th anniversary of SXSW to say I’d attended a film festival proper (I really miss being a student — $150 and I could stand in damn near any line I wanted and SXSW wasn’t insane yet, so I got to see everything I stood in line for). So having dusted the old festival experience off, what have I learned? Besides how to sleep less and bang out something resembling an informed opinion in way less than six hours.
Aim for the front half of the festival
This time around, I was constrained by my own professional schedule as a designer — I had a presentation to make on September 12, smack dab in the middle of TIFF (Sept 7–17). I could make the front half or the back and I could only make the front half if I was working on said presentation AND ATTENDING A FILM FESTIVAL. That seemed, er, suboptimal. As it happens, the screenings during the back half of a festival are often easier to get into, all of the gala hoopla is over. That helped make my decision to go from Sept 14 through 17. But my experiences with Le fort des fous, Samui Song, The Other Side of Everything, and Plonger made them easily the best screenings I attended. I mean, I loved the Elgin (all Art Deco glory and a giant audience that was all on the same page) and the midnight showing was raucous and a real blast, but getting the opportunity to hear the filmmakers talk about their movies was, and is, great. Not just because of the aesthetic insight into their process, though I find that incredibly valuable as well (I mean, I produce a podcast about exactly that kind of thing). And as a creative, a projection/media designer and script writer myself, hearing phrases like “it took me 3/4/5 years” to make this movie is profoundly motivating and validating of my own long slog. It’s good to learn from the filmmakers and celebrate the existence of their work at the same time and that’s what I got out of the Q&A experience. The earlier in the film festival, the more likely you are to be treated to that experience.
Bring Something to Do/Read
Man, I spent a long time in line. I gave myself lots of time between screenings, which reduced the stress and pressure of making a schedule (which can also be fun . . . sometimes!), but I was also in line for like an hour before every screening. The WiFi networks existed, but they were ad hoc and therefore spotty and I would be damned before I let AT&T charge me for international data rates. So . . . I read 2 Economists cover to cover and finished the all too slim volume of Joan Didion’s prose and still had loads of time to stare off into space or type up a rough impression of the screening I had just gotten out of.
Corollary: Bring Someone with You
Another option for bringing all that stuff to read is to do what (it felt like) almost everyone else did: see the movie with someone else. I love cinema. I love watching movies and I’ve done it on my own basically my whole life. But conversation is so helpful (cf podcast). The bursts of life that were all around me as people described their favorite movie, their most surprising movie, their most reviled movie were great. I would love not to live vicariously and surreptitiously through the folks around me. I’m gonna have to con somebody into coming with me. They might even travel with me, though that will require them to survive the hostel life. Or have enough pull/cash to pay for a proper hotel room. Or know someone with a place to crash in Toronto. There are lots of options, ultimately.
See the Stuff You’ve Never Heard Of
I lived by this one and I will continue to live by it. Maybe I’ll schedule something from one of the big galas. I could have seen The Battle of the Sexes at Princess of Wales, for example (I hear its pretty good even). But ultimately, the point of the festival is to discover the next great doc, the unsung work, and I feel like I did a good job on that front, I will continue to do so, and I highly recommend life on the ragged edge.
Read the fine print
I missed the redemption window on my ticket package and that led to a huge amount of hassle with Ticketmaster’s godawful website (the actual human beings were much nicer and easier to deal with). The particular ins and outs of redeeming tickets/getting a pass will differ by film festival, but the point is, if I had really read the email, I would have known that it was a 12 hour window and I would have done it right and significantly reduced my stress. Reducing stress is good when traveling internationally and building your time around 3 films a day. Reading the fine print reduces stress, or it does for me. I guess your mileage may vary. Live your best life whatever that may be.
Do. It. Again.
Film festivals are awesome. Definitely part of my best life.