The Toronto International Film Festival: A report at the halfway point
The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is still going strong, but this annual festivalgoer ran out of stamina on Day 6, winging it back home to start transcribing all of the interviews I nabbed and trying to make out the often-undecipherable notes I took in big dark rooms, watching movie after movie.
The final count for this year was 12 films (it should’ve been 14, but the critics screening for “Darkest Hour” had so much buzz, all seats were grabbed and more than 100 of us were turned away, and it was impossible to find a ticket for the even hotter, mystery-shrouded Louis C.K. film “I Love You, Daddy.”
But that’s OK; I was kept pretty darn busy. Along with those movies, I had both one-on-one and press conference interviews with ... OK, truth be told, I lost track of who and how many. But they ranged from George Clooney, who directed “Suburbicon,” to Eric Clapton, there to chat about the new documentary on his life and career. That said, here are some highlights and lowlights of what I went through at this year’s TIFF, my 14th in a row.
Location! Location! Location! My small, cheap hotel — full name: The Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar — is a five-minute walk from the multi-screen Scotiabank Theatre, where most critics screenings are held each day, starting at 8:30 a.m. It takes only an additional two minutes to make it to TIFF Central, where there are press conferences, a media lounge (computers, free lunches, and endless urns of coffee), and more screenings.
I’m going to be vague about most of the films I saw, saving that for an upcoming end-of-festival wrap-up of brief reviews. But I will admit that my first one, on the evening before the festival officially began, was “Downsizing,” an enjoyable if somewhat freaky science-fiction comedy starring Matt Damon. Other early viewings were of a drama focusing on a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing, and a period piece, set around 1900, involving Queen Victoria’s unconventional friendship with a much-younger gentleman from India.
My first couple of days were all movies, all the time, as no interviews had been scheduled till Day 3. I caught a Japanese film about a middle-aged woman who takes on a second identity — all in Japanese, with subtitles, until out of the blue, Josh Hartnett shows up, playing an English teacher in Japan. Then there was the newest film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, who gave us “The Lobster” a couple of years back. And if you thought “The Lobster” was weird, wait till you see this one. Then it was “Suburbicon,” another one with Matt Damon in the lead. But while “Downsizing” was light and bubbly (with some serious emotional issues mixed in), this one, directed by Mr. Clooney and, unknown to me at the time, written by Joel and Ethan Coen, featured the darkest and nastiest style of “humor” imaginable.
With something like 230 or so features being offered, at moviehouses all over town, I attended both critics and public screenings. Because it’s such a popular event, there are always long lines to get in. And there’s always fascinating conversation between movie-loving total strangers while waiting in those lines. There’s the standby, “What have you seen so far?” I heard someone, two lines over from me, say, incredulously, “That’s the most ridiculous concept I’ve ever heard!” But I never caught the title. During my wait to see the Clapton documentary, I had a chat with a fellow from Australia that ranged from what was the best year for the Fender Stratocaster guitar to the history of Spaghetti Westerns.
Sitting at lunch during a break, I spoke with a gent from Liverpool at the next table, who told me his teenage son was just accepted to film school, and that he was he was so happy, he was “like a puppy with three tails.” I told him I’d never heard that expression, so he explained: “One to wag, one to chase, one to look at.” TIFF expands your knowledge in many ways.
I caught screenwriter Mike White’s new film, “Brad’s Status,” only the second one he’s also directed, I then interviewed Mr. White (cool guy), and went to a screening of what turned out to be my fest fave, “I, Tonya,” an oddball, joyfully irreverent spin on the story of ice skater Tonya Harding.
Just before the lights went down for a dramatic biopic on the man who created Wonder Woman, there was more talk, this time right in the cinema, where one extremely loud, incredibly obnoxious know-it-all American was expounding from his seat about the endings of every film he’d seen so far. But we were in Canada, where everyone is polite, so no one stopped him.
That night, at the Rex, where my room was situated right above the club, I nodded off to the very cool sounds of the Tony Monaco Organ Trio, who you should go see if they come to your town.
Up in the morning, time only for toast and coffee, off to interview both a legendary British director (he made “My Beautiful Laundrette” and “Florence Foster Jenkins”) and then a British stand-up comic and actor who’s as well known for his fast-talking, historical-political-pop culture routines as he is for his predilection for crossdressing.
More movies! A 4 p.m. cocktail party! Journeys back and forth to different cinemas (for screenings) and hotels (for interviews), on foot, in cabs, by subway. More movies. A chat during a 90-minute wait in a line (something went wrong at the previous screening) with a Toronto-based CPA about the difference in penalties for late tax payments in Canada and America (I really did learn a lot at TIFF).
I walked into a restaurant where I had dined exactly one year earlier. A waiter came up to me and said,”Welcome back! I really want to thank you for recommending ‘Nocturnal Animals’ and ‘The Belko Experiment’ from last year’s fest.” I guess I have one of those faces.
One more interview, with the man who made the creepy “Nightcrawler” and has now made a social justice-themed film with Denzel Washington. And one more screening, of the new John Woo film: A real throwback to his ultra-violent gun-centric movies. Alas, I was so wiped out, I nodded off again, this time right in my seat. When I awoke, the guy next to me said I was out for only about 10 minutes, but I missed four or five shootouts.
Yeah, it was time to go home. Stay tuned for those reviews in a few days.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at email@example.com.