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Final thoughts on the Toronto Film Festival

Posted at 4:58 PM on September 19, 2005 by Euan Kerr

Euan Kerr back from the north, with a few lessons learned.

I was only there for a few days, but it sure was fun. I saw seven new movies in a 48 hour period, and it never once felt like overload. A couple of thoughts and images worth sharing.....

Films can be made by word of mouth in one city. You couldn't get a ticket for "Capote" for love nor money in Toronto, which is remarkable given the movie was finished just days before it premiered at the festival. I just talked with director Bennett Miller who seemed blown away by the huge success of the film. He said they had to turn 200 people away from the press screening.

Toronto is hugely important for overseas film-makers trying to get a foothold in the North American market. Many come to the festival hoping to find a distributor, and many fail. I spent a fair bit of time with some people trying to sell their films. For some there was great joy as they signed a deal, for others a certain desperation as it became increasingly clear they would only be seen by U.S. audiences via DVD.

There is also the charming tradition of the press and industry screenings at Toronto. It's an opportunity for people in the business to check out other people's films, and for journalists to see a whole lot of movies in a short space of time. It's apparently not pretty, particularly if it's your film being shown. People move in and out all through the screening, gossip, and even take phone calls. And, there may not be anyone left at the end. I heard one publicist tell a director that, no matter what, she was not to go anywhere near the "P and I" screening of her film, because it would only upset her.

Almost every screening I attended was packed. As I have mentioned before it's rare that I go to a movie with more than a few dozen people in the theater and it's a real kick to get swept along by an audience reaction. I got the last ticket to see a 9 am screening of "Dave Chapelle's Block Party." It is a documentary about a huge bash the comedian threw in 2004 in Brooklyn. It's a great mixture of wild comedy and wild music, and it was an unlikely flick with which to start the day, but the place was rocking. It was great. The film was billed as a "work in progress" and I am not sure when it will actually be released, but it's going to be big.

One sweet thing (which eventually turned saccharine) was a trailer played before every movie asking the audience to show festival volunteers "some love." It was invariably greeted by a small ovation. I really liked it the first couple of times, but by movie seven, I thought they'd made the point.

And finally perhaps the most apt experience of the festival came just after the screening of "North Country." One of the many complaints women working in the mines make in the movie is about the lack of toilet facilities in the pit. After the movie finished there seemed to be a larger than usual dash for the bathrooms. It was a 9 am screening, and maybe some folks had just had a few too many cups of coffee before heading in. Anyway I joined the rush, and noted the usual line snaking out the door of the women's room. There was one inside the men's room too, accompanied by the usual stoic silence that always seems to surround such gatherings. After I'd been waiting for a couple of moments, one of the stall doors opened and a young lady stepped out quickly, heading to the exit, apologizing all the way. I don't know if anyone would have really cared at any other time, but given where we had just all been, it produced a few rueful smiles.

September 2005
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