The first time I attended the Toronto International Film Festival was when I was sixteen years old. My family and I had received tickets to attend a special gala screening of this Hindi movie called Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, which was a landmark film in the Bollywood industry because it explored concepts of infidelity and divorce, topics which were pretty much taboo in commercial Indian cinema. Prior to sitting down, we somehow managed to secure a great spot inside the Roy Thompson Hall, right next to the red carpet entrance where stars Shah Ru Khan and Amitabh Bachan would stroll on in for the event.
It is difficult to explain the intense fan culture surrounding Bollywood, specifically for these two stars, because it is not manifested in cosplaying or merchandising or conventions. It is probably the purest form of idolization and devotion, to the point where if Amitabh Bachan is hospitalized, there are people who would take time off work to go stand outside of his hospital with supportive signs or go to temples to pray for their recovery. Perhaps that is due to the integral role Indian cinema has played in the country, not just as an industry and economic contributor or as a class in itself but as a focal point for communities, regardless of economic standing. I never really saw this intense passion come into play until the gala screening at TIFF, where my own mother and aunt were in absolute awe that they were standing just a few feet away from two of the biggest stars in India. Surrounding them were several aunties (what I call every other Indian woman who is older than me and someone I don’t know/am not related to/do not work with), their children and a few stray husbands who decided to forgo saving seats and scream and geek out in ways that I didn’t think people above the age of twenty would do. I think I may have even seen tears.
That was my first brush with fan culture outside of the music and live entertainment industries. I never had the chance to attend the festival again as I got older, mainly because it always clashed with the first week of school. I definitely paid attention to TIFF film announcements, kept track of which stars and industry professionals were in town, the glitzy parties and fundraisers and was aware of the growing buzz for the festival while making pre-TIFF trips to Yorkville and the Entertainment District, but did not get to experience the real thrill of it all again until last year.
When I did, I saw how truly beautiful Toronto is as a city. I mean, it’s beautiful throughout the year and pretty much any time there is a huge public festival or large-scale event, but there is an extremely unique energy that runs throughout the entire city during the Toronto International Film Festival. Everyone becomes really conscious of the fact that they are engaging in something that is big, bold, and for many, life-changing. Between the fans clinging onto barricades outside festival venues, dedicated film enthusiasts standing in rush lines for hours on end, the friendliest volunteers and a rally of the international film community, there are so many individuals bound together by the passion for film, arts and culture, celebrity and the city itself. You feel the excitement in the air just by standing nearby these individuals and people watching. I love seeing people from all walks of life coming together to celebrate all of these things and connecting with people they may have never spoken to before. It drives crowds out to late night screenings (Midnight Madness) and encourages them to seize the night with extended last calls. They debate over what they’ve seen, vote for what they love, and are, in a sense, tastemakers for the months to come.
TIFF is a great way to expand your horizons. It’s one of the handful of premier film festivals where you can see practically anything, including documentaries, Canadian films, and potential award-winning films first. Their categories are crafted by TIFF programmers who aim to bring a wide range of films to the attention of the global community. TIFF Industry curates events, panels, and interactive sessions for industry professionals, aspiring filmmakers and students, facilitates conversations with some of the most creative minds in the film community and offers a great networking opportunity for all involved. This year, TIFF is bringing the festival to pedestrians and will be taking over King Street West with all sorts of entertainment, art, and celebrations for all.
I am really excited about TIFF 14 because I will be volunteering at the festival for the first time, but between my shifts I hope to catch a few flicks. For those of you who are interested in doing the same, here are five of the many films and documentaries I am excited to see at this year’s festival:
Whiplash stars Miles Teller as an aspiring musician who is taken under the wing of a brash and highly critical band conductor played by J.K. Simmons. I primarily want to see this because of the headlining cast, but I also read a lot of great reviews of the film when it premiered at the Sundance film festival earlier this year. Miles Teller has been popping up everywhere in the last two years and with a lead role as Mr.Fantastic in Fox’s upcoming reboot of Fantastic Four, an expanded role in Insurgent, and co-starring in the upcoming comedy Get A Job with the likes of Anna Kendrick and Bryan Cranston, he is well on his way to taking over Hollywood. If you can’t catch it at TIFF, don’t worry. Whiplash will be released on October 18th. Screenings are on September 8th at the Ryerson Theatre (3:15pm) and September 9th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (12:15pm).
Jean-Marc Vallée’s directorial follow-up to 2013’s massive award hit, Dallas Buyers Club, is Wild, based on author and essayist Cheryl Strayed’s memor Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. It recounts Strayed’s 1,100 mile backpacking trip which she took while dealing with a series of personal tragedies and heroin addiction. While I haven’t read the memoir yet, I generally enjoy self-discovery stories and the trailer reminds me a lot of Into the Wild, which I loved. TIFF is home to Wild’s International Premiere. It’s a great opportunity to catch a potential Oscar-buzz film early, since the film won’t have its wide released until December 5th. Screenings are on September 8th at Roy Thomson Hall (9:00pm), September 9th at the Elgin Winter Garden Theatre (11:30am) and on September 12th at the Princess of Wales Theatre (3:00pm).
As someone who comes from an Indian background, I am forever curious about my heritage and the country that is home to many of my family members. I touched upon that curiosity briefly when I returned from my trip to India earlier this year, but I did not mention that my interest also extended to the subject of many essays that I wrote in my undergraduate career for political science courses and how it is read and portrayed in various forms of mass media. Monsoon focuses on the rainy, thunderous season in India which brings both prosperity and doom to people of all walks of life. Although I have never been in India during monsoon season, I look forward to seeing how director Sturla Gunnarsson (who also directed Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie) captured the beauty of the people and land and seeing another facet to my multi-dimensional culture through the lens of film. Screenings are on September 7th at the Scotiabank Theatre (6:30pm) and on September 9th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (9:45am).
One of the lessons I took from this year’s Hot Docs Film Festival is that I need to take advantage of the opportunity to see foreign films so that I can get a more well-rounded experience at festivals and increase my exposure to international filmmakers and art. I am trying to be conscious of this at TIFF this year and I am hoping to see France’s Bird People amongst some of the other foreign films being showcased at the festival. Bird People tells the tale of an American businessman and a French maid who cross paths at the same hotel where he is staying and she works. I know the premise sounds bland, but I read some good things about it after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, particularly due to its third act. It will receive its North American premiere under the Contemporary World Cinema programme at TIFF 14. Screenings will take place at the Scotiabank Theatre on September 5th (5:45pm), September 7th (8:30pm), and September 13th (8:30pm).
I have followed Foxcatcher‘s production for quite some time. I am almost afraid that with the amount of time I have spent reading about the film, its positive reviews and the actual story, I have built up my excitement for this film to a point where I also set myself up for severe disappointment. I am also very curious to see how Steve Carell and Channing Tatum take on a true drama film, and whether or not this film lives up to the extremely early Oscar buzz its received since its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball), Foxcatcher tells the true story of businessman John du Pont, who invested in training American wrestling athletes for the Olympics and ended up murdering Dave Schultz, the brother of one of his prodigies, Mark Schultz. Foxcatcher will be released across North America on November 14th. Screenings will take places on September 8th at Roy Thomson Hall (6:00pm) and September 9th at The Princess of Wales theatre (12:00pm).
I also look forward to potentially seeing films like Nightcrawler, Before We Go, Infinitely Polar Bear and Rosewater, but first, I need to get my tickets. In case you are interested in attending TIFF, note that single tickets go on sale on Sunday, August 31st. Its a bit of a challenge to get your first picks, so read through TIFF’s schedule and make sure you have tons of options ready because screenings do sell out (but don’t worry, rushing a film is fun too – we can hang out!) Make sure to stay tuned to my blog because I’ll be updating from TIFF and posting reviews of the films that I end up seeing!
The Toronto International Film Festival kicks off on Thursday, September 4th with Robert Downey Jr.’s film The Judge opening this year’s festival, which will end on September 14th. Hope to see you there!