I love Toronto the most in September when the days are still warm, the sun still sets late into the evening and patio fans loiter in luxury on the side of every curb here and there with a pint and penchant to hold on to the summer before winter woes keep us locked in tight. Toronto really shines in September as folks get back to regular work hours and students throw their noses back into their books. Most importantly, Canada’s little city on the lake takes the world by storm as film fans, A-list celebrities and top media & industry descend upon the city for the worlds favourite public party, The Toronto International Film Festival.
This year I’ll be running around town yet again to capture the social aspects of the festival: glitzy gifting lounges, newsy events, exclusive parties and film premieres. From dusk till dawn you’ll find me zig zagging across T.O. while nibbling through picture perfect canapés and quenching my thirst on ice cold cocktails. I’ll be updating this page on the daily to recap my favourite moments at #TIFF15, so come back now ya’here?
I spent my final day at TIFF in the earnestly frigid air conditioned Ryerson Theatre. I grabbed tickets to two screenings which were scheduled for 3pm and 6pm. I thought watching two back-to-back shows would be a fun way to bid the festival adieu. The intention was to leave the genre, plot, setting and characters up to chance. The afternoon’s theme would emerge as a dramatic duo focussing on how family members react when their loved ones fight a courageous battle with cancer.
In Fabienne Berthaud’s SKY, a French tourist flee’s from the scene of a terrible crime, embarking on a life-changing road trip across California and Nevada. Pretty blond Romy (Diane Kruger) meets plenty of people on her adventure: a sympathetic police officer (Joshua Jackson), a cowboy and lover (Norman Reedus) on the Vegas Strip, and, in a dust-encrusted trailer park, a perennially pregnant young woman (Leena Dunham) who unapologetically dumpster dives to feed her family and refuses to be worn down by her bleak surroundings. Romy struggles through a sequence of haunting trials while unexpectedly falling in love with a new man, who unbeknownst to her is secretly fighting a battle with leukaemia.
If SKY showcases the story of two lovers struggling with the tragedy of cancer, James White offers a glimpse into the fragile mind of a son who is trying his best to care for his dying mother. James White (Christopher Abbott/GIRLS) is a deadbeat, self-destructive, immature fuck-up. We first meet him on the morning of his estranged father’s funeral – he arrives late, still drunk from the previous night’s bender, and it’s obvious that this is his usual behaviour. In his late twenties, he’s unemployed and living on his mother’s couch. Though his mom, Gail (Cynthia Nixon/Sex In The City), disapproves of his unfocussed lifestyle, she’s battling cancer and depends on him to take care of her.
James is the antihero perfected. The audience can see and feel his overwhelming love for his mother but whenever life throws him a curveball he deals by indulging in destructive behaviour. After the film credits rolled the director and three lead actors arrived on stage for a Q&A. When asked by an audience member about how Cynthia Nixon prepared to take on the haunting role of a dying mother she responded: “the year we filmed my mother had passed away from cancer. I experienced the disease first hand and tried to breath that reality into Gail’s very real reactive struggle with pain.” Nixon offers a truly heart wrenching performance which forces you to reflect on how blessed the majority of us are to have our health.
My final film fest party would unfold on the sprawling grounds of Toronto’s much adored, Casa Loma. The stoic castle was dressed to the nines last night as pretty ladies and handsome gents sauntered across red carpet and into one of the festivals most raved about annual soiree’s. Hosted by the Italian Trade Commission each year at TIFF, The Italian Cinema Party offers a lavish slice of Dolce Vita in celebration of the nations top films. I was thrilled (and not surprised) that a lavish party hosted by Italians would feature a fine feast. Guests strolled through chandelier adorned rooms, digging into mountainous cheese and charcuterie boards, gorgonzola polenta topped with short rib, fried onions and porcini crumble, cheesy lasagna, crispy arancini, BBQ lamb chops and pillow soft gnocchi. Bartenders tipped their hats to the Italian Riviera summer patio thirst quencher, Aperol Spritz while a choir of Prosecco flutes sparkled under the full moon which splashed along the castles breezy terrace. Most popular was the pop up gelato stand where sweet tooth’s rejoiced over creamy scoops of limonata. Handsome men chit chatting in Italian perfumed the space with the sweet smell of cigar smoke while a family of the city’s much loved racoon population tip toed across the back lawn.
You know your hitting a wall of exhaustion while covering TIFF when you find yourself on a Monday evening at a film party insisting on sipping Perrier rather than champagne. I sat perched on the 2nd floor of Copacabana Brazilian Steakhouse squeezing a slice of lemon into the fizz while peering out the restaurants breezy window which offers a birds eye view of Adelaide Street West. The cast and crew of quirky Danish flick Men & Chicken sipped vino while nibbling on sizzling sausage and sirloin before bolting out the door to attend the films premiere, a stones throw away at Scotiabank Theatre.
The theatre was packed to the brim, not a single seat in sight as the lights dimmed and Director Anders Thomas Jensen welcomed the crowd with a few cordial chirps. His delirious comedy, Men & Chicken is about two sadsack brothers who head to a dilapidated mansion on a remote island to meet their biological father – and their three seriously eccentric siblings. The plot is filled with classical Scandinavian comedic morbidity which at first is shocking but soon becomes oddly farcical. Men & Chicken has already broken box-office records in its native land and is sure to be one of the most lauded bizzare indie flicks of the year.
Nikki Beach Club returned to the Toronto International Film Festival for their 7th consecutive year as a pop-up party at members-only Spoke Club. This past weekend fashion-forward brunch fans were treated to Nikki Beach’s first ever #InstaBrunch which featured a buffet teaming with fresh fromage, spicy charcuterie and sweet pastry. Flutes bubbling with TIFF’s signature cocktail, the Grey Goose Le Fizz floated around the room while models marched through the dinning room, offering up an exclusive fashion show from two designers produced by The Collections.
I spent the evening enjoying dinner and a movie with my friends at Sidewalk Hustle and Canada Goose. Our evening began with a wine sloshed feast on the 2nd floor of the Ritz Carlton at the hotel’s Italian inspired Toca. An intimate group of Toronto influencers sipped champagne in the private dining room, just a stones throw from Twilight star Kristen Stewart who had a premiere to dash off to later that evening. The six course feast featured Fegato Grasso (seared foie gras, pistachio mousse, green apple), Ravioli Caprese (homemade ravioli, caciotta cheese, marjoram, tomato sauce), Risotto al Limone (lemon risotto, saffron, raw scampi, oyster), Tempura di Triglia (tempura red mullet, squid, marinated vegetables, saffron ailoi), Filetto Mignon (braised escerole, hazelnut, raisin) and Tiramisu (hazelnut cake, mascarpone, almond, espresso).
After sipping a quick espresso we bolted out the door, clutching umbrellas over our heads while dashing through the rain en route to the Princess of Wales Theatre. We were seated on the mezzanine moments before the lights dimmed and audience roared in anticipation. Greta Gerwig stars in Maggie’s Plan, writer-director Rebecca Miller’s newest offering, about a young woman whose determination to have a child involves her in a love triangle with an unhappy academic (Ethan Hawke) and his eccentric critical-theorist wife (Julianne Moore). Canada Goose has been a long time supporter of the film industry and regularly outfits film crews shooting in frigid locals. The luxury jacket would play a cameo that evening in a hilarious scene when Moore and Hawke are hiking through a blizzard in rural Quebec.
Hosted by Director Norman Jewison each year during TIFF, the Canadian Film Centre’s Annual BBQ is held in celebration of Canadian cinema. The exclusive invitation-only event takes place at Windfields a stoic manor house surrounded by lush gardens and pristine manicured lawns. The party was packed even though the weather drizzled throughout the afternoon. Guests eagerly quenched their thirst on local Mill Street brews and cocktails muddled with Dan Aykroyd’s Crystal Head Vodka. The hungry crowd chowed down on hotdogs, burgers, corn on the cob, stringy cheese pizza, spicy tacos and sweet celebratory cupcakes. While strolling through the properties lush green lawn it’s obvious that the CFC BBQ at TIFF acts as a special networking event for Canadian filmmakers. Old friends share ecstatic salutations and chit-chat about current work while gushing over their hopes and dreams for future collaborations.
Variety Studio at Holt Renfrew kicked-off yesterday, the luxury retailers sixth annual instalment which plays home to Variety’s festival-filmmaker video series and portrait studio. Between September 11-14th, indie and award-winning directors, actors, writers and producers will be interviewed by Variety’s editorial team for the publication at Holt Renfrew’s Bloor Street location in glitzy Yorkville.
I arrived at the Holt Renfrew pink carpet shortly after 3pm in anticipation for Ellen Page and Julianne Moore who were scheduled to promote Freeheld. Their new film is a tale of lesbian-love and the fight for equality in America which looks to be one of the most buzzed about LGBT flicks of the year. I find it impossible not to fangirl over the petite pixie who is Ellen Page, dressed in black leather pants and noir blouse dotted with cute cartooned red lipstick. While I sip an obligatory cup of coffee a wide-eyed Patrick Stewart skips over to Ms. Page and offers a big bear hug while chirping, “my day just got so much better after seeing you.”
Mr. Stewart is then rushed out the door by his publicist and I linger as Ms. Page fiddles on her iPhone 6. I notice she is cropping an image on instagram which she took moments ago with the films director (pictured left) and so I ready my finger so I can be the first to offer an enthusiastic heart via double tap. A few minutes later Ms. Page opens her arms enthusiastically to actress Alia Shawkat and quickly snaps a selfie which immortalizes my manbun via “over your shoulder” cameo (pictured right).
Julianne Moore, always the stunner, is quickly whisked into the studio and runs behind a black curtain for her photoshoot with Page. It’s as if she walks on whispers everywhere she goes. The duo embrace affectionately, mother daughter vibes, before Moore attempts to ghost out of the party as everyone swoons for her strappy stilettos which quickly march out the door and disappear into a black SUV.
The most buzzed about restaurant opening this year at TIFF is the Four Seasons Cafe Boulud reboot. I was offered a quick tour of the reimagined space by dapper Assistant Food & Beverage Manager Jamie Knoepfli. The dinning room now features intimate banquettes and a delightful vintage bar which may just become the city’s most coveted stools, a perfect perch for people watching. Spotted: Chef Daniel Boulud himself, working away on his iPhone, hidden from view at the restaurants posh private dining room.
A short skip downstairs and I’m sitting at dBar and running my finger down the hotel’s festival inspired cocktail creations. I sample through a trilogy of playful thirst quenchers featuring brandy and chambord spiked Danish Girl, gin and aperol muddled Endorphine and poprock-tastic Devil’s Candy.
At the dinner hour I make a point of feasting at my favourite late night munchies haunts, nibbling through Chef Susur Lee’s marvellous dim sum inspired menu. I hop up at the Chefs Table with Joaquin and excitedly swoon over Xiao Long Bao pork soup dumplings, smoky bacon adorned Cantonese Style Ginger Fried Rice, crispy General Tao Sesame Beef and that heart stopper, Shrimp Cheung Fun.
Luckee’s mixologists have crafted a shortlist of TIFF inspired cocktails, so we naturally sipped through a trifecta. Prosperous Manhattan features Hennesy Black Cognac and Godlschlager, Blushing Dragon a flute of sparkling cava spiked with strawberry shrub while Shanghai Lemonade was the go to thirst quencher prepared with kaffir lime infused rum, chartreuse and San Pellegrino limonata.
Our final stop of the night was Mongrel Media’s inaugural Mongrel House event series which serves as a main hub for events hosted by Canada’s leading independent film distributor. For seven nights, the historic Campbell House Museum on Queen Street will be transformed with nightly programming and entertainment for invited filmmakers, talent and industry guests. The event space featured a main stage with live music and DJ’s, an outdoor biergarten with artisanal food stations, karaoke room, ping pong lounge and professional makeup studio. I was invited to attend as a guest of Holt Renfrew, an official partner of Mongrel House, who will be utilizing the space to entertain, delight and surprise their favourite clients and fashion-forward influencers. Rain splattered across the city but didn’t dampen the mood. Cool breeze and soft mist spun through the space, offering a romantic vibe for guests who huddled under glowing white tents and lounged on plush leather couches. Upon arrival we sipped on locally produced Station Cold Brew Coffee shaken with Collingwood Canadian Whiskey (a good wake me up moment) and were later lulled by siren-worthy vocals offered up by folky W Darling.
TIFF officially launched last night and what better way to celebrate the world’s biggest and flashiest film festival then by sipping at an intimate soiree. Each year Toronto’s Ritz Carlton hosts a petite party at their al fresco Ritz Bar for top Canadian media who are in town for the festival. Whilst sipping a lemon and gin muddled cocktail I watched as a flock of film fans eagerly (and ever so patiently) wait on the sidewalk in hopes of spotting their favourite Hollywood star. A parade of plates from the kitchen floated around the space offering nourishment for those about to tackle the late night festival party circuit. Highlights included stringy cheese topped pizza, crispy empanada, and freshly sliced sushi.
At dusk the city’s prettiest people strolled up Bay Street for Toronto Life’s annual “Best Dressed” soiree. This year the party was thrown at the Trump Hotel to celebrate the launch of the mags coveted Stylebook. Ladies with a penchant for pretty were entertained by sparkling Swarovski jewelry while sketch artists offered a five minute portrait session for those looking to immortalize their look on paper.
Toronto’s fashion glitterati posed here and there apparently deaf to my chirps “over your shoulder who are you wearing?” Parched personalities quenched their thirst on ice cold Stella Artois, Stoli Elit cocktails and glasses of buttery chardonnay. While it appeared as though the majority of the room was pouring its energy into sucking-in-their-guts I fancied a fine feast featuring a sweet candy buffet, hazelnut rolled foie gras pops, fried chicken and donut bites and an extravagant table decked out with fresh fromage and charcuterie.
This year the team at Rock-It Promotions hosted their annual Tastemakers Lounge presented by Sorel and Elle Canada in an intimate space at The Intercontinental Toronto Centre. Over the course of its eleven-year tenure, Tastemakers has hosted and gifted many notable names including Woody Harrelson, Brad Pitt, Ellie Goulding, Ethan Hawke, Elisha Cuthbert and Colin Firth. My favourite swag from this years Tastemakers Lounge: skin conditioning via Ayuervedic beauty brand Sahajan, hands on chiropractic session with Dr. Liza from the [fix], plucking care of Tweezerman’s, leather boots by Sorel and sweet sips from Rhone Valley Wines, Pommies Cider and Remy Cointreau Group.
In its 10th year, NKPR hosted their IT Lounge at Festival headquarters as part of a strategic partnership with the Toronto International Film Festival. Past IT Lounge guests have included international and homegrown stars such as Julianne Moore, Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Mila Kunis, Jared Leto, Olivia Wilde, Robert Pattison and John Cusack. My favourite swag from this years IT Lounge: aromatic ailment aid Saje Natural Wellness, hair brushing perfected thanks to Goody, pasta creations by Barilla, slick Cross Pen and a refreshing melon and jalapeno spiked splash via Drink Juice Co.
This year Glo Communications hosted its annual Bask It Style Lounge in a posh private estate above the Shangri-La Hotel Toronto. Bask It Style, a twist on traditional gifting, gives busy stars on the go at TIFF one less thing to worry about while promoting their films and schmoozing with their industry peers. This year Glo took celebrity gifting to new heights by assembling and hand delivering VIP gift bags to the hotels where the top stars call home during the festival. Past celebrities gifted through hotel partners have included Sir Elton John, Megan Fox, Matt Damon, Ellen Page and Jennifer Garner. My favourite swag from this years Bask It Style Lounge: beyond Fair Trade Organic Doi Chaang Coffee, Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Toronto via DK Publishing, new skin care products from Neutrogena, Ottawa’s Old Tomorrow CPA brew and comfy Calvin Klein underwear.
This year EGPR’s Essentials Lounge was hosted in a charming sun-drenched space on Niagara Street, The Diaz Contemporary. Esther Garnick’s annual TIFF lounge is a unique offering where celebrities aren’t invited and the real pampering is offered up to overworked media. Local writers get giddy with glee each year when the Essential’s Lounge opens its door’s as the products here are intentionally useful. Garnick is adamant she would never feature a brand in her lounge that wasn’t inherently helpful to media who cover TIFF from dusk till dawn. My favourite treats from this years Essentials Lounge include: donut and coffee Krispy Kreme pop up, healthy skin assessment via SkinCeuticals, sweet kicks by Saucony Originals, steeped sips courtesy of Your Tea, savoury snacking outside via Menu Food Truck and Azzaro Pour Homme scent-sations.
I spent my eve at the Shangri-La Hotel via a posh soiree hosted by Birks, Canada’s leading prestige jeweller since 1879. The celebration unfolded in front of a jaw dropping Champagne Wall within the hotel’s luxurious Lobby Lounge. The bubbly splashed reception was hosted to mark the hotel’s third year anniversary and the debut of the exclusive Breitling Chronomat 44 Jet Team American Tour timepiece. Guests had the opportunity to meet the Breitling Jet Team (dapper gents in flashy jumpsuits), the largest civilian aerobatic team in the world. The evening was attended by over 200 VIP guests who chit chatted over a jovial live jazz band while flutes of Perrier Joet floated through the space. Executive Chef Damon Campbell wow’d with petite pop-in-your-mouth’s featuring compressed watermelon topped with feta, cherry and rillette adorned polenta and a creamy meets decadent chocolate finish which left mugs delightfully smug.
Last week a giant white dome was erected on King Street West in the heart of TIFF-town. For curious passers-by, take note: Stella Artois has brought Sensorium, dubbed “A Feast for All 5 Senses,” to adventurous palettes in Toronto. Honouring the way a perfectly poured Stella Artois immerses the 5 senses, Sensorium is a multi-course dining experience with beer and food pairings where each dish is inspired by one of the five senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, aroma. Guests in the sensorial dome are immersed in a 360 degree experience, surrounded by video and interactive elements that engage and amplify all of the senses throughout the meal.
The Sensorial Team includes Chef Richie Farnia from Chicago’s lauded Michelin Starred Moto Restaurant which I had the pleasure of dining last summer, jaw dropping video narrative by Jamie Webster, beats by sound producer Nyles Miszczyk and scent-sations by Dr. Irwin Adam Eydelnant. The dining experience they’ve created truly is magical, making one feel as though they are feasting inside a Planetarium. The dinning series runs throughout September and to the lucky few who nabbed tickets before it sold out…enjoy a preview of your upcoming unforgettable five course feast. Taste Time (selection of raw petite vegetables planted in mushroom soil and roasted in garlic aioli), Sea Flavour (raw and dehydrated scallops, poached halibut with young coconut puree accompanied by variety of sea vegetation), Hot Sounds (vegetable broth served with crispy rice noodles, chilies, bean sprouts and variety of herbs), Natures Textures (braised beef cheek bird’s “nest” with caramelized cauliflower puree, mushroom leaves, salsify branches, succulent greens and cauliflower soil), Touch Light (chocolate ganache with graham cracker served inside marshmallow fluff).
This year Gail and Christian from Stylist Box created a fun fashion-centric space for their 3rd annual lounge in a 5,000 square foot posh penthouse located on the 56th floor of Trump Residences. The duo’s Stylist Suite is an exclusive styling lounge for celebrities at TIFF. They offer exclusive access to fashionable looks for actors, producers and television personalities to borrow for special appearances while offering complimentary styling, hair and makeup services. Past celebrity guests dressed by Stylist Box include Maria Bello, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kim Catttrall and supermodel Coco Rocha.
My favourite tricks and treats at this years Stylist Suite: hair blowout by Salon Daniel & Spa, sparkling sips by Pour Niagara, Toronto Popcorn Company nibbles, Parc City Boot Co pocket square, an hour of ping pong at SPiN Toronto and an Ultimate Niagara Get-away Package valued at over $2,000!