dobbernationLOVES 2013 Toronto International Film Festival Highlights

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.

TIFF as an experience has evolved for me over the years. I saw my first festival film in my first year of University during the height of my very own movie mania obsession. After falling in love with TIFF I spent 2008-2010 volunteering with the Sponsorship Department at the red carpet galas hosted at Roy Thomson Hall. Profound moments from stage left include the premieres for: Precious (the energy when Oprah arrived on stage wowee), Black Swan (Natalie Portman so adorable) and Reservation Road (Joaquin was a right mess prancing on stage). This year I had the fantastic opportunity to explore #TIFF13 through a new lens as a writer for Metro News.

Most of my memories of TIFF13 are a cocktail infused, lack of sleep blur…from gifting lounges to red carpets, late night parties to early morning press conferences here are dobbernationLOVES notable highlights.

Wednesday September 4th

This year EGPR’s Essentials Lounge was hosted at The Templar Hotel. 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 doors. The products here are intentionally useful, Garnick is adamant she would never feature a brand in her lounge that wasn’t inherently useful to media who cover the festival from dusk till dawn.

My favourite treats from this years Essentials Lounge include: Aveda hair products, Sorel slippers, HP slate 7 tablet, Calvin Klein underwear, Sensodyne and teALCHEMY loose leaf. The takeaway for media at the 2013 Essentials Lounge, $1600 (two heaving tote bags worth).

This year the energetic team at Rock-It Promotions hosted their annual Tastemakers Lounge in a suite at The Intercontinental Toronto Centre. Tastemakers is one of the cities favourite TIFF gifting lounges. Known as “the original,” and now celebrating its 9th year. Stars from around the world visi Tastemakers at TIFF  to discover hot new products, and this year is no exception with the theme Need It Now.

My favourite swag from this years Tastemakers Lounge include: caffeinated chocolate by AWAKE, eco-concious detergent from Seventh Generation, nourishing hand cream that smells like a divine dessert by Cake Beauty and creamed raw honey produced in Saskatchewan by Wendell.

This year Glo Communications hosted their annual Bask It Style Lounge in a spectacular 8 million dollar penthouse. 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. The ambiance of the place was wildly enchanting. Eager media whisked themselves from one station to the next while surrounded by stunning views of the Islands and downtown core. 

My favourite swag from this years Bask It Style Lounge include: travel guide from DK Publishing, 70% dark chocolate from Green and Black’s Organic, silky soft t’s from local mens designer Killigrew, Balsamico from Italian importer Louianna and exclusive Mercedes car service by Unlimited Personal Services.

Thursday September 5th

On the first morn of TIFF I strolled down Bay Street, zoomed up The Trump Hotel and arrived at the 30th Floor’s elegant Wall Street Room. The team from Swarovski flew in from Paris to showcase their newest glitz and glamour to top media and A-list celebs in town for the festival. I was the first to arrive that morning and enjoyed loitering in shimmering crystal luxury. A fabulous way to start the day!

Highlights from Swarovski’s Lounge include: a rainbow of colourful clutches, rock star sunglasses and an emerald crystal earring duo designed by Shourouk.

This year NKPR hosted the annual IT Lounge at their spacious office on Adelaide Street West. I arrived later in the morning to a gong show of “busy bees” as media grabbed bags of this and that while Natasha’s beautifully coiffed staff scampered around in stilettos playing product tour guides for visiting journos. A DJ performed live in the centre of the space while a nice mix of food, beverage, fashion and consumer products whisked themselves under our noses.

My favourite swag from this years IT Lounge include: refreshing iced bevy from David’s Tea, funky socks from Yo Sox, classic Roots jogging pants and a massive ice cream sundae from Cold Stone Creamery which I simply called “breakfast.”

Gail and Christian from Stylist Box created a fun fashion-centric experience for their first inaugural lounge. Dressing for the red carpet has never been easier with The Suite – an exclusive styling lounge for celebrities in the heart of King West Village. Presented by fashion distributor Kelly Claman Company and fashion showroom Stylist Box, The Suite will provide exclusive access to fashionable looks for actors, producers and television personalities to borrow for special appearances during TIFF while offering complimentary styling, hair and makeup services. VIP guests receive over $2,000 worth of services and product at this fashon-centric  “gotta look good,” lounge.

My favourite treats from The Suite include: Clafouti’s trademark original Crookie (croissant cookie synergy), Kara Ross bangles, a classic French beret (you know I love hats) and condoms and candy from CANFAR (you never know where the night will lead you…).

Having my taxi driver drop me off in front of Toronto’s Ritz Carlton was nothing short of a chore. I arrived at 5:30 pm and did my best to dodge Ferrari and Maserati as I whisked my way past the rear of Roy Thomson Hall (where all the festivals Gala’s take place) and around the paparazzi which stood on the sidewalk in front of the hotels iconic revolving doors. The Ritz hosted their official TIFF launch party in the hotels stunning ballroom, and boy did guests dress up for a night on the town. The space was teaming with champagne, cocktails, floating canapes and jaw dropping nibble stations featuring a cheese & charcuterie table, hand rolled cavatelli, juicy beef with horseradish, sushi paired with sake and a sweet station adorned with macaron, rich chocolate cake and petite red velvet cupcakes.

A moody jazz band crooned over huddled whispers and diamond ring + fur combinations  that flashed themselves through glasses of effervescent dry bubbly. I was thrilled to bump into up and coming Canadian actress Cara Gee who launches her first film, Empire of Dirt this week at the festival.  I had an opportunity see her perform at Buddies in Badtimes Theatre twice this past year (The Penelopiad and Arigato, Tokyo) both of her performances were stellar! Before running out the door I also spotted one of my favorite German actors Daniel Brühl who stars alongside Chris Hemsworth in Ron Howard’s new super charged Formula One flick Rush.

I soon found myself skipping down King Street West to party part deux. I took a quick left at Bathurst  and zoomed up to the Thompson Hotel Rooftop for my final soiree of the evening in celebration of Blue is the Warmest Colour. I’ve been dying to see this Palme d’Or winning Cannes Film Festival flick, a tale of lesbian love courtesy of France. Throughout the evening the hotel’s iconic pool glowed as the T.Dot skyline sparkled. A trio of Disaronno infused cocktails floated throughout the space while the DJ set a lively mood. My final moment: leaning over the railing and sipping on a Sour, exhausted from the day and ready to rush home to recharge.

Friday September 6th

On day two of TIFF my first stop of the afternoon was festival headquarters, the TIFF Bell Lightbox. I would be attending my first Press & Industry Screening so made sure to arrive early. I loitered in line for Kate Winslet’s new film Labor Day while an army of international film critics sipped on coconut water and snacked on Pop Chips. 30 minutes before showtime the waiting area for pass holders was rather robust. While sitting in my seat I felt ever the lonely optimist so shook hands with my neighbours. The people sitting directly beside, in front and behind me were from all over the world: New York, Berlin, London, LA, Zurich, Buenos Aires and Mexico City. Moments after the film began I shot a side glance and noticed all of the critics in my row were sitting hunched over a pad of paper barely lit by the screen. The room soon smelled of half day old burritos and grilled chicken wraps. Most critics here see over five films a day so packing a portable feast is essential. The gentleman sitting directly beside me teared up a few times (Kate Winslet’s performance is emotionally epic). In one hand he alternated from slowly nibbling on a sandwich to scribbling down a film factoid. Labor Day is such a tearjerker! I hopped out of my seat as soon as the credits rolled, whipping on my shades as I staggered down King Street holding my heart.

I started off my eve at Nikki Beach hosted at Toronto’s exclusive Spoke Club. For the 5th consecutive year Nikki Beach Toronto has hosted a TIFF pop up concept to entertain industry elite, journalists and film lovers in an elegant setting. Champagne pops and well coifed guests lounge to DJ’s from St. Tropez . During my visit I spotted Toronto’s favourite fashionista Suzanne Rogers who wore a pretty pink number as well as the ever so handsome Jason Bateman.

My next stop was Grolsch Open House located smack dab in the middle of all the action at King and John Street. The iconic Dutch lager team has created a vibrant outdoor public lounge space in the heart of TIFF-town. Open House featured eclectic live music and DJ synergies, innovative art installations, delectable bites from Toronto’s artisanal food truck community and of course, ice cold green ones. Hanging out at the Open House is a great spot for star gazers to snap shots of their favourite celebs. On the south side of the space crowds huddle while sipping their brewskies and waiting to snap shots of A-Listers exiting their premieres. Ever so thrilled I was on site as the premiere for 12 Years a Slave wrapped. Brad Pitt swished through with his long locks wrapped up in a bun. Quite the scene to watch hundreds of people snap their flash in unison. Poor Brad blinded by an ocean of lights. Co-star Michael Fassbender followed in his wake and spent a good twenty minutes smiling with fans and singing autographs.

My final stop of the eve was at the official cast party for Tilda Swinton’s newest vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive. I arrived at The Courthouse just before 10pm to shoot the interior. The venue is one of Toronto’s most iconic clubs and historic spaces featuring a regal chandelier, bar top duo and stage. I spent almost two hours standing on a wee red carpet in hopes of getting a few shots of the stars as they arrived. Having been up for TIFF since 6am I was fading fast, shifting the weight of my hip from one leg to the next while intermittently resting my left cheek on the back shoulder of the photographer in front of me. The Pay Off: red carpet moments with guest David Cronenberg as well as film stars Tom Hiddleston and Anton Yelchin. I stood still, totally a zombie totem realizing Tilda Swinton was likely not showing up. I hustled home and couldn’t help but think she must be lazing about in a luxurious hotel suite catching zzz’s. Walking up Yonge Street I started counting sheep which appeared to be prancing over Zanzibar. A sure sign I need to wrap up the night, dive into my duvet.

Saturday September 7th

Early in the morning I strolled into the TIFF Bell Lightbox a bit bleary eyed with only a smidgen of sleep. I happened upon a camp of similar looking photographer + journalist zombies who clasped coffee cups while resting on collapsable stools. I was excited to attend my first press conference photocall that morning for the star studded Prisoners premiere starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello and Terrence Howard.

Here’s How It All Happens: Photographers with massive camera lenses are ushered into a cramped space where they get a short window (around 5 minutes) to shoot cast and crew before their press conference in the adjacent room. Space is limited and photographers get fierce and territorial (elbows out). Those who aren’t standing at the very front (the most coveted real estate) use collapsable stools to elevate themselves over the crowd.

Once the talent arrived the space turned into a bit of a bulldog pen. Shutter and flash clicked and whipped themselves across the room as photographers screamed at actors to look into their lens. I was actually taken aback at the brutality of the whole thing. Jake quickly chatted with Maria when they arrived in front of the paparazzi and were quickly scorned, “stop your conversation we’re trying to shoot you!” Pearly whites were revealed as smiles curled and eyes twinkled with delight. If you have a tendency for heart palpitations avoid the photocalls electric energy. Not a space for the faint at heart. Egos rage on both sides of the red carpet.

I quickly waved goodbye to Jake and Hugh, figured as corny as it was I was likely never going to have the opportunity to “brunch” with these two again. Moments later I was racing up John Street, hopping over puddles and listening to the pitter patter of rain tap across the roof of my umbrella. A massive line at the Scotiabank Theatre swerved like a serpent for the Press & Industry screening of Dallas Buyers Club.

Once the doors opened volunteers linked arms creating a human wall we could skip through all the way to our seats. The film takes place in Texas during the beginnings of the North American AIDS epidemic. Matthew McConaughey’s jaw dropping physical transformation reminded me of Christian Bales frail figure in The Machinist. Jared Leto wows as the pretty Rayon, a trans drug addict who finds purpose at the end of her rope.

As soon as the film ended I bolted out the door and arrived back at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for back to back press conferences. Rather than standing on my tiptoes at the photocall this time I opted to sit back and relax with fellow journalists as cast and crew from each film sat on an elevated stage sipping Fiji water while chit chatting about their film.  

I was ever so pleased to have the opportunity to sit in on a discussion of Director Jason Reitman’s newest film Labor Day starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. I had seen the film the previous day which had me staggering out of the cinema with tears running down my face. Winslet glowed and Mr Brolin hilariously admitted to becoming obsessed with pie perfection as he studied his character’s passion for home backing. Once you’ve seen the flick you’ll appreciate that the conversation revolved around his search for the perfect crust recipe. His research apparently involved baking several pies a week many of which were forced upon Kate, Jason and their crew.   Journalists from the first presser were quickly ushered out of the room but just 5 minutes after leaving my seat I found myself flooding back into the space and this time grabbed a coveted spot at the very front of the room. The red velvet rope dangled above my feet as the room filled with eager journalists ready to pose questions to the cast and crew of the much buzzed about, 12 Years A Slave.

Brad Pitt was sadly a no show however a core group of the cast and crew spoke passionately and eloquently about the importance of their honest film which explores the history of slavery in America. I sat a few feet from Michael Fassbender who’s indigo eyes literally bled into the the back wall. I suppose since I was wearing a hat and sat at the front of the room I stood out like a sore thumb. I stared directly into Mr. Fassbender’s “calm like an ocean” eyes and several times found him staring directly back at me. My lips curled, I couldn’t help but smirk as his right eye shot me a quick wink. For a moment I realized what a surreal space I was in. So, of course I spent the rest of the press conference staring directly into the eyes of the actors on stage in hopes of offering a silent and friendly conversation with them. Alfre Woodard sipped on a cup of tea and smiled at me in response to the persistent twinkle in my eye. A perfect lesson that day on the power of body language from but a few feet away.

I jolted out of my seat and staggered back to Scotiabank theatre for the 4pm P&I screening of Enough Said. The theatre was packed and it wasn’t until I sat down that I realized it was almost the dinner hour and I had barely eaten anything but a few Pop Chips and square of chocolate all day. I was amazed that I wasn’t actually hungry, adrenalin is a powerful beast. The film stars some of my favourites: Toni Collette, Catherine Keener, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini. I spent the entire film sucking on tic tacs willing my way through their calories.

As soon as the credits rolled I flung myself down the escalator and ran to the red carpet for Hello Canada’s TIFF Party at the Ritz Carlton. The red carpet was set directly to the right of the hotels iconic revolving doors. Diamonds flashed, plump lips shimmered with fresh gloss and eyelash extensions whipped themselves through the air offering a pleasant and refreshing wind on such a humid evening. Publicists whisked a colourful rainbow of talent across the red carpet for their five second photo thrill. Guests included Cara Gee, Caitlin Cronenberg, Isaac Mizrahi and the distinguished cast of Storage Wars.

Sunday September 8th

The 4th day of the Festival got off to a great start as the sun blasted itself across the city, a welcome contrast to the previous days doom and gloom rain showers. I raced down Yonge Street on my bicycle and hopped on a shuttle bus in front of the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts bound for the Canadian Film Centre’s Annual BBQ. Hosted by Norman Jewison each year during TIFF, the CFC 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 property was bustling with Canadian talent and industry movers and shakers. As a food writer at heart I of course focused on the two stars of the show, the BBQ’s sips and nibbles. Walking through Windfields Estate’s back lawn, pop up white tents featured a fabulous showcase of local producers and culinary creators. While live music whistled through the mid-afternoon breeze crowds lined up for a fine al fresco feast. Memorable moments include offerings from Barque Smokehouse, Gourmet Burger Co, Jack Astor’s, Paint Box Bistro, Vertical, Karlo Estates Winery, Mill Street Brewery and Crystal Head Vodka.  

After indulging in a lavish lunch I bolted back downtown and rushed right into the mayhem that is Scotiabank Theatre. I weaved my way through a throng of crowds, tip toeing over spilled popcorn and rushing my way to Cinema 10. I stood at the end of a massive line crossing my fingers that I would find my way into the industry screening for Fading Gigolo, Director John Turturro’s new film starring Liev Schreiber, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara. I was third in line when we abruptly halted, the theatre was full ah just my luck. You could hear a massive groan vibrate through the hallway. Critics whipped out their film schedules and started shouting what upcoming alternatives to rush into line for. I sneaked my way into Philomena, a touching story starring Judi Dench as an Irish woman searching for her long lost son in America. Steve Coogan does an excellent job playing the squeaky journalists eager to help uncover his first “human interest story.”

At 8pm I peddled over to The Chase to grab a spot on the Hugo Boss Black Carpet for the Enemy After Party. I joined a wee paparazzi contingent eager to shoot the stars from this Canadian and Spanish co-production. Isabella Rossellini sauntered onto the carpet, smiled to an adoring crowd and then chatted with a television crew before floating up to the restaurants elegant 5th floor dining room. I’ve been a fan of Isabella ever since I saw Death Becomes Her, she has such a stoic voice that truly brings an audience to attention. Jake Gyllenhaal always the stud, stood for an army of cameras before hopping upstairs where he spent the evening relaxing on a jam packed patio. I’ve been a fan of Jake’s work from the beginning: from Donnie Darko to his critically acclaimed performances in Brokeback Mountain and Rendition. Mr. Gyllenhaal in my eyes, is a younger Matthew McConaughey in the sense that they are both top notch actors who inspire audiences most when they are topless, smirking and winking back at you. The party was packed with the films cast and crew as well as a potpourri of Toronto socialites who sipped on effervescent Cava filled flutes while feasting on manchego, Spanish almonds and briny oysters. An ode to Spanish decadence spilled into the wee hours of the night.

Monday September 9th

The chaos of TIFF weekend numero uno at Scotiabank Theatre seemed to have been cut in half when I arrived early on Monday afternoon. Most of the cities local film buffs were back to work or loitering in University lecture halls. During the weekdays theatres are filled with press and industry who book as many films screenings into their daily schedules as they can.

I spent the afternoon enjoying two nail biting dramas which had my heart racing and body squirming. Both films received a significant amount of buzz, so much so that both P&I screenings I attended packed the theatre and had some eager critics sitting on the floor. Jake Gyllenhaal wows in Denis Villeneuve’s psychological thriller, Enemy. Canadians, especially those who call the GTA home will appreciate the fact that the story takes place in downtown Toronto with stints in Mississauga showcasing the ever so sinuous Marilyn Monroe Condos. As a Torontonian I spent most of the movie trying to figure out where each shot was filmed. Jake expertly explores an anxiety inducing dual identity crisis set against a sprawling Toronto cityscape featuring congestion on the Gardiner Expressway (which we are all begrudgingly familiar), our iconic CN Tower and a residential area which I think was filmed south of Bloor in the east end (perhaps Jarvis Street?) Prepare yourself for spiders, sexual angst, daydreams, frustration induced tears and an emotionless ride on the King Streetcar. The films ending will have you scratching your head and posing questions to your peers.

In Night Moves Dakota Fanning, Jesse Eisenberg and Peter Sarsgaard band together to blow up a dam. Their do-good environmental aspirations hit a roadblock after the river rushes. Both films are somber, cutting back on dialogue to allow for plenty of breathing room so the audience can take time to sit inside the heads of each characters adrenalin rush. 

My first stop that eve was at the Soho Metropolitan Hotel’s grand preview for Wahlburgers a burger joint owned and operated by Mark Wahlberg and family. A large crowd had gathered in front of the hotel’s main entrance, sprawling along the curb. I grabbed my wristband at the media tent and stood in front of the green carpet with MTV and Kiss 92. Mark graced the carpet at exactly 6:15pm spending around 20 minutes speaking with media and taking pictures with fans. The man is beautiful of course and smaller than you likely expect. He’s practically my height and I’m a proud 5 foot 6 inch kid.

Media raced into the elevator and zoomed up to the 2nd floor where a wild party hosted an al fresco Wahlburgers pop up. Beer, wine and cocktails sloshed across the floor as Wahlberg signature burgers floated around the room. I had a chance to chat with Mark’s brother Paul, Chef of Wahlburgers who spoke of his enthusiasm for Toronto and chit chatted about how sourcing local ingredients was essential in the development of the brands first Canadian concept. The restaurant will officially launch in Toronto inside the Soho Metropolitan in the winter of 2014 and will exclusively source its beef from local Canadian cattle farmers.

The burgers literally squirt onto your face as you much into them (wearing sunglasses or a splatter guard would have been a great help). I hung out by the grill sipping on a pint of beer while shooting mini burgers as they were dressed by speedy kitchen crew. Mark’s favourite off the menu is the Thanksgiving Burger featuring toasted bun, roasted butternut squash, orange cranberry sauce, stove top stuffing, mayo and turkey patty. Marky Mark arrived to the party shortly after 7pm once he had finished up his last interviews. He sipped on a glass of red wine while a throng of ‘dressed to the nines” women shoved iPhones into their husband’s hands in a desperate attempt to have their photos shot with one of the sexiest men alive. I have to admit I had to restrain myself.

My final stop of the night was an unforgettable adventure through Toronto’s exclusive Soho House for the August: Osage County Party hosted by The Weinstein Company. I arrived just as the doors opened at 8pm. I was whisked onto the Club Floor where I spent the next hour sussing out on the solo. The room has a real Brit authenticity to it, noble decadence featuring moose bust, vintage lamps, cracking log fireplace and a collection of trinkets on partitioned bookshelf which include bronze horse, wooden pipe, golden candelabra and crystal vase. Chef Nano Crespo prepared two luxurious feasting tables: a gratuitous fromage and charcuterie offering which overflowed with triple creme, pickled veg, pistachio spotted terrine, mortadella and plump red grapes. Table deux showcased a wild and wonderful culinary adventure featuring watermelon feta salad, wood oven chicken, curried cauliflower with ginger, aubergine tahini and coriander,  new york striploin and slow braised goat decorated with fresh sprigs of rosemary.

After stuffing my face I grabbed my first cocktail of the evening a Grey Goose Le Fizz featuring st germain elderflower, lime and soda effervescents. The room was now elbow to elbow and roaring with chitter chatter. I scaled the walls while squinting at framed works which clustered just below the ceiling: a lovely assortment of black charcoal portraiture, grandiose Dubai landscapes and the whimsical role of the dice.

It was after my second flute of fizz that I met the Grey Goose Triphecta: Oli Blackburn Ambassador for Grey Goose UK, Joe McCanta Global Grey Goose Ambassador and Omar Sequera Ambassador for Grey Goose Spain. All three men were drop dead gorgeous and dressed to the nines in bespoke suites accented by silk pocket square. Omar kindly acted as my Spirit Guide through The House, walking me inside out the private clubs many nooks and crannies. We climbed the stairs together clasping an iced cold Glacier Goose featuring La Poire, apricot nectar, amaretto, citrus and glistening ice sphere.

The cast and crew of August: Osage County (as well as a whole slew of other notables) were having a gay old time on the second floor. Following my Grey Goose Spirit Guide I sipped my way past Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper and Julianne Nicholson. After numerous cocktails I found myself standing across from the flame of a wood burning pizza oven while silently observing some of Hollywood’s most talented actors. I tip toed past Mr. McGregor to grab a sweet treat from the nearby pastry board.

In need of a bit of fresh air I walked to the rooftop patio where I sat at a white marble topped bar, deep in conversation with a visiting producer from LA. I stood up to stretch my legs and swish the crushed ice in my glass when low and behold Jason Bateman tapped me on the shoulder to let me know that he was stealing my stool. He coyly advised me not to sit back down as I’d surely crash to the floor and embarrass myself to the point where blushing was no longer an option. I turned to the crowd and joked, “if I crashed right now to the floor, crystal glass smashing into shattered fragments, my feet over my head, the height of late night drama…I would be the happiest man alive.” There really is nothing better than a juicy story involving unimaginable embarrassment and awkwardness. I almost thrive off of it! The room chuckled, I pinched myself, slid into a taxi, lurched across the city, smug mug, eyes closed, shoulders relaxed. Heaven dahling.

Tuesday September 10th

On the morning of TIFF Day 6 the Weatherman reported that Toronto should expect sweltering temperatures pushing over 40 degrees Celsius with the humidex. What better way to beat the heat than lounging in a cool air conditioned theatre all afternoon? After studying the P&I schedule I did a bit of research online and selected a potpourri of promising films.

The Wind Rises: An Animated Epic Fantasy from Manga Master Hayao Miyazaki.

I’ve been obsessed with Japanese Director Miyazaki ever since I first saw his critically acclaimed film Spirited Away. Co-founder of Studio Ghilbi (giving Disney a run for its money), Miyazaki creates sprawling epic films that live and breath through fantastical storylines. Hayao’s newest offering, The Wind Rises showcases the Director’s classic attention to detail: millions of blades of grass sway in the wind, airplanes zoom overhead and hundreds of pedestrians scurry across congested Tokyo streets. Miyazaki is one of the worlds leading storytellers in the fantasy genre and continues to nurture and invest in classic animation techniques that time after time, take our breath away.

Prisoners: A Heart Stopping Thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman

Director Denis Villeneuve launched two films at this years festival. Earlier in the week I enjoyed his haunting Toronto based Enemy starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Prisoners is an intense, heart stopping film which asks the question, “just how far will a desperate father go to protect his family?” The screenplay offers plenty of surprises which keeps curious audiences anxiously on the edge of their seats. Prisoners marks Villeneuve’s second project featuring Mr. Gyllenhaal which has me wondering if the filmmaker is currently enjoying a career crush with one of Hollywood’s sexiest men? I certainly can’t blame him!

Lucky Them: A Soul Searching Romantic Comedy starring Toni Collette

In Lucky Them, Toni Collette stars as a rock journalist assigned to track down her ex-boyfriend, a famous musician who has been missing for years. The film straddles comedy, romance and the touching drama of a woman forced to tie up loose ends. One of Ms. Collette’s love interests in the film is the adorable Ryan Eggold who is so damn cute you’ll want to pinch his cheeks on screen.

After spending over eight hours keeping cool in the theatre I hopped onto the sidewalk and braved the cities oven-like temperatures. A quick jaunt down the street and I found myself standing in front of the red carpet at Media Bar. That evening I mix and mingled with some of Canada’s top film industry talent at First Weekend Club‘s Great Gatsby themed 10th Annual TIFF party.

The space was packed will pretty people who clasped sparkling flutes of champagne. Live Jazz music entertained while canapes were quickly snatched up by hungry hands. Favourites included beef tartar on crisp, smoked salmon mousse and plump tomato and mozzarella skewers. Memorable Moment: each guest was given a white poker chip upon arrival to use at an on site gifting lounge. I fell in love with Meagan Brown’s Inspyred Creations steampunk jewellery featuring signature pocket watch necklaces that transform antique timepieces into precious objects ready to dangle around your neck.

Wednesday September 11th

After spending countless hours standing with photographers at photo calls, sitting beside journalists at press conferences and chit chatting in line waiting for screenings with top industry players and film critics I finally feel I understand how the festival ticks behind the scenes. I now appreciate how the various cogs in the Film Fest machine work together to transform Toronto into a city that truly sparkles each September.

On my 7th and final day covering TIFF for Metro Newspaper I woke up with a spring in my step ready to take on a fun film viewing challenge. To be honest when I started off the week I wasn’t certain how I would spend my last day on assignment but after having countless conversations with film critics over the last few days I was inspired to attempt to put myself in their shoes for a day.

Film critics much like travel and food writers tend to get serious eye rolls thrown at them when they dare complain about a “hard day at the theatre.” Half way into the festival, film critics mulled about popcorn strewn hallways like emotionless zombies…skin a mute grey from lack of Vitamin D.  The reality here is that critics of the Big Screen work excruciatingly long hours with very little sleep and almost no time to eat. In my own personal poll I noticed most critics averaged four films a day. Some see upwards of 7-10 partial films a day in an attempt to fit in as many titles as possible with the objective of getting an idea of what the camera work, mood, editing style and sound are like for each film. The majority of critics have 10-30 minutes on average between each film to 1) fill up their water bottle 2) rush to the bathroom 3) answer voicemail and email 4) find something to eat. Imagine doing that for ten days straight (not to mention having to write a proper report on each film late into the night). It’s truly exhausting.

On my final day of TIFF I planned to see four films, one right after the other, with an average of 20 minutes between each screening. As I was packing my bag for the day I received a package at my door. Perfect timing from Le Chateau offering up a TIFF Survival Box filled with essentials to help with the hustle: Moet Chandon Champagne, Kiehl’s beauty products and a bag of sweet-meets-savoury kettle corn.

I arrived at Scotiabank Theatre at 10am and did not exit the building until after 7pm. All I can say is my nine hour film marathon was grueling, exhausting, sometimes uncomfortable and boy did I ever smile when I passed that finish line! The following are my rapid fire reactions to each film and the sip and nibble pairings that got me through the day.

Gravity is a mind blowing outer-space epic starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. I can’t wait for the world to experience this film! The story is 98% climax so hold onto your seat, its a wild ride. I can’t remember the last time I was in a theatre and saw a film grip its audience in such a way. Think back to the time you first saw Jurassic Park or Titanic, jaw dropping right? The camera work here is truly groundbreaking and the story has everyone on the edge of their seats until the credits roll. I typically avoid 3D films but Gravity seriously upped the anty on the effectiveness of this technology. I’m now sold. Several film critics have been quoted as saying this is one of the best films of all time. Insane!

Pairing: kettle corn, gala apple, water

Half of a Yellow Sun is a thrilling historical drama which brings together the lives of four people during the struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria. Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in this harrowing tale of love, survival, hope and repair.

Pairing: Supreme Nachos (liquid cheese, sour cream, guacamole, diced tomatoes), more water

Bad Words is an absolutely hilarious comedy starring (and directed by) funny man Jason Bateman. The film hilariously mocks American Spelling Bee competitive culture. Mr. Bateman plays a 40 year old foul mouthed genius who finds a loophole in “the system” and set his sights on competing against the countries top spellers, who are ten years old.

Pairing: coconut macaroon, multi-vitamin, more water

Dom Hemingway stars Brit pretty boy Jude Law as an obnoxious, violent, drunk who after spending 12 years in prison for keeping his mouth shut is back on the streets of London looking to collect what he is owed. The audience develops a soft spot for Mr. Hemingway even though most of our experience of him on screen is a cycle of wild parties followed by painful hangovers. Dom Hemingway is a well executed black comedy which offers an honest sentimental thread where bad boys at the end of the day do good.

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