Skip to main content

What if the Toronto International Film Festival threw a party, and no one wanted to come? That's traditionally been the dilemma when it comes to TIFF's opening-night film – an ostensibly prestigious slot that's been so littered with charity cases, flops and embarrassments that it's practically toxic. Does anyone remember – or, more accurately, want to remember – last year's entry, The Judge? How about The Fifth Estate the year before that? Or – apologies in advance for bringing it up – Score: A Hockey Musical?

Programming the spot is a tricky calculus. If the film is too Canadian, it will scare off the few foreign press who show up on the first day. Too Hollywood and it will incite the usual cris de coeur from talking heads across the country. Once upon a time, the slot was reserved for homegrown productions, often the splashier of Telefilm Canada's wares. But that was also back when the festival had its Canada First! program and a distinct inferiority complex regarding its own countrymen's cultural output (which is different from the festival's current inferiority complex regarding competing festivals such as Telluride and Venice).

This year, though, TIFF tried to strike the best possible balance it could. On Thursday night, Roy Thomson Hall saw the world premiere of Demolition, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts – household names in any country – and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, the Quebec filmmaker who single-handedly rehabilitated the careers of Reese Witherspoon (Wild) and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club). The drama is not a Canadian production per se (TIFF lists its official country as the United States), but it's awfully close. Even Gyllenhaal is an unofficial friend of Canada, having starred in the Toronto-shot (and, more shockingly, Toronto-set) Enemy.

Story continues below advertisement

Yet as much as TIFF wants Demolition to solve its opening-night obstacle, the film comes with its own set of problems. First, it's a non-starter in the awards-season conversation: The film won't be released until April. For a festival that so desperately clutches onto its reputation as the starting line of the Oscar race, it's a curious move. By the time the film opens, the 2016 Oscars will have come and gone, and the next Academy Awards chatter won't pick up again until that fall, leaving Demolition as one big, fat, lingering "oh yeah, that thing" lump in critics' minds.

Unless, of course, Demolition is so exceptional that it will resonate for seven more months and spark a renewed campaign. Sadly, this is not the case. A manic mixture of dark comedy and high drama, Demolition is a wonderful showcase for Gyllenhaal as a Wall Street goon who loses his wife to a car crash, but it doesn't deliver anything close to a McConaughey-like reinvention. At points, it can also be aggressively cruel.

TIFF's artistic director, Cameron Bailey, naturally trumpets the selection, pointing out that Vallée and the festival are close accomplices. "He's closed the festival with The Young Victoria, he's been here the last two years with Dallas Buyers Club and Wild. … The film was an obvious one," he said in an interview with The Globe when Demolition was first announced. "The timing was working against us, but all the stars aligned."

Yet after watching Demolition and a handful of TIFF's official Canadian selections, it's easy to imagine another cure for the festival's opening-night woes. Instead of trying to appease both sides of the homegrown/Hollywood divide, why not counterprogram? Avoid Americans, but also ditch the tired Canadian star system, too (sorry Egoyan/Mehta/Cronenberg, etc.).

Instead, select something small and weird from our country's burgeoning indie movement – projects birthed with little cash and no recognizable names that deserve a platform far more than Jake Gyllenhaal or Paul Gross. Films such as Kazik Radwanski's How Heavy This Hammer, Igor Drljaca's The Waiting Room or Andrew Cividino's Sleeping Giant – scrappy dramas that are worthy of inciting real cultural conversations, even if it's only among us fellow Canadians.

If we're going to tie ourselves into knots each year over the state of opening night – and if few outside Toronto actually care what plays that first Thursday – then why not reserve the spot for films that will benefit from the exposure? TIFF can still revel in its Oscar hopefuls during that all-important first weekend, but also champion this country's emerging talent, and underline its commitment to independence.

Or, you know, we could just wait for Score 2: Overtime.

Story continues below advertisement

The 2015 Toronto International Film Festival continues until Sept. 20 (tiff.net).

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter