The banners have been hung, the streets and sidewalks around the King and John corridor painstakingly power-washed, the heavy reels of film … ushered into non-existence and replaced by clunky hard drives containing digital files of the year's best (or at least its newest) movies, and the sickly, sticky smell of popcorn and half-drunk, room-temperature Grolsch lagers hangs ominously in the air. So drink deep, reader, of this heady commingling excitement, apprehension, and plain aggravation, and utter with me, wistfully: "Ah … TIFF!"
For the next seven days I'll be filing a daily report for The Globe, deep from the lush, red-carpeted, Wi-Fi-enabled thickets of the 41st Toronto International Film Festival. I am acutely, painfully, self-critically aware that there is a noxious tendency among journalists covering TIFF to act like it's some colossal, back-breaking travail. As if sitting slumped in a cushy movie theatre chair – too cushy, in the case of some movie theatres! – or slipping in and out of 15-minute interview junkets in tastefully appointed hotel suites is some noble, self-sacrificing, Sisyphusean labour.
This is obviously annoying. I mean, just right there I complained that seats in a cinema are too yielding and comfortable. But I think such rank obnoxiousness can be accounted for with the knowledge that a) writing about movies rarely feels like work, but TIFF feels, at least to those working it, very much like work, even if it's not in the same way that, say, performing open heart surgery or digging a ditch might feel like work; and b) human beings love to complain about anything.
At the risk of sounding howlingly arrogant: I like to think that I know what to complain about. I have been covering TIFF, professionally or semi-professionally, since 2009 or 2010. The photo on my press badge predates even that, the result of a passport photo shoot some years before. Earlier this week when I picked it up (along with my complimentary gift bag of goodies, the most useful part of which is always the bag itself, and the worst this year being a bottle of AXE body spray – perfect in case you want to small like hot, atomized garbage while mingling with other aspirant-minglers at TIFF's opening night frolic), I stared, forlornly, into the jejune, out-of-focus blankness of my own face, nearly 10 years younger.
Lo, that this photo could age in my place!
As a young, wannabe-journalist, I attacked TIFF like a starving man squares up to a buffet supper: gobbling down movie after movie, the bulk of which were trash that I would rarely afford another moment's thought, and hurriedly plopping out hyperbolic evaluations on Twitter. Now, a little older, maybe even a bit more discerning, my approach is more measured. Like a prehistoric pelican in a Flintstones cartoon whose accommodating gullet is being used as a cement mixer, I shrug, gamely rool my eyes and offer the wry wisdom, "It's a living!"
As both a journalist and a person who ostensibly "loves movies," my manner is more cautious, more cynical. I know that the big-ticket galas and celeb-baiting Special Presentations should be generally avoided, and that the small, distribution-less movies likely to vanish when the curtain drops on TIFF are generally worth checking out, bearing the potential for transcendent, blink-and-you'll miss it pleasures. Last year, for example, I saw an adaptation of a Paul Bowles story called The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, which I haven't heard much about since, but which I've been unable to shake, even some 365-ish days later.
I also know that of the countless combinations of disgusting soda pops one can Frankenstein together at Scotiabank Theatre's touch-screen Coca-Cola Freestyle beverage kiosks, the best is vanilla Diet Coke mixed with orange Diet Coke. It taste likes a Diet Coke Creamsicle!
So, as they say, "watch this space," for a week's worth of reportage from the festival's screenings, parties, crowded press conferences, Festival Street concerts, food trucks, panels and other, tangential TIFF-related goings-on. Follow along as the initial wide-eyed, intoxicating excitement of Toronto's annual film festival shifts from "Ah … TIFF!" to a weary "Ugh … TIFF!" before finally curdling, inevitably, into "Ewww … TIFF."
Follow me on Twitter: @johnsemley3000