The first weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival is a delirious mix of half-truths and thinly veiled lies. I'm not talking about the films, necessarily, though this year's batch focuses on marriage-destroying secrets (Demolition, I Smile Back), shadowy government agencies (Sicario, Where to Invade Next), self-delusional cowards (The Program) and journalists hunting for the truth against all odds (Spotlight and, well, Truth). I don't mean the parties either, all of which revel in their own specific brand of deception.
Instead, the deceit that descends over TIFF is thanks to the increasingly powerful and restrictive machine known as Hollywood marketing. Although few like to hear the media bemoaning levels of access – oh, you poor darlings, only having a few minutes to chat with Elle Fanning, the horrors of this modern world! – what was once a window into the creative process has narrowed to a keyhole.
Interview slots for marquee talent such as Eddie Redmayne or Julianne Moore that may have once been 10 or 15 minutes a few years ago – let's just forget the haloed era of hour-long sit-downs, okay? – are doled out in intervals of five, seven, nine. What were booked as one-on-ones are crudely jammed round-table sessions, where a gaggle of harried writers struggle to bark out something, anything, that might elicit a sound bite. That is, of course, if requests aren't ignored altogether or pulled at the last minute.
Again, this can sound like a familiar and cranky refrain, especially given how readily journalists – especially entertainment journalists – are prone to cynicism. But this year has hit a new low in movie-media relations, and the ripple effect at TIFF will be felt for years to come.
Press outlets from across the world use the festival to gather interviews, features and all that fun content necessary to feed the insatiable news hole over the next few months, or whenever festival films finally make it to a theatre near you.
It's part of the genius of TIFF: gathering thousands of stars and journalists in one convenient place to squeeze hundreds of press junkets into three or four snappy days.
But if studios, PR gatekeepers and overzealous flacks keep up the current trend of shutting out all but the top tier of U.S. press (Vanity Fair, The New York Times and Hollywood Reporter, say), then foreign audiences, including Canadians, will have nothing to rely on but regurgitated wire copy and "hot take" write-arounds. Readers are left with one big echo chamber.
For example, witness New York Magazine's recent interview with Quentin Tarantino, the only sit-down the director has so far offered ahead of the release of The Hateful Eight. Lane Brown's story was excellent, but because it was the only one out there, other outlets could only tear the piece apart for scraps, posting useless ancillary stories that added nothing to the conversation – except, of course, a high level of Hateful Eight awareness, which is all the studio cares about.
The same operating procedure is being executed at this year's TIFF, in a way. Canadian press, including The Globe and Mail, are still offered opportunities to talk with visiting talent, but we must also watch our top requests get rejected and our time curtailed, often accompanied by half-baked excuses ("We ran out of time!") or transparent lies ("We're not doing any press for this movie.").
To blame the publicists would be pointless, as they're simply trying to balance the requests of frazzled writers and big-footing distributors. But at the rate things are going, next year's opportunities may be limited to the news conferences or split-second red-carpet sashays – great opportunities to ask Jake Gyllenhaal about his hair, not so much for anything you would want to read about.
The depressing situation has yielded some high comedy, though. On Monday night, the glitzy cast of Spotlight will hit TIFF, including Michael Keaton, who plays a hard-nosed journalist who talks to every source he can. When The Globe asked if he was available for an interview, the answer was swift: Nope. At the very least, TIFF proves that irony isn't dead.