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People watch as the north tower of the World Trade Center collapses in New York in this Sept. 11, 2001 file photo. (Reuters)
People watch as the north tower of the World Trade Center collapses in New York in this Sept. 11, 2001 file photo. (Reuters)

John Doyle: Television

TIFF, 9/11, an election and all that information overload Add to ...

Oh my shattered nerves. It’s Toronto International Film Festival week. TIFF this, TIFF that. The movie stars are in the city. Where the party? Who’s hot in what frock? Red carpets down grungy alleyways where allegedly exclusive clubs exist. Women who should know better hanging around hotel bars hoping for a glimpse of some movie hunk who is, at that precise time, probably, down the grungy alleyway complaining to a publicist about the swag bag he got for just showing up.

Meanwhile, there’s an avalanche of 9/11 coverage here, there and everywhere. There’s just so much else going on, especially here in the centre of the universe. For instance, as it happens, a provincial election campaign is under way.

No kidding. The election buses are rolling along the low roads of Ontario, a place populated solely by “hard-working Ontario families.”

Dalton McGuinty, the Premier and Liberal guy, has found his smile, which has been lost since the last election, and plastered it back on his face. He’s all over the TV, standing tall and being all nice-guy manager and dad.

Tim Hudak, the Progressive Conservative guy, is also smiling and taking his family everywhere to events. At these events, he goes on, confusingly, about “foreign workers.” This alarms the citizens hereabouts because, technically, about half the population could be described as “foreign.”

The NDP Leader, one Andrea Horwath, must be considered a threat by the others because they’re throwing mud at her already. There’s video going around of an NDP van trying to get by an irritated cyclist in Toronna. Only in Toronna could such mud be flung.

Oh yes, Toronna. This is where events unfold that are so bizarre it’s hard to tell if the news is satiric or real. The mayor guy wants to build a megamall down by the waterfront. Apparently he takes the view that there is nowhere to shop in downtown Toronna. And he’s on a mission to fix the problem. By bringing in a Macy’s, or something.

Our Glorious Leader wants us to worry a lot about “Islamicism.” (OLG’s thoughts are given an extensive airing on The National on CBC, Thursday, 10 p.m.) Righty. Some people worry about Sidney Crosby’s ability to play hockey again and indeed that issue is all over the news too. Also: Whither Libya? Where’s Moammar Gadhafi? The Scotiabank Giller Prize long list is out. Who’s in? Who’s out? Meanwhile at TIFF, Salma freakin’ Hayek’s dress. Oh. My. God.

There is a looping, illogical, hysterical quality to much news coverage right now. The crash of events and information makes the trivial important and the important trivial.

In the midst of all this, gaining perspective is a challenge. Of all that clutters the news and overloads us, the commemoration of 9/11 is the one profound thing. We haven’t understood it all yet, but in looking at the events of that day and their effect on the world, we can be rescued from confusion over trivialities.

My Life After 9/11 (CBC, 9 p.m., on Doc Zone) is a documentary that reinforces this view.

It is a series of accounts of people who were directly affected by the terror attacks and of how Sept. 11, 2001, changed them. Some of those profiled took predictable paths, given their closeness to the events, but others did not.

What is striking is how many of them decided not to be fearful or to nourish hatred, even though they had reasons for anger. One young man explains that he was a boy on that day, a New York kid who was traumatized by what he saw. He and his brother spent years imagining revenge against Osama bin Laden. We even see the boy being interviewed a few months after 9/11 and telling a TV news crew that he wanted to see certain people dead. Eventually, he figured out that he knew little about Islam and the Middle East and decided that he had better educate himself, which he did.

Some of the stories rest upon a twist of fate, a moment that changed the course of a life. And many, many people had that experience. There is the odd but strangely moving story of the Wall Street banker who became a tango dancer.

Other stories transcend the feel-good quality that television tends to like: a vignette nicely wrapped up with a sheen of sentimentality. Those transcendent stories are about being aware, learning to understand the Arab world and being pro-active in helping to avoid conflicts of religion and culture.

Mostly, those stories are about being more open, seeking the solace of learning and putting the confusion of frantic news coverage and punditry aside to dwell on what matters to the human spirit. Which isn’t TIFF, no matter how fancy the frocks are.

Check local listings.

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Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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