The Toronto International Film Festival opening weekend is a typically chock-full 72 hours of screenings and celebratory soirées, that this year, for reasons well publicized, was a wholly quieter affair. However, with less focus on the swirl of Hollywood megastars came an opportunity for a handful of important gatherings to really shine.
Friday, Sept. 8 saw what was billed as the avant-première of filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s latest work, Seven Veils. The screening was held at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, home to the Canadian Opera Company, which, alongside a number of its company members, plays a kind of leading role in the film. Following the screening, which was held in the very hall where so much of the film was shot (a Meta moment as they say), a reception was given in Jackman Hall for the cast (sans it’s lead Amanda Seyfried) including Rebecca Liddiard, Douglas Smith and Lanette Ware, and real-life opera stars from the Canadian Opera Company’s most recent production of Salome (also directed by Egoyan), including Michael Schade and Ambur Braid.
The following evening in the garden of a private Toronto home, the annual Artists for Peace and Justice gala marked its 15th anniversary at the festival. The TIFF-timed fundraiser has, for a decade and half, leveraged the buzz and celebrity presence around the festival to raise an impressive $35-million. The funds support education in Haiti, specifically the APJ Academy which has seen 28,000 students attend since its inception. Haitian musician Paul Beaubrun performed, while singer Nelly Furtado was honoured for her activism, and later, Julien Christian Lutz, known professionally as Director X, received the Canadian Changemaker Award.
The Fairmont Royal York was the location on Sunday, Sept. 10 for the TIFF Tribute Awards gala, which proved to be the splashiest party of the week. Presented by returning festival sponsor Bulgari, the gala honoured the work of film legends including Spike Lee, Pedro Almodóvar, Shawn Levy and Patricia Arquette, who was the recipient of the TIFF Share Her Journey Groundbreaker Award. The evening has for the past five years served as TIFF’s most important annual fundraiser, with monies raised this year being directed to the Viola Desmond Cinema campaign, which was launched through the Every Story Fund in 2022. Out to support was actor and director Viggo Mortensen, Wildcat director Ethan Hawke, TIFF board chair and Universal Music Canada CEO Jeffrey Remedios, Willem Dafoe, who stars in Arquette’s directorial debut, Gonzo Girl, and directors Taika Waititi and Clement Virgo.
The next day another film legend, director Norman Jewison, was being celebrated uptown at the Hazelton Hotel, where the hotel’s swish in-house theatre was being renamed in his honour. Jewison, famed for his films including Moonstruck and Fiddler on the Roof (he received Academy Award nominations for both), and beloved for his founding of the Canadian Film Centre (which hosted its annual TIFF-timed afternoon fundraiser a couple days earlier), was in attendance with his wife Lynn. There in the room were filmmakers including Barry Avrich (who was instrumental in the renaming), Rajiv Maikhuri and Paul Bronfman, and the Canadian Film Centre’s executive director, Maxine Bailey.