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FILM FESTIVALS OF THE WORLD #9: Toronto International Film Festival
by Paul Zimmerman

David Cronenberg has said it often, and yet it bears repeating: Toronto is the best-run city in North America. And that makes this festival not only one of the worldís greatest but also my own personal favorite. The cinemas are top notch, they show over 300 films and, most importantly, the city is behind the event 100%. Catch a Park City cab driver during an honest moment in Sundance and heíll admit they hate the film folk even more than the skiers that they barely tolerate. Cannes and Telluride may be more prestigious but you canít beat Toronto for ease of use and good times. Not only are the folks nice, the bars and restaurants are excellent and the parties first rate. Pity it's so darn hard for online press to get accredited, or we'd have covered the hell out of it.


Where: Toronto, Canada
When: Early September (4th-13th in 2003).
How Much: Toronto calls itself the peopleís film festival, but thatís a bit of a misnomer. Most big movies (and many smaller
ones) are sold out by the time you hit town. High roller passes run from the several hundred to the thousands if you include chi-chi galas etc. Advance single tickets are $14.50 (Canadian, silly, calm down), same day tickets $15.50. Your best bet is "rush" tickets. Sure youíll stand in a bunch of long lines, but the weather this time of year is ideal and itís the best place to meet new people and get warnings about what dud films to avoid.

Number of films screened: 339. 63 world premieres. 104 North American premieres.

What you'll see: This is where Toronto really excels. Along with a smattering of big American stars and films are pix from literally all over the world. Toronto was on the cutting edge for Hong Kong action cinema a decade before it hit the States. Throw in the Midnight Madness series and youíve got the best selection on earth. Period.

Celebrity Spotting: Great. Hang out at the big time galas if you must (Roy Thomson Hall, Uptown Cinemas) and you can see the biggest number of A-list stars doing the red carpet this side of Hollywood. If you want to see the same A-list drunk and crazed head for the festival sanctioned after hours bars The Bistro 990 and The Rosewater (both open until 4am and catering to the Celebes).

Accommodation: One of the best cities to stay in period. At the low end youíve got actually safe Youth Hostels. If youíve actually got a real job and dinero to part with, try the Four Seasons, Sutton Place Hotel, Windsor Arms or the Marriott Bloor Yorkville. Those are all walkable to the festival events and screenings. Or better yet travel by subway and hit the historic Fairmont Royal York by the train station. Itís a luxury hotel but with the money you save not staying at the Sutton or Four Seasons you can buy all your pals dinner and drinks for several nights.

Transportation and Parking: Get ready for me to gush again. The subway is clean, easy and cheap. The cabs are plentiful and if youíre feeling really cosmopolitan thereís the streetcars. If all else fails you can walk to 90% of the places.

Parties: These can be problematic. Toronto not only has great parties they have great food and plenty of free liquor. But scoring invites takes years of practice and tons of butt kissing. The worst part is itís almost always a single ticket when you swing a party invite, so your pal-date-pickup are going to have to make do on their own. There is lots of money in this town and youíll see a lot of the same faces at the bigger parties. Film folk? Budding producers? No. Just friends of the wealthy and connected. Youíll need to pal up with either a filmmaker or someone connected to the festival if you want to really play this scene.

Best/Worst Venues: Again the theaters here are state of the art. The gala places (like Roy Thomson Hall) tend to be too cavernous, they really arenít set up for film projections. Better yet hit either the Uptown Cinemas on Yonge Street or the Cineplex Odeon on Bloor.

Press Facilities/access: The press office is quite large, serviceable and efficient. Years ago they used to have a pressroom where you could eat, drink and decompress. It is very much missed. Getting (and keeping) your press accreditation can be more work than it should be, especially if you've never been before. And if your coverage isn't big, flattering and non-Gonzo, expect to have problems getting invited next year. The fest claim this is all about seating restrictions, but I suspect it's more of a measure to keep the fest 'exclusive' and keep the press on their toes.

Final grade for the Toronto International Film Festival: A big old A for the fest, with room to improve if, I dunno, we could get more than one writer through the accreditation process next time...

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originally posted: 12/31/03 11:55:41
last updated: 01/31/04 14:17:03
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