La Presse at the 47th TIFF | In Toronto, the public is king

The usual pre-pandemic frenzy returned Friday evening to the surroundings of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, headquarters of the Toronto International Film Festival. The reason ? The passage to the festival of one of the biggest pop stars of the moment. No, not Harry Styles, who will be in town for the film on Sunday. My Policemanbut Taylor Swift, who came to present her short film and have a chat with the CEO of TIFF, Cameron Bailey.

Posted at 8:15 a.m.

“Taylor Swift is my heroine”, could we read (in English) on a handwritten poster, King Street, where dozens of young women, mostly in their twenties, were already the crane foot, some three hours before the anticipated arrival of their idol.

There was still a way to find tickets for this interview in front of the public on resale sites, Friday morning… for the modest sum of $1,750. The film directed by Taylor Swift, inspired by her song All Too Well, lasts 13 minutes. I repeat myself: it’s expensive per minute.

On the movie red carpet The Woman King by Gina Prince-Bythewood, I saw Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch and John Boyega at the end of the afternoon, all very elegant. There was a very compact crowd around Roy Thomson Hall to greet them with shrill cries, telephones in hand.

The contrast was stark with 2021’s hybrid edition, when TIFF didn’t even bother to close King Street, renamed “Festival Street” these days, to traffic. “It feels like Hollywood! said (in French) an African student who arrived in Toronto six months ago to learn English. He had met Daniel Radcliffe (yes, yes, Harry Potter) the same morning in a cafe.

The Toronto Festival probably lacks the luster and prestige of its main competitors, Venice and Cannes, but it has the advantage of being connected for a long time to the mood and tastes of the general public. It’s not for nothing that TIFF’s most well-known prize is precisely that of the public, awarded to a film which is usually found at the Oscars.

It is in Toronto that films sometimes snubbed by other festivals or passed under the radar of critics (because considered too commercial or without much cinematic interest) began their campaign for the Oscars: one thinks for example of The King’s Speech, Argo or Green Book.

Among the most awaited world premieres this year in Toronto by the public as well as by journalists, there is of course The Fabelmansa partly autobiographical account of the greatest of popular filmmakers, Steven Spielberg, which will be presented this weekend, just like Glass Onionthe continuation of the delicious Knives Out by Rian Johnson.

La Presse at the 47th TIFF In Toronto the


Scene from Glass Onion

In Cannes in particular, but also in Venice or even Berlin, the films are mainly presented to the press and to the cinema industry, with a preference for what has a so-called artistic value. In Toronto, journalists seem to be seen as a more or less necessary evil. No effort is made to facilitate their work.

In Europe, festivals are placed under the seal of a certain decorum, glamorous evening wear, tuxedos, etc. Here, the bow tie is the exception that proves the rule, even in evening screenings. At the presentation of the opening film, Thursday evening at the Princess of Wales Theatre, the public was offered popcorn. In Cannes, it would be a sacrilege.

“We have the best audience in the world”, boasted Cameron Bailey, just before the screening of the film The Swimmersproduced by Netflix, which the Toronto press described as a crowd pleaser. A film that appeals to the public. The highest compliment one can pay to a TIFF work, it seems.

Jingoism aside, Cameron Bailey is not wrong to say that the Toronto public is the “best in the world”. He is certainly the one most sought after by the Hollywood industry on the festival circuit.

“Downtown Toronto has, it seems, less to offer in terms of Hollywood glitz and Old World elegance [que Cannes et Venise]. The power of the Toronto International Film Festival, its secret weapon, is its audience: nearly half a million North Americans of all ages and backgrounds [qui remplissent ses salles pendant dix jours] “, wrote Friday the very influential specialized magazine HollywoodReporter. The audience at the Toronto Festival is something of a test audience for large, independent American studios. A gauge of the potential of films at the box office. The preferences, sensitivities and propensity of the Toronto public to fill the seats of the cinemas are data that are more valuable than those of the Cannes, Venetian or Berlin public. Especially in this post-COVID era, when theatrical cinema is struggling.

While it is true that TIFF is seen by the film industry more as a commercial launching pad than an artistic event, it should not be forgotten that the festival has retained the tradition of its former incarnation, the Festival of Festivals, by offering a number of more niche films that have already been presented in Cannes, Venice and elsewhere (at the American competitor Telluride, in particular).

On the first day of the festival were presented eight feature films that I saw in May at Cannes: Falcon Lakeby Charlotte Le Bon, the Palme d’Or Triangle of Sadness, by Ruben Ostlund, Moonage Daydream, excellent documentary by Brett Morgen on the life of David Bowie, holy spider, Decision to Leave, NMR, broker or pacification.

Until September 18, some 200 feature films and 50 short films are on the TIFF programme, at least twice as many as last year. Friday, we presented a UFO, Weird: The Al Yankovic Storya fake biopic about the bespectacled curly singer and whimsical accordionist who rose to fame in the 1980s with his parodies of popular hits. Those over 40 will remember My Bologna, Eat It, Another One Rides the Bus or Like A Surgeon.

Evan Rachel Wood also embodies Madonna in this delirious satire starring Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role. She will try to seduce Weird Al so that he agrees to parody her songs and boost her record sales.

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Quinta Brunson and Daniel Radcliffe in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Weird Al Yankovic, who co-wrote this sex, drug cartel and rock and roll flick with director Eric Appel, wanted to poke fun at all those filmed rock star biographies that take all sorts of liberties with the facts, such as Rocketman Where Bohemian Rhapsody.

It succeeded. We laugh out loud discovering this parallel universe where the polka is the favorite music of teenagers of the 1970s, the accordion is perceived as the instrument of the devil and where it is Michael Jackson who composed beat it to parody Weird Al, rather than the other way around.

Any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental, recalls the star of the cult 1980s comedy, UHF, presented Thursday evening in Toronto. Not sure that I could have seen this landmark film of my adolescence at the Venice Film Festival.

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La Presse at the 47th TIFF | In Toronto, the public is king