“What? Toronto?”, you might ask. Yes, Toronto. Other North American film festivals like Sundance or the Austin Film Festival may have carved out a niche for itself as avant-garde, or break-through, but the honour of the biggest film festival – at any rate as far as Hollywood is concerned – goes to Toronto, the self-likened Zurich of North America due to its squeaky clean image and its reputation for being well organised.
Never mind the fact that there is not a mountain in sight for several thousands of miles – there is a giant lake. Oh, and never mind that the lake is so huge it can probably contain much of Switzerland, you can’t see to the other side and it freezes up in winter – Toronto’s streets are clean and orderly, its people laid back and friendly and its downtown skyline so stunning it begs to be marvelled at! All of it serves as an open invitation beckoning visitors.
Again, you may quip that you thought Cannes is the biggest film festival. It is – in Europe. It is also famously snobbish and the chances that you may actually get to see any of your favourite movie stars are in direct proportion to your waistline fitting into prohibitively expensive haute couture clothing.
A Film Festival for the People
The Toronto International Film Festival on the other hand strives to be and even takes pride in everything Cannes is not. Out with European elitism and out with the judges’ panel. In keeping with Toronto’s hard-crafted image of egalitarianism, TIFF is a true people’s festival and second only to Cannes in terms of publicity.
Of Hollywood’s favourite sons and daughters of the moment, there are many and in a much more relaxed environment. Here the chances of you getting to hob knob with prominent industry insiders increase enough to make you feel that you are a part of what is happening around you as opposed to being a mere spectator on the sideline of the publicity machine. When you go to the TIFF you know that it will be your opinion as a cinema goer that will make the biggest impression, rather than those of some hoy-polloy, hooty-snooty film critic.
TIFF’s popularity is partly thanks to the Canadian values of fair opportunity and public participation and partly thanks to its clever strategic timing. The beginning of winter traditionally marks the beginning of the spin period for the entertainment industry awards season. TIFF is cleverly timed as the biggest film festival before nominations for the awards season begins. Over the past several decades, TIFF audiences – not judges but audiences – have crowned many productions that went on to become Golden Globe and Oscar winners so successfully that TIFF has secured its prominence as the foremost public fore-runner for creating Oscar-buzz.
As Rebecca Keegan Winters reported in Time Magazine, TIFF has seen itself growing “from its place as the most influential fall film festival to the most influential film festival, period.” In fact, TIFF has become such an important draw card to the city of Toronto that it now occupies its own building, known as the Bell Lightbox, making such a large event pretty convenient to attend.
Toronto’s marvellous skyline
But movies is not the only drawing card that the city of Toronto has up its sleeve. That stunning skyline which may very well be best viewed from Lake Ontario can also be appreciated from up high. The CN Tower was, until the recent Asian and Middle-Eastern skyscraper race-to-the-top, the tallest free standing structure in the world and is likely to continue ranking in the top three for some time to come. With two observation decks, it offers amazing views over Toronto’s glittering and gleaming glass skyline. At night it lights up with a quiet beauty that, surprisingly, makes sense – at least to the aesthetically minded who appreciate order and symmetry.
Shop for less
Compared to the UK, Toronto is a bargain hunter’s playground. Being a little less than eight hours flying time away, it also makes for a much more attractive destination than Asian cities where they do not speak English. What you won’t necessarily find in Toronto is lots of olde-world offerings. As a city so affected by the seasons, the focus is on moving with it and consumers savour hip, modern and trendy design and contemporary flair.
When you’ve had your fair share of enjoying movies you’re not likely to see on circuit at home for several months to a year, if at all, there is always that natural wonderwork of the fall leaves beckoning you for a drive in the countryside – and in this neck of the woods, all roads lead to the Niagara Falls. Far away enough to be away from the big city, yet close enough to make for a leisurely half-day trip, the falls are a major tourist attraction that makes you feel like you can go home with the comfort of mind that you didn’t simply undertake a trip to another city that could be anywhere in the world, but instead leaves you feeling that you’ve been somewhere.
Best of all, you’ll find it makes for a splendid topic of conversation with anyone else who either has seen it or who would like to and the perfect way to round of a dinner party talking about all of those films your friends have yet to hear about.
Have you been to the Toronto International Film Festival? How would you rate it and what would you suggest to anyone considering going to it this year?