Toronto International Film Festival

After five years of living in Toronto during which I typically found the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) a nuisance, I finally took in some shows this year at the urging of my girlfriend.  (It helps that I no longer live near any of the venues or ritzy hotels where the celebrities stay, so my life has been hindered considerably less.)

I left it to my girlfriend to pick the shows, and we ended up going to two of them—one a regular screening, and one a gala premiere.  I’ll talk about them both below.

Timetrip: The Curse of the Viking Witch

This film was a children’s movie from Denmark, and as such, was a subtitled film.  The director was at the showing, and held a Q&A after.  He seemed nice enough, and gave good answers to the questions.  (I think my girlfriend chose this because she is a medievalist, and feels the need to pass judgment on all movie that intersect with that time period.)

The movie itself was a fairly conventional children’s adventure, where a high school guy and his younger sister, travel through time to help a cursed immortal find an artifact lost hundreds of years ago.  They end up in several different times during Denmark’s history, and wackiness ensues.

It was actually pretty good, for the kind of movie it was.  I was entertained, although I found little surprising or unexpected.  There was danger, a surprising amount of violence that was sort of glossed over, a little bit of character development, and a happy ending.  The kids in the theatre seemed to pay close attention, too, so I guess it worked for them.

Anyway, apart from a few introductions before the screening, and the Q&A after, nothing really set this apart from any other movie viewing.  So, in that respect, TIFF elicited a bit of a “meh” from me.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The second show we had tickets to was the North American gala premiere of Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.  This movie is notable for two reasons—director Terry Gilliam, and star Heath Ledger.  Filming was partially completed when Ledger died last summer; actors Colin Farrell, Jude Law, and Johnny Depp stepped up finish the film in his place, lending a lot of star power to the movie.  (I suspect the possibility that any of those men might be at the premiere was the primary motivation for my girlfriend and her roommates getting tickets to this showing over any other.)

We were told to arrive at least an hour before showtime; we got there an hour and a half early, and found ourselves at the midpoint of the line.  This line was at the back entrance of the building, far from the red carpet entry where the celebrities would arrive.  We waited for over an hour before the opened the doors.  Needless to say, I was not exactly thrilled with this setup, but my company in the line was good, and so it passed pleasantly enough.

The venue for this was Roy Thomson Hall, a concert hall with two levels of balconies.  Naturally, the floor seats were for celebrities and special guests; I suspect the second tier was for people who bought the expensive tickets.  We were exiled to the third balcony, but at least we had an unobstructed view.

They were screen the red carpet coverage from outside while we waited for things to get underway.  The ladies in our party were appropriately devastated at the lack of Ledger/Depp/Farrell/Law, but we did get Christopher Plummer, Verne Troyer, and director Terry Gilliam himself, among others.  There were all introduced before the show, and Gilliam spoke a few words before the movie began.

And, well, that was basically it.  The movie was good, and very Gilliam-esque.  The handling of the Ledger/Depp/Farrell/Law substitutions was masterful, and made perfect sense in the context of the movie—at least, as much as anything in a Gilliam movie makes sense.  It was imaginative, and odd, with sometimes likable characters and sometimes not so much.  I suspect it will do well for Gilliam once it is in full release.

But, when it was over, it was over.  And from the “nosebleed” seats, the presence of the cast and production team still seemed so distant and removed that it was little different than watching them speak on TV.  So—much like arena concerts—the experience was good, but I suspect I would have found it more exciting if I were closer to the action.  But as it was, the “gala premiere” really felt little different than any other movie, except with colder popcorn.

So, I got to see a good movie by a director I like several months before its general release, which was cool and all, but I just don’t understand the excitement people associate with TIFF.  At least it’s something I can cross off my list of things to do in Toronto.