Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Toronto Film Festival Diaries
Day 1

by Henri Béhar

Toronto, Thursday, September 5

The ritual begins. Credentials, catalogue, sit down, try to map out your schedule. So many films (between 300 and 400), so little time. And so many sections: the Hollywood type (the "Galas", black tie and sequins), the Canadian (Perspective), the Far-Flung (Planet Africa, Focus on Vietnamese cinema), the Bonkers (Midnight Madness)

Add to that: press screenings that start at 8 am and may end around midnight, and press conferences, and interviews you might want to schedule, and parties to go to (or at least get invited to - *major* difference), and where is the Hospitality Suite, and will the Bistro 990 get a waiver from the liquor laws and stay open till 4 am, if not where will the Watering Hole of Choice be, and where is everybody and why are they all running around like headless chickens - and you know in twenty-four hours, you'll be doing the same, juggling between the glitz, the artsy, the exotic, the crazy.

What is not press-screened you have to get a ticket for. Good luck. Most shows were sold out months ago, save a couple of "rush" seats, coupla rows for last-minutes vip's. Good luck again.

Opening-Night Gala movie is Carroll Ballard's "Fly Away Home". Canadian in setting (and part of content), Californian in style. Based on the true story of Bill Lishman, an eccentric yet ingenious Ontarian who "helped" geese relearn, come winter, the ancestral migratory paths to the South.

The film, too, goes south. What was intriguing fact has become sentimental fiction a la salsa Hollywood. For some reason or other, we're now dealing with Jeff Daniels (as the fictitious Lishman), whose (estranged?) wife dies in New-Zealand, and therefore he has to now take care of their daughter, "Piano" child star Anna Paquin (I guess that takes care of Paquin's N-Z accent). And so, see, much like the motherless baby-geese she chances upon, the motherless child will have to find her sense of direction. Did it really take a whole committee and a series of story meetings to come up with that parallel? And to throw in a love interest (Dana Delany) and a couple of ugly developers... I haven't had such an overdose of feel-good since The Flying Nun.

The saving grace - for there is one - is Carroll Ballard's lyricism about Mother Nature (remember "The Black Stallion" and "Never Cry Wolf"). When the geese take off, the film soars.

Opening-Night party is, well, opening night-ish. A lot of black ties, a few leather jackets. Professional networkers work the rooms in circles, trade business cards.

Then off to Bistro 990, on Bay Avenue, where you undo your bow tie, take off your tux jacket and let it all hang out. At 3 am, the place is still booming. No way everybody will be gone by 4.

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