Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Toronto Film Festival Diaries
Toronto Report: The Party Line

by Kathleen Carroll

Sept. 8, 1996

For years Toronto was the only film festival that was covered regularly by a party critic. The intrepid Sylvia Train actually reviewed the festival parties for the Toronto Sun, using the same star rating system favored by many movie critics.

The pixie-like Train would prowl the festival's post-screening parties, scouting the room for guests who might be famous enough to mention in her column. Displaying the gruff determination of a crackerjack investigative reporter she would taste test the food and rush off to file her review.

Train always insisted that hers was not an easy job. No one believed her of course. Not too long ago she officially retired and I thought I would try to take her place. What a mistake. After a mere two days as Film Scouts' party critic I'm ready to demand hazardous duty pay for this assignment. For the festival bashes, which invariably take place in abandoned shopping malls or other large cavernous building, have about as much Hollywood glamour as the average frat house party. Pounding pre-recorded rock music makes conversation totally impossible. Half the time you feel as if you're reluctantly participating in the toga party scene from "Animal House."

As such Toronto's premiere party giver would appear to be an out-of-towner - Hollywood Reporter columnist George Christy. His annual luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel is more difficult to crash than a White House State dinner.

The menus, which are carefully pre-tested by Christy, vary each year but the basic ritual remains the same. Cocktails are served promptly at 1 PM. Christy invites a number of guests to come simply for cocktails after politely but firmly informing them that they cannot stay for lunch. This year's guests seemed to take this rejection with amazing good grace. They were clearly happy just to be in the same room with Kevin Spacey, Matthew Broderick, Martin Short, Rob Morrow and Billy Baldwin, all of whom made the guest list.

In one corner of the room Stellan Skarsgard and Katrin Cartlidge, two of the leading players in Lars von Trier's "Breaking the Waves," happily discussed the overwhelmingly positive reaction to their film. "90 percent of the audience loved it," said Skarsgard. "Three percent did not." The film, which features an unforgettable performance by a total unknown named Emily Watson, is extremely haunting and brilliantly executed.

Albert Brooks made a late entrance, firmly guiding Debbie Reynolds towards the nearest TV camera. Reynolds is returning to the big screen after far too long an absence as the star of Brooks' new comedy "Mother." She plays Brooks' mother in the movie but for the moment the actress appeared to be taking orders from her director. "You know who went up in smoke when he heard Debbie Reynolds was here - Trevor Nunn (the British stage director)," declared Christy.
"Isn't that amazing?"

Emilio Estevez remained at the luncheon after his father Martin Sheen put in a token appearance. He's here promoting "The War at Home." "My father plays my father in the movie," Estevez explained. "It's the best work he's done since "Apocalypse Now." Dusty Cohl, a co-founder of the festival, teased Estevez about being the only newcomer at a table full of luncheon regulars. "I'm a virgin," Estevez admitted.

Later after relishing "the old-fashioned chicken pot pie with fresh vegetables" and "the peach and blueberry upside-down cake" Estevez announced "I'm de-virginized." Heading for the elevator Martin Short seemed to be in a more philosophical mood. "Longevity is the key to success," Short wistfully observed. "And I've been around," said the deliciously funny Canadian-born comedian who began his career as a band singer.

On reflection being a party critic may not be such a tough job after all. Perhaps I should continue to "bowl for bolds," which is how Rita Zekas, the gossip columnist for the Toronto Star, describes her work - her constant search for celebrities whose names are fit to print in bold type.

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