Film Scouts Diaries

1998 Toronto Film Festival Diaries
The Day Before

by Henri Béhar

TORONTO - Wendesday, September 9

Gettin' in that Festival groove, they call it. Well, better do that long before the Toronto Festival starts. Find out what's to be shown there - you get that late August on the Fest's official website ( - , who's in charge of what, who's coming, who is not. Once you've downloaded it, read it, memorized it: forget about it. Plan your festival to the max if you will, ultimately, you'll have to go along for the ride. But be warned: it's a roller-coaster ride. Switching metaphors, one could be advised to go with the flow, but that flow is a flood. All you can do is dive right in, and swim.

The trick is, Once you have the official program, start lobbying your chief-editor - or chief-editors, if you have more than one. Their agendas will invariably differ from yours. "What, Tom Cruise is gonna be in town? And Michael Caine? And John Waters? And Christian Slater, and Cameron Diaz and Elizabeth Hurley and Holly Hunter? And Alfre Woodard, and Wesley Snipes, and Neve Campbell? And Meryl STREEP? I want them ALL!" In a way, they're right: with most of those films opening commercially within weeks, where else could you tank in as many interviews - or at least as many quotable quotes - in so little time?

"But wait!," will the true film-buff in you reply. "Where is your sense of adventure and discovery? What about those filmic rarities that never come out here, those international oeuvres that may find a US distributor God knows when but that are great? What about the Masters Series that shows films by the likes of Kenneth Loach and Bernardo Bertolucci (15 films this year)? What about the Contemporary Wold Cinema? What about the Discovery program (31 films)? Isn't that where in previous years we discovered the likes of Hal Hartley and Atom Egoyan? What about Planet Africa that focuses on films from black directors from all over the world - there's life beyond Spike Lee, you know? What about Perspective Canada, which combines well-known directors (David Cronenberg, Robert Lepage) with unknowns who MIGHT become tomorrow's Cronenbergs? What about the Special Tribute to that director from Kazakhstan whose "Killer" was a runaway hit in Cannes this year, and that Focus on New Japanese Cinema, the "New Beat of Japan" (18 films)? There is life after Mizoguchi, too, you know! Not to mention the Midnight Madness section, which shows exactly the kind of films my mom wouldn't approve of?"

So for two or three weeks, you argue, discuss, debate, haggle, exhort, shout, stomp, cajole, induce, seduce - and you both know it's all a game. Once in Toronto, you'll play according to the lay of the land. You'll check out the studios' fare, you'll read the paper, trust a friend who's just come out of a splendid little gem from a country you can't even place on the map, you'll eavesdrop on conversations in cafes, at parties, at Norman Jewison's picnic, in the Hospitality Suite (always a Toronto forte), at the restaurants and choice water holes (mainly Prego's on Avenue Road, the Bistrot 990 on Bay, and the Rosewater Supper Club, way downtown), in the line for Press and Industry screenings, in the lines for Public screenings - the Toronto Film Festival has always been strong in privileging its audience, and said audience is absolutely great. What else can you do when you have 312 films to see in less than ten days - 245 of them feature-length, 150 world or north-American premieres? Not to mention the three to ten luncheons, cocktail parties, dinners or parties a day (and night).

What with the Festival's heavy-duty programming and no less than four studio junkets (among them, Tom Cruise's "Without Limits" and Streep's "Dancing at Lughnasa"), the first weekend promises to be brutal.

For years, the Festival's center was the Park Plaza Hotel on Avenue Road and Bloor Street. Everything - theatres, Festival offices - was within a five-block radius, read: walking distance. In 1991, the Festival moved to the reputable Sutton Place Hotel on Bay, stayed there five years. The Festival continued to grow, moved to the Sheraton downtown, more a convention center than an regular hotel. We're back to the Park Plaza, now renamed Grand Bay. Still being renovated, but convenient. In the midst of Yorkville, the area has been nicknamed Festival Village. Indeed there's something of Greenwich Village to it (but this being Canada, even the landlords are courteous), while the Queen Street West neighborhood is more like SoHo and TriBeCa combined.

Pre-Festival cocktail party at Moishe's, all the way downtown, on Adelaide Street West. The famous Montreal eatery is opening a Toronto sister venue. Five hundred guests, including some of the heaviest hitters in this town. AND writer Mordecai Richler ("Duddy Kravitz"), a long-time patron of the original restaurant in Montreal, in town also to be honored as the Canadian Club 's Canadian of the Year.

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