October 11th, 2013
I flew to Toronto this week, having been invited to participate on a panel at the TIFF Light Box. That’s the name of the building you see above, in the heart of the downtown theatre and club district. By day it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but at night it really does earn its name. More importantly, perhaps, the interior of the building is a marvel of architecture and engineering. It’s a film lover’s dream, an exquisite shrine to the moving picture. In addition to the Toronto International Film Festival offices, there are five theatres, all superbly appointed, acoustically perfect, comfortable, and warm. The lobby areas are spacious and inviting, with cosy armchairs and lounge areas for gabbing about films after you’ve seen them and need to talk. And the café scene is totally wonderful, with a first-class restaurant, café, and bar, of course. Once you’re in there you just don’t want to leave.
Funny thing, but I heard this week that the traffic through the theatres is pretty low. People don’t seem to want to go downtown to see movies or else people aren’t watching movies of the sort they are showing on their big screens. It’s hard to know exactly what’s wrong with the formula, because the environment is pretty well perfect. The TIFF programmers intended to showcase independent films, Canadian films, and documentaries to a public tired of explosions and tedious plot lines. The Light Box should be bringing in a lot of extra revenue to TIFF, helping to pay the expensive mortgage, but I heard that it was a struggle filling those theatres. I can’t help but think that the same building in Montreal—let alone St. John’s–would be filled to the rafters every night, and that there’s just something about Toronto and the downtown location of the Light Box that keeps people from leaving the comfort of their iPads or computer screens in the suburbs. Doesn’t Toronto have a passion for the good stuff, or is the TIFF event itself really mostly about glitter and making a deal, and not about the art of film? That’s only partly rhetorical. I’m really not sure why the screenings aren’t always packed.
That all said, the panel I was invited to was all about the history and challenges of women’s film festivals, a subject about which I have a little knowledge. I’d say the Light Box theatre was respectably filled for a mid-morning weekday, and that was encouraging in itself. I spoke about the history of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival while others spoke more directly about the importance of history—of archiving, researching and keeping records of all the organizational and curatorial work that is carried out for festivals, and in particular the few women’s film festivals that have survived through the decades. I think the message was inspiring to some younger people in the audience who might have thought there was little to research, nothing to learn or gain from dong that kind of history, but, of course, as with all social phenomena, we need to understand it to know where we are now.
TIFF wisely programs a “higher learning” series after the film festival itself and so the panel was part of that program. I was happy to get on yet another plane to be part of it. Time permitting, I would have stayed a little longer to hear David Cronenberg speak later in the week. Sometimes one can’t do it all.