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PARC Playwrights’ Colony

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Toronto Film Festival

by Lyndsay Kyte

Who was that skinny girl?TIFF: the nickname of 40 percent of grade five girls and the acronym of the biggest film festival in North America. The Toronto International Film Festival took place September 8­17, 2005 at various venues across Toronto. It was a chance to take in some of the 335 films from 52 countries, wait in line-ups longer than those in the airport at Christmas and to see Johnny Depp breathe real, live oxygen. And get hit by a car trying to do so.

Tickets ranged from about $32 to $18, a hefty price tag for most poor starving artists. So the choices to see films remained to try to sneak in (pretty much impossible) or usher at one of the theatres. I chose the latter, ushering at the Elgin Theatres where I got to eyeball stars, wear a vest much too big for me and laugh at the behavior of TIFF patrons sophisticated and so not.

My best advice for future patrons is that stars will always sit about six rows up from the front and will probably not want to sign autographs while trying to get up on the stage. A lot of stars who want to watch films and not have their clothes drooled on will sneak in, as did Kirsten Dunst, to whom I offered a program. As she politely declined, I thought, “Where do I know that skinny girl from? Does she work at Starbucks?” About six seconds later I realized where I saw her—Spiderman. (People magazine ran a gossip snippet this month about how neither Kirsten Dunst nor Jake Gyllenhaal, who are dating, were at each others’ premieres at the Toronto Film Festival. That is half wrong—Kirsten was indeed there at Jake’s premiere, and sat off on the sidelines so as not to be noticed. I guess The Buzz has scooped People with our Hollywood gossip.)

Though I didn’t get to see all of the stars, reports from other ushers were as such: “Johnny Depp was so gracious. He signed every autograph he could. He actually seemed shy.” “I had to take Tim Burton up in the heritage elevator. Creepy!” “Morgan Freeman was doing Justin Timberlake impressions backstage.” And “Steve Martin is just a guy. Like just a regular guy. He was asking me about my life!”

Some of the films I saw were Capote with Phillip Seymour Hoffman (great), Tideland with a wonderful young actress named Jodelle Ferland (film was odd and unpleasant) Sketches of Frank Gehry, a doc about the life of architect Frank Gehry (inspiring), Bee Season with Richard Gere (interesting), Shopgirl with Steve Martin and Claire Danes (go see it) and an independent film with a stellar cast including Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney called The Squid and the Whale. I termed it “the squirm and the wail” as I stood (ushers can’t sit) through its lame story, writer-heavy dialogue and one-dimensional portrayals of characters. Though I didn’t see the film, I witnessed a number of audience members leave the Justin Timberlake/ Morgan Freeman production called Edison. Some even yelled at me because they hated it so much. As this was not fun, I got TIFF officials to whom they could complain. This was more fun. I overheard it was “too violent” “diminished the class of TIFF” and “Morgan Freeman should be ashamed.” All of the complainers were over fifty and dressed like they were out to see some “art,” so that may have been a factor. Or maybe the movie was just really, really bad.

Some of the more interesting moments for me were witnessing the patrons, who ranged from wild-haired, legwarmer-sporting artsy types to opera-glass toting, scarf wearing people who only laugh when CBC announcers make a funny. Yet all of these people, no matter what their outfits, would fight TIFF volunteers to the death if they were passed over for the free potato chips that VISA provided. Also, as mentioned above, some Johnny Depp fans who were banished to the other side of Yonge Street when Johnny arrived decided to dash across to proclaim their love. Many were beaned by rush hour traffic, but none were seriously hurt. TIFF hired more staff and Johnny was rushed inside the theatre as a result.

What I learned from ushering at TIFF was most stars are pretty nice people who just don’t want their clothes torn, if you are blocking a closed-off staircase and are five feet tall, people think they can take you, and just because a film has Morgan Freeman doesn’t mean it will get Oscar gold. Maybe one bad Justin can spoil a whole film full of Freeman.

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