Opening Night? All Right …

1378419533842Day 1 of the Toronto International Film Festival tends to open to a bit of excitement and even pandemonium.

From a programming perspective, it’s the initial one-two punch to hook cinephiles (and film festival members) who got first dibs for those big-named films, and get them talking. For the most patient of star-gazers, it’s a visual smorgasbord.

My friend Renée and I – with some trepidation – are braving the crowds to watch some of the movies the festival has to offer. (She’s also chronicling our navigation of TIFF on her blog.)

Part of that motivation was actually spurred by one of our favourite actors, Benedict Cumberbatch. He’s in town to promote not one but THREE films. The first of those, The Fifth Estate, showcases Cumberbatch’s talents in his portrayal as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The film had its first two showings Thursday evening. They were premium screenings (that is, only certain credit-card holders, members, and those who bought special tickets or packages got the privilege), so schmoes like Renée and I – who bought regular flexible packages – were shut out of getting tickets.

The third, final, and only, remaining screening happens this weekend (before the film’s general release in mid-October), and it’ll be a crapshoot as to whether we can score two last-minute tickets. Depending on initial reviews (and from what I’m hearing, they’re good), it could be a challenge.

In the meantime, it did provide what’s likely our only chance to see Cumberbatch in the flesh on the red carpet outside Roy Thomson Hall.

I can’t lie – I embraced the idea in a millisecond. Renée? She was a wee bit more ambivalent. In the end, though, we resolved to do it for the experience.

We met just after 6 p.m. and walked to the red carpet “grounds”. Unlike previous days in Toronto, the weather was brisk.

We scoped out the crowds. Not bad – it was maybe two or three people deep. We then attempted to figure out which would be the best place to stand and get the best snaps.

A woman – presumably a volunteer – came up to us and suggested we go to the other side of the fan pit, where there was a big structure with risers and pillows. Initially, I was a bit suspicious as to where we’d end up. But it turned out to be the best suggestion we were given. Despite the big display, there was still enough space to get a bit closer to the barricades.

1378420212747We fidgeted and fiddled with our phones in the cold while we waited. Renée made ended up making small-talk with some fellow fans.

A number of fans up held signs or various paraphernalia adorned with fonts and imagery from the BBC series “Sherlock”, which helped make Cumberbatch popular (and sparked our interest in North America, where he’s becoming more familiar, but still isn’t exactly a household name).

At about 6:50 p.m., we heard whoops go up from the crowd. A group of volunteers – identifiable by their orange t-shirts and head-sets – walked between the barricades, getting fans pumped for the big moment. (Not that any of these fans needed ANY pumping up whatsoever.)

Five minutes later, a sleek, black Audi sedan glided along the concrete, eliciting more squeals and whoops. But when “ordinary” people stepped out of it, you could hear “awws” of disappointment.

But that disappointment dissipated when a shiny black SUV rolled into the area just after 7 p.m. The man of the hour had arrived, in a black tuxedo and skinny bow-tie.

Arms and hands holding cameras and smartphones (mine included) immediately shot into the air. Even on my tip-toes (and I’m five-foot-seven!), I couldn’t see a thing, and had to rely on my abilities to shoot semi-blindly in Cumberbatch’s general direction.

1378422284489It’s wasn’t in vain, though – he hung a right from the vehicle and started coming our way. At first, I only saw the top of his newly-cut, sleekly-coiffed chestnut mane.

But he more or less made his way to our section and, for the briefest of moments, I got a partial look at him (and one of his renowned cheekbones) through the forest of arms and necks with my own eyes.

I craned my neck to hear him talk, and could hear him faintly, amid the noise. (If you’ve ever heard him speak, he sounds exactly as he does on screen.) My camera, though, had to be my eyes, and I managed to get a couple of decent shots, considering where we were standing.

Photo, courtesy Renée Sylvestre-Williams.
Photo, courtesy Renée Sylvestre-Williams.

I do have to hand it to Renée, as she snapped what I consider the “money shot” – a perfectly framed shot of Cumberbatch as he signed autographs.

We posted our efforts on Twitter, and within the space of an hour, we’d been retweeted dozens upon dozens of times.

Renée had had her fill, so we turned from the action and strode away. Even though we didn’t get anything signed, or get pictures with him, the experience – to me, anyhow – still felt a tad surreal.

And if not for Renée, I would have lingered a bit longer. But it was worth it just the same. Siiiigh.

So with the gawking likely out of the way, our next order of business: actually seeing some movies (and using up our TIFF movie vouchers)! Wish us luck.

(NOTE: Pictures are mine. Picture #4 property of Renée Sylvestre-Williams. Please DO NOT use without first seeking permission.)

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