Big Film, Little Film (Or, The Science of Rush Lines)

When you’re a film-goer with a purse full of vouchers to burn, every option available at TIFF can be a bit of a crapshoot.

You can try buying tickets online. Providing there are actually tickets for your desired movie when you click the “BUY TICKETS” button.

Or, you could go to the TIFF box office and hope that when you ask the film(s) of your choice, the box office cashier gives you the right answer.

Then, there are the rush lines. The mother of all crapshoots.

It’s this option Renée and I attempted, not once, but twice, on Saturday.

After our TERRIBLE ticket selection berth, we decided to make a Hail Mary pass and brave the rush line for the only non-premium screening of The Fifth Estate. We figured we’d never see all three movies with Benedict Cumberbatch. But if we were going to try for one, this would be it.

We met at 10 a.m. in the pouring rain, and surfaced at Yonge and Dundas just before 10:30. And when we did, we saw the lineup that wrapped around the block from the theatre where the film was showing.

Sweet merciful shit-snacks.

1378564635935We crossed the street and follow the line … down Shuter … along Victoria … ALL the way around to Queen Street East. And waited.

Roughly five minutes later, a volunteer appeared, and it was through her we discovered we were in the ticket-holder’s line. But there was ZERO signage to indicate this. So we turned around and joined the rush ticket line “behind” us, snaking towards the theatre entrance on Yonge Street.

Unlike the previous line, this one wasn’t as long. But I was still torn between remaining optimistic, and becoming downright skeptical about getting in. I mean, it was the OPENING MOVIE of the FESTIVAL. Surely our chances were slim?

A man came by, offering up his Fifth Estate tickets for cash. Renée and I sort of perked up and looked at each other. But that moment of hesitation cost us – a couple of younger women ahead of us (they sounded like they were from France) snapped up those tickets.

Probably just as well, we thought. We had vouchers. So, good for those two.

Then, a guy wearing a headset and a soggy blazer, carrying a clipboard, was making the rounds. He was asking who was in line for The Fifth Estate, and who wanted to see The Railway Man (starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman). Seems just as many people wanted to see the latter as the former … which seemed to shrink that rush line even further. Maybe we had a chance.

As we continued to wait in the rain, a woman wearing a leather jacket emerged from a white SUV. Seems SHE had two tickets for The Fifth Estate she was trying to offload for $45. She started near the front, but not with much luck. She got to us and made her offer. I whipped out my wallet, only to discover I only had $40. Too bad. She moved along.

Almost, but not quite. Oh well. We were close to the front of the rush line anyhow …

Not even five minutes later, the woman – getting wet and extremely cranky – still had her tickets. Seemed no one had the cash – or enough cash. She groused about getting wet, and I still had my money.

“You know if we do this, we’ll lose our place in line, right?” asked Renée.

IMAG0344“Yup,” I said. “Let’s do this.”

Seconds later, we were the lucky recipients of two tickets. A small victory – won!

While we waited, we spoke to a woman who was going to see the movie with her two sisters. We shared our stories of frustration with the film selection system, and she offered some insight from her perspective as a veteran TIFF-goer.

We finally got inside the theatre some 30 or so minutes later, and actually got some seating with decent sightlines. The only quibble is, unlike modern movie theatres with their stadium seating, this was an old venue, so I doubt anyone in that theatre didn’t have a head blocking a small portion of the screen.

But the film was decent, if a bit heavy-handed. The performances were definitely what made the movie. It was definitely a good start to our film-going experience.

Feeling a bit emboldened, we decided we’d see a second movie. But what?

1378582338438After scrolling through the schedule, we decided on a small foreign comedy, All About The Feathers.

Set in Costa Rica, it’s the story of Chalo, a security guard who dreams of buying a rooster so he can get into cockfighting. We’re also introduced to the small rag-tag group of friends he makes in the process.

This rush experience was the complete opposite of what we just experienced.

For starters, when we got to the venue to queue for tickets, there was only ONE other person ahead of us on the rush list. Renée went in to the box office and had the tickets in a matter of minutes.

1378590324434Then, there was the obvious contrast between the two films. Unlike The Fifth Estate – which had relatively known actors and an enormous budget behind it – All About The Feathers was done on a $35,000 budget, with roughly $16,500 coming from 273 Indiegogo supporters, and had a cast of people, save for perhaps three, who had never acted before.

And not only was the director of the film, Neto Villalobos, actually in attendance, we had the privilege of having a Q & A with him afterwards.

We left the downtown core happier, and perhaps a wee bit high off our TIFF experience. But, it’s still early in the festival. We’ll see what else happens.

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.)

From Travelling to TIFF (and Back Again)

IMAG0325Hey y’all!

So it’s been, what, seven weeks, since my trip to the Bahamas with my friends?

(If you’ve been following along, y

ou’ll know my posts came to a most quiet end on Wednesday.)

Luckily because of the summer, I’ve managed to ride that post-holiday high a little longer than usual. Outings to free movies, friends visiting from other countries, and other get-togethers have handily filled that gap.

Admittedly, though, I’ve been feeling a bit of late-summer malaise. But hopefully not for long. Why?

Well, first and foremost, I’ve got another trip coming up later this month, which I’m slowly getting excited about. (You probably won’t see posts for those until well into October.)

And secondly? The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF, for short) is upon us. In fact, it starts today.

I first went well over a decade ago, and have taken in the odd movie at TIFF a couple of times since then. But I’ve shied away in recent years, simply because of the way the festival seems to have exploded in popularity and star wattage … and price.

This year, I’d been on the fence up until a few weeks ago. But a friend of mine and I decided to take the plunge, and we’re splitting a ticket package.  It’s the first time we’ve gone this route, and in all honesty, we’ve found the initial experience – picking films on a specific day, by way of a lottery system – a bit frustrating. But hopefully in the end, the experience will be worth it.

The set-up for the "big show" later today ...
The set-up for the “big show” later today …

In a way, it’s also another way to be a tourist in my own town – that is,

seeing the world, but through film. And maybe, note unlike when I travel, unexpected things might happen. Or not. Who knows?

I can’t guarantee anything, but I’ll try my best to post at least a couple

of times during the festival – whether it’s to give my thoughts on a film I’ve seen, or maybe share an entertaining anecdote. (Likely, it’ll be thoughts on movies.)

But a new month (and, in a couple of weeks, a new season) is upon us. And it’s simply ripe with possibilities!

Let the festivities begin!

A Wet Day In

P1010900Tuesday, July 16th. 

Considering that our trio opted to come to the Bahamas in the middle of rainy/hurricane season, I’d say we’ve been pretty lucky in the weather department.

That luck has come to an end.

I’m the first one up this morning (for the first – and only – time during this trip). And it’s raining. Not the type of rain we’ve been having, that dissipates in 30 minutes. It’s all-day rain – the type I thought would have marred our vacation earlier. Talk about good timing.

I feel better than I did last night. I manage to eat a bowl of cereal. But something still doesn’t completely feel right. Later in the day, I finish my leftover chicken cacciatore (admittedly with some determination, because I don’t like wasting food if I don’t have to). Still okay/not okay.

As the rain continues through the afternoon, we do the only thing we can think of: casually drink. There’s a fair amount of liquor left over, and it would be nice to finish it before we leave. Perhaps that’s a bit too ambitious. Besides, maybe it will kill whatever’s been affecting me today.

The showers finally let up by early evening, and for our last meal, we walk down the street to a place in a nearby strip plaza called Meza Grill, a Mediterranean-styled restaurant.

We split some appetizers – lamb stuffed with raisins, a platter with hummus, baba ghanouj and tzatziki, and some calamari. And I vaguely remember inhaling a small chocolate dessert sometime after that. But the alcohol-soaked haze is definitely hanging heavily.

The evening ends as all others have. But that’s it. No more waking up to morning views of palm trees and walking mere minutes to the beach. It’s time to pack up and return to reality.


What Goes In …

IMAG0126Between the drink Jen gets me (“for the road”) and the sun beating down on my face on the return boat ride back, I’m feeling a bit woozy by the time we get to dry land. I chalk it up to probably being just tipsy.

That woozy/drunkenness seems to intensify on the shuttle ride back to the resort. I spend some of that time on the bus trying to sleep it off.

We’re completely covered in sand by the time we reach our accommodation, but no matter – we head to the beach.

It’s so windy that as we approach the stairs from the resort pool to the beach, the sand grains whipping around painfully sting our faces and skin – well, mine and Jen’s anyhow. Christine either is more of a trooper with a high tolerance for stinging sand, or is not letting on how much this stuff hurts.

We backtrack, taking temporary refuge at a table by the poolside bar. A couple (clearly bored) resort staff members try – in vain – to get us to sing cheesy karaoke music. No dice. Especially from me.

P1010894Eventually, the wind lets up and we head back down to the beach. The water’s unbelieveably warm, but a bit soupy with blades of grass and lone clumps of moss drifting by. It’s the dark clouds in the distance, approaching our direction with some speed, that eventually chase us indoors.

After showering and changing, we relax for a bit before dinner. I feel a headache starting out of nowhere, so I take some acetaminophen to ease the ache. Perhaps the booze and all that sun is giving me a heightened hangover or something. But by the time we head out to dinner, I’m still feeling funny.

We return to the Italian restaurant down the street. I eat my lobster bisque, but whatever’s affecting my appetite prevents me from making a real dent in my chicken cacciatore. By dinner’s end, I’m REALLY not feeling well and all I’m hoping is that we go soon, lest I have … an accident.

On the walk home, I feel waves of nausea, but luckily, I don’t. But … well … stuff happens, which ends my evening. I take an anti-nausea pill and head to bed. One day left, and it would be a shame to have to spend it in bed.

A Powerboat Adventure!

P1010642Monday, July 15th.

We’re at the Paradise Island ferry terminal before 8:45 a.m. and by 9:30 a.m., the monstrous powerboat we’re travelling on pulls away from shore.

It’s roughly a one-hour ride from Nassau, heading south towards the Exuma Cays. We’re in open water, bumping over waves, the sun beating down on our heads and the sea spraying our arms and faces.

A couple of times, the boat hits the waves hard enough to send water splashing into the boat, onto some passengers. But the sun is hot, so it’s not unwelcome.

DSC00628Our first stop is Allan’s Cay, a small island inhabited by iguanas. The water is crystal clear and so blue, it’s unreal.

When the boat is safely docked, Jen and a few of the other passengers climb onto the front of the boat and dive into the water.

The rest of us climb down into the water, with assistance from staff. The water comes right up past my thighs, wetting the seat of my shorts.

A member of the boat’s staff hands us a small handful of grapes with which to feed the iguanas. Prior to getting off the boat, there are just two rules our guide, Jason, tells us to follow:

(1) Find a stick at least a forearm’s-length long, on which to stick the grapes
(2) If you’re a woman wearing toenail polish, bury your toes in the sand.

Turns out that not only do these iguanas have a sharp bite, but they’ve also got poor DSC00640eyesight. So for them, a grape and a woman’s big toe covered in cherry-red nail polish look the same.

There’s more than a dozen of the reptiles scurrying around, trying to nip the grapes and clamber back up onto their rocky perches before the seagulls (just above our heads and on the sand nearby) get to them.

About 20 minutes later, we’re back on the boat for another 10-minute ride to our destination, Ship Channel Cay, where we’re spending the rest of our day.

The boat veers left, then right, as the Miami Vice theme, immediately followed by the theme to Mission: Impossible blares over the sound system.

As the boat pulls up to the dock, there’s a little boy – maybe 5 years old at all – hanging out, watching us arrive. When it’s safe to depart the boat, we head into the main building, where an enormous platter of sandwiches – cut in halves – sits, just ready for the eating.

Around the corner, there’s a bar – and bartender – along with a couple of tables loaded up with more platters, of fruit and vegetables.

We grab our first drinks of the outing, then toddle off to the beach. No sooner do we set up our spot on the beach, spreading out our towels, then the group is being called to line up along the beach and kneel in the shallow water.

IMAG0070The stingrays are coming.

I go to change into my swimsuit, then take my place at the end of the line of people.

Jen’s moving behind the line, trying to snap some pictures, while Christine is half-heartedly in line beside me.

Not even a moment later, we hear a kid farther up the line freak out. That DOES NOT help me. Almost in an instant, my excitement turns to panic.

The moment a stingray gets within five feet of me,  I drop my fishy offering, skittering backward up onto the beach as it gets closer, flapping past me. So much for that romantic image.

Next: feeding time … for the sharks.IMAG0076

Our trip leader, Jason, along with another colleague, affix squid to a rope, flinging it out farther into the shallow waters ahead of them. He manages to give my fellow “adventurers” a show, wrangling a couple sharks out of the water long enough for folks to “ooh”, “ahh”, and get a good look.

After the “performance” we’re left on our own for a bit – but not long enough, as (what seems like) 15 minutes later, we’re being summoned to participate in some drift snorkeling nearby. I just happen to look upwards and notice the sky’s not as brilliantly blue as before. In fact, it’s looking a bit grey in places.

Christine and Jen aren’t quite ready to go just yet, because everyone’s crowding around the snorkel guy to get their equipment and snorkeling tutorial. I’m leery, merely because I’m not the strongest swimmer, so I opt not to go.

IMAG0082As we wait for the crowd to thin out a bit, the sun disappears behind enormous clouds and grows really dark. By the time Christine and Jen get their snorkeling gear, it’s starting to sprinkle.

Because the group is already far up ahead and already in the water, one of the crew tells us that we’d be taken out by boat to join the others. I’m staying in the boat.

It’s pouring by the time we reach the others. Christine and Jen enter the water from the boat, while I’m seated, shivering and squinting because one of my contacts has come loose and is doing some swimming around of its own, underneath my eyelid.

While I attempt to regain my eyesight, I chat with Jerome, who’s manning the small motorboat, in the pouring rain. Despite being a bit cold, the water is extremely warm and actually looks green.

The rain’s stopped by the time the group and motorboat get close to shore.

I’m preparing for my eventual drop-off, when Jerome tells me they’re about to get some conch for the salad-making demonstration later on – would I like to come with them?

Since I did not snorkel, I figure, why not? The guys seem nice.

Jerome picks up trip leader Jason, still decked out in his wet suit – he’ll be the one diving for conch.

The boat travels out a little ways from land, but not too much farther out than where the group was snorkeling. Jason steps off the side of the boat, scanning below, then fully submerging and going below to pick up the day’s catch. From what I understand, the crew catches the conch a few days earlier, then leave them tied in bunches. (The conch uses its “foot” – which looks like a single claw or talon – to move along. Obviously, with five of those guys tied together, they can’t go anywhere.)

While Jason is bringing up the catch, I get to hold a horse conch (which, apparently, isn’t really a conch). This one had no “claw’, but tough material which plugs up the opening of the shell. Horse conch isn’t eaten, so after holding it a bit longer, I throw it back.

Once back on shore, I head to lunch. The buffet’s huge – fish, meat, pasta, vegetables, salads, and fruit.

IMAG0092I join Jen and Christine near a railing close to the pier, overlooking the clear water, where sharks, assorted fish and the odd stingray swim about.

Seagulls circle overhead, waiting for whatever morsels of food are dropped or tossed.

The little boy we saw on the pier earlier is throwing bread into the water.

Growing bored really quickly, he starts tossing cubes of cheese instead – which is, obviously rebuffed by the fish, but considered by the birds.

IMAG0112After lunch, Jen, Christine and I spread out on the beach, (partially) checking out Jason’s conch salad demonstration.

He starts by pulling this thing out of its shell, showing it to us in all its ugly glory. He even gets a little girl to pull out a second conch so everyone can get a good look at it.

He cuts off the parts we won’t eat (likely the parts keeping these conches alive), washes them in the sea water and seasons them with salt, chops them up and finally adds the rest of the ingredients.

I join some of the other fellow tourists in sampling some of the finished product. I think it’s tastier than what I’ve had in Nassau.

My friends and I have a few more drinks, get a little more sun, and frolic about in the water. And before we know it, our time is up, and we leave our temporary paradise by about 3:30 p.m. I think we can declare this day trip a success.