A Break from The Bubble

Following Sunday afternoon’s disappointment in not landing rush tickets for Half of a Yellow Sun, I took a bit of a breather to go to a show taping with a friend of mine.

Following the taping, I made a detour to the TIFF box office to see if I could get tickets for films on Tuesday and Wednesday. My current dilemma is I have five vouchers I somehow have to use between now and Saturday. And with only two free days left before I return to work, it’s been proving to be a very frustrating challenge.

I was successful in getting my choice Tuesday. Wednesday, not so much.

And – after asking people at the TIFF box office, AND at the TIFF Bell Lightbox – I also discovered that my beloved vouchers are only valid for the duration of the festival.

As I understand, this has always been TIFF’s policy (volunteers are the exception). However – and my intrepid friend Renee took the time to check this – is ISN’T clearly stated on TIFF’s Web site.

So, if anyone from TIFF stumbles upon this blog – which I highly doubt – may I make the following suggestion: Please consider reviewing – and changing – this policy.

Sure, people should probably think about how many movies they can reasonably see during the festival. But not everyone can take a 10-day vacation to watch dozens of films. Quite a few festival-goers are spending hours after work queueing in rush lines to see movies (and use up their vouchers). Plus, you know what they say about the best-laid plans. Things unexpectedly arise. People get sick. Or you’re stuck a rush line to try and use a voucher, and that line runs out of tickets for your desired film.

If people have 10 vouchers or less, they should be given up to a month after the festival to use the vouchers to see movies at the Lightbox. One, this helps get more foot traffic into the Lightbox theatres to see movies, and two, the people with vouchers then don’t feel as if they’re losing all that money they spent on ticket packages.

Admittedly, I was (and am) feeling the beginnings of TIFF fatigue beginning to set in, as well as anxiety about being able to see six movies between now and the end of the festival, and trying to get normal daily tasks done (because, frankly, I’ve haven’t – I’ve barely been home and it’s beginning to feel a bit inconvenient to do this). But I’m going to try my best – starting on Tuesday.

A Hit & A Miss

IMAG0348Sunday was the first day Renée and I attended a movie for which we actually had a ticket.

To our complete surprise, we secured tickets for Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom during the ticket-selection phase before the festival, so we were looking forward to seeing how British actor Idris Elba did in his portrayal.

And unlike the previous day, the weather was much better, much warmer, and not a dark cloud looming overhead, which made the lineup experience much more bearable.

We were in for a bit of a treat this day.

1378656204723The film’s director, Justin Chadwick (you might know him for his directorial work on the mini-series, Bleak House, among other things) was in attendance and spoke to the audience beforehand.

(Incidentally, his previous film, The First Grader, premiered at TIFF in 2010.)

He told us we were only the second audience to see the movie, after the audience at Saturday evening’s gala.

Oh. My. God. What a movie. Idris Elba did a fantastic job as Mandela – showing the icon we all are familiar with, but also the man with his flaws. And the film did a good job of depicting the brutality of South Africa under apartheid rule.

The other performance that I think should be noted was Naomie Harris‘ portrayal as Winnie Mandela. If any attention should be paid, it should be to her transformation over the course of the film (which, obviously, is based on true events). She’s a powerhouse. If she does NOT get an Oscar nomination for this, I’ll be VERY surprised and annoyed.

And – absolute truth – tears were streaming down my face partway through the film. You’d have to have been made of stone NOT to have been moved. Kudos to the people who worked on this production.

Following Mandela, Renée and I decided to try to make it a double feature by getting into the rush line for Half of a Yellow Sun, the other movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton. (Kids, it’s a British invasion this year. These ladies and gentlemen are DEFINITELY bringing their A-game).

We lost a bit of time waiting to leave the theatre after Mandela, and opting to walk over to the other theatre. But, we’d gotten there about an hour and 20 minutes or so before showtime. And if we had such great luck the day before – and people kept saying that usually people in rush lines end up getting seats – this should be a piece of cake, right?

When we first arrived, I asked one of the “headset” volunteers how many people were ahead of us for rush seats. He said 40.

Within the span of about 40 minutes, that number had somehow ballooned to SEVENTY.

Why? Likely because people were holding places in live for their five OTHER friends, family members, etc. Which (according to what I’ve heard from people who’ve worked as volunteers) is NOT supposed to happen.

So, long story short, it wasn’t until after 4:30 p.m., when we were almost AT THE FRONT of the rush line (with about a half-dozen people in front of us) when it was announced that they’d run out of seats.

So, after lingering a bit longer, we walked away, our first defeat of the festival. Ah, well. Between seeing Benedict Cumberbatch on Thursday, and the two movies on Saturday, our luck had to run out sometime.

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.)