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TIFF 2016: Five Movies and Michael Fassbender

It started and ended on the train, from Montreal to Toronto, and back-just enough time to consider what the next three days would be like for our first time at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in a city alive with cultural appreciation and excitement.

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Fans flock to Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to stargazePhoto: njene/Shutterstock

TIFF 2016: Day One

Leading up to TIFF 2016 was exciting-trying to plan our flex choice package for the first weekend and making sure we had the right movie selection for our taste. We were looking forward to each one, knowing very little about them except that they “looked good.” To be fair, going with Adam, a film studies graduate, definitely had its advantages when it came to the selection department. Nevertheless, our anticipation for the weekend ahead overwhelmed our lingering fatigue when we boarded the 6:30 a.m. train on Friday, Sept. 9.

Our first pick was the afternoon we arrived: Zoology, a Russian film directed and written by 27-year-old Ivan Tverdovsky. His charm, as he introduced the film with a translator by his side, was not only communicated through his witty commentary but by his “typical filmmaker” outfit, taking the stage in khaki shorts, a bag hanging off the back of his t-shirt with a backwards baseball cap to tie it all together. Immediately, in the Scotiabank Theatre on Richmond, we knew our TIFF experience would be unforgettable.

Afterwards there was a Q&A with Tverdovsky, who commented on the film’s representation of the paradoxical nature of Russian politics, leaving us with plenty to talk about as we headed out to find the hottest spot in town. It was easier than we thought, turning the corner to be faced with the decadent Montecito Restaurant (owned by Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman), a spot notorious for its celebrity sightings and with a reservation list so long, the earliest possible table was available at 10:30 p.m.

The second choice, Figo, a restaurant as cutting edge as its name, served up a delicious homemade ricotta with pine nuts and crostini. We ordered our dirty gin martini and single malt scotch, humoured by our own efforts to blend in among the high class crowd.

Our search for a restaurant for dinner, however, was less simple. I insisted on making the night a “TIFF 2016 experience” and would not concede to a restaurant that was not suitable for the stars. Our search led us to a bouncer in front of a lounge adorned with lace curtains and a fairy-lit rooftop terrace. When I asked whether or not there was room for two without reservations, he calmly informed me that the private club required membership in order to enter. I left wanting to go in more than ever. Later, in the comfort of our air conditioned Airbnb we found out that it had been the Soho House, an extremely exclusive spot of the creative elite, requiring two membership references and a thorough application as well as a steep membership cost.

Byblos too, a restaurant that showed up on the same “best” list as Montecito was closed to the public, hosting what appeared to be some after party event for Trespass Against Us starring Michael Fassbender. Our night, thanks to my unwavering determination to find the “right” restaurant was salvaged by the Copacabana, the perfect spot for our extravagant TIFF 2016 night out. The rotisserie meats brought on the skewer to our table every ten minutes and stunning dancers, causing us to become distracted from our delicious pitcher of sangria.

Before heading in for the night, Adam pointed out hundreds of people crowded in front of the Princess of Wales Theatre on King St., a red carpet and sectioned off TIFF 2016 poster displayed for the press. We stayed, several rows back, jumping on to our toes to get a glimpse of what was going on. As the crowd roared, screams coming from all around us, we saw a glimpse of Michael Fassbender as he stopped to pose for selfies with fans. “That was great! We’ve been waiting for hours,” a couple said as they walk past us. “Hours?!” Adam and I couldn’t imagine justifying a day spent waiting to see a celebrity for a brief few seconds before entering their movie premier. That being said, I’m sure I’ll be name dropping Fassbender’s upper face for a little while.

In every regard our first TIFF experience on the opening weekend had already exceeded our expectations. With two more days and four movies to go, we were one for one and hopeful for what lay ahead.

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Elgin Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, CanadaPhoto: rmnoa357/Shutterstock

TIFF 2016: Day Two

Saturday started off in the heart of downtown at the Ryerson University Theater. The welcome signs to returning and new students set a familiar vibe for us recent university graduates. We filed into the theatre, happy to take shelter from the rain and settled in for another anticipated flick with Anne Hathaway in Colossal. The director, Nacho Vigalondo, teased the crowd with a review he’d just received warning “straight men may not enjoy the film.” The supporting actor, on stage with the director, got us laughing when he feigned walking out as Vigalondo fell to his knees to beg otherwise. The film was funnier than expected, certain moments provoking laughter from the crowd, confirming Adam’s hopes that audiences would feel that they were enjoying a communal experience. In fact, the crowd didn’t wait for the film to begin for their choral responses, already confusing us with “arr” during the pirating warning (Pirate-ing, get it? Don’t worry, it took us three more movies and a drink for us to figure it out).

Our afternoon passed quickly until our next two screenings, taking in the Eaton Centre and its overwhelming number of shoe stores, as well as enjoying a lunch at the Pickle Barrel. Before we knew it we were making our way back up Richmond to the Scotiabank Theatre for our shorts program. Divulging the plot of these films (or most of them) would be impossible, not because I’m weary of spoilers but because they are literally impossible for me to explain as many went right over my head. Our brisk walk to the Elgin Theatre was full of confusion about the short films that were simply “too artsy for us.” Adam also confirmed that even he found them to be more experimental than he expected. With only a half hour in between films, we walked quickly through the rain to the Eglin Theatre, hoping we’d still be close enough to the front of the line to get decent seats in the North American premiere of Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden.

If we didn’t laugh, we would have cried. When we arrived at the Elgin, we took our places, halfway down the block at the back of the line. Or so we thought until a volunteer asked us to continue down the street to the back of the line. And then another volunteer told us to do the same. And another. And another. And another until we had both lost track of where we were. The seven minute walk into the theatre was disheartening but even at the very back of the balcony we had a good view of the screen and the breathtaking architecture of the historic theatre. We waiting anxiously as Park Chan-wook took the stage, his soft spoken manner a misleading introduction to a movie he promised was full of “love between two women, two men, and…a huge octopus.” I would gush about what the next two and a half hours had in store but that would really be unfair and would not do justice to the masterpiece we both felt we had witnessed.

We agreed it was the perfect day but promised not to rule out tomorrow’s film. We couldn’t imagine anything surpassing the execution and narrative of The Handmaiden but then again, we did not have J.A. Bayona’s imagination.

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Adam posing in front of Honest Ed's during TIFF 2016Photo: Maria Daniela Raskin

TIFF 2016: Day Three

We savoured every part of our last day in Toronto as we got up early to head to our final movie of the festival, A Monster Calls. I can’t divulge anything about this highly anticipated movie (as much I want to) except for that we had no reason to try to minimize our expectations. In fact, we even had to give ourselves a couple of hours break before discussing it because of how much it resonated with us.

We made our way back out into the sunset on Bloor Street West across the street for a delicious brunch at Insomnia, where the breakfast and bar restaurant boasts “good morning…and good night” about its entrance. We even stopped into the historic discount department store Honest Ed’s, which sold clothes, school supplies, and groceries, as well as provided services to a dentist and hair dresser in a time-capsuled store that covered an entire block’s surface area.

We then followed Bathurst back downtown, passing by Thomson Hotel and many trendy looking bars and clubs before we concluded with souvenir shopping and a drink at The Porch, a rooftop bar with a lovely view of the CN Tower and the tall city buildings. As we headed for our evening train to Montreal, we picked up burritos to-go from Chipotle, talking non-stop about the movies we had seen.

Attending TIFF 2016 felt like an initiation into a world we had been dreaming about, getting the chance to hear, first hand from directors, how they felt about their films and being in an environment where film was just as exciting for the people around us as it was for us. Gushing with Canadian pride, the festival did not disappoint, leaving its impression on us and ensuring our return.