TIFF40: 9 days, 24 films

Ten years ago, I was waiting tables at an Italian restaurant and trying to figure out what to do with a Communications degree. I knew I loved film and was bound and determined to figure out a way to make a living in it. When I pictured where I’d land, I told myself I wanted to find a career that included festival travel as part of the job description.

Think about it: traveling to world-class cities to see the latest independent film, discovering new work and meeting the people making it all happen. What’s not to love?

The answer, I’ve come to learn, is pretty much nothing.

I just returned from nine days at TIFF, by far the longest stretch I’ve stayed at a festival in the few years I’ve been traveling. Attending as part of the team from a distributor, being at the festival is actually a quite productive use of my time, as I split my days between film screenings, publicity demands and networking with new and familiar contacts alike.

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All told, I saw 24 films in just over a week – several gems, but unfortunately not all of which were winners. (I certainly could’ve fit in more, but cocktail hours and dinner meetings intervened!) With a few exceptions, everything I saw was by assignment, our head of acquisitions pointing the team to various screenings to scout for what might be viable pick-ups. And with an approach like that, it’s inevitable that a decent portion of them aren’t ready for primetime.

I extended my stay at the festival, which originally would’ve been just an extended weekend, when one of our films was slated for its premiere later in the week. It turned out to be worth it, as the details of talent attending or not seemed to change by the hour. Though no one with the film ended up coming to Toronto, I was there to take in the film’s first screening on North American soil. So that’s cool.

And though it is a work trip (and really, you do find yourself fitting in emails and meetings at the oddest hours), I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little starstruck, too. I wasn’t gawking at the stage doors like plenty of other festival-goers, but it certainly didn’t go unnoticed when Geoffrey Rush and Michael Keaton walked by our table in quick succession. I hope no matter how long I’m in this business those moments aren’t lost on me. Oscar Winner, 1 o’clock!

I’m still learning which festivals my role at MBF will require me to attend – the cyclical nature of these events means that it’ll take a year for each event to go by with or without me. And I’m guessing I won’t spend 9 days at another one anytime soon.

Regardless, me from ten years ago is somewhere giving herself the biggest high five on a job well done.