As we put Issue 60 of this magazine to bed, where, as a matter of fact I am now typing—like Proust, I like to write in bed and muse about better times—Twitter informs me that most of the people I follow will be off to the Toronto International Film Festival, and are preparing their schedules so as to cram as much as possible from this cinematic smorgasbord into their stomachs over the course of a fortnight. Over at cinema-scope.com we will be doing our best to try and help provide some (by the time you read this, post-hoc) consumer guidance into this morass of contemporary cinema. With an overwhelming 285 features this year (think about that for a second, 285!) obviously choices have to be made, and I for one am relieved that I’ve seen a fair amount of films showing at TIFF before I have to set foot in the Bell Lightbox for the first time this calendar year, as I’m lucky enough to have a job that requires me to watch films 18 hours a day for six months or so, with time out for getting to and from the airport.
But a quick count tells me that I’ve seen only 53 of these 285 feature films, because, as I’m sure all of our readers are aware, the vast majority of the features in Toronto are classified as some kind of premiere (to be precise, 143 world premieres, a scant 34 international premieres, and 73 North American premieres). The idea that this premiere foofaraw is indicative of some kind of bare-knuckle battle between film festivals (Toronto, Telluride, Venice) doesn’t interest me in the slightest, first and foremost because it has to do with the Oscars, and I don’t give a shit about the Oscars. Also because this fascination with world premieres has been going on for over a decade, with fewer and fewer of the year’s significant films being able to claim slots in Toronto because, ironically, there isn’t any room for them.
I’d rather think about who benefits from this situation, besides the local economy. Not the filmmakers, that’s for sure, as if you want to guarantee your film getting lost in a festival, show it at one with 285 feature films (about 85 of which have distributors attached) and 143 world premieres. This is a given, unless your film stars Bill Murray.
Not the buyers either, who, when confronted by such a marketplace—and when only staying for, say, half of the festival by and large—have no choice but to run like stuck pigs from industry screening to industry screening in the hope of finding the diamond in the rough (to employ a too-favourable metaphor); nor the sellers, who have the same predicament in reverse (or so one not-too-pleased sales agent told me).
It’s not serving the audience either: putting aside the fact that too many of these films are mediocre, even if you get lucky in your choices, who is able to process 40 feature films in a week? (Admittedly, this is indicative of all film festivals.) I know I can’t, and it’s my job. I pity the critics who have to run from, say, Pedro Costa’s Horse Money immediately into Lav Diaz’s latest marathon, From What Is Before (and this will happen in Toronto, as that is how the press and industry screenings have been arranged), and expect to get all that they can out of both films, plus the other two or three they’ll try to cram in that day.
But who can blame critics or regular joes who want to cram as many films as possible into their schedules: TIFF is like dangling a colourful toy in front of a baby, a cinephile is bound to reach for it, out of instinct. But maybe it’s also somewhat indicative of a culture where consumption is seen as an end in itself. This all adds up to a situation that’s guaranteed to annoy every single stakeholder, but also one that keeps every one of us coming back, year after year.