Toronto Day 5: Parties and the House That Film Built

Day 5 of the Toronto Film Fest and I was just beginning to appreciate the virtues of the Scotiabank Theater, where the screens are bigger than in the fondly remembered Manulife Centre, and the seating steeply raked so no mohawk can block your view.

But then I got my first look at the newly opened TIFF Bell Lightbox. Press and public flowed freely in and out minus any of the security drill. The place is cinephile heaven: clean sweeping lines, walls orange and purple plus luscious to cool shades of grey; a brace of theaters of varying sizes; a video installation in Italian going on in one space during my visit; viewers filing into another for a TIFF screening; saturated blue-lit panels evoking a spaceship beside the elevators, washrooms like in trendy hotels, a bar, restaurant, rooftop terrace -- and most dramatically, a square monitoring room cantilevered out over the lobby, its window framed in orange. It reads like a futuristic vision, this place, and will surely cement Toronto's preeminence as a film center. Look forward to my first screening there tonight.

But don't imagine that all we journos do is work and challenge our digestive systems. Consider the array of parties clamoring for my presence (well, two; the third doesn't count because no one would talk to me). Something of a TIFF ritual is the Sony Pictures Classics dinner, which celebrates at the lovely Crème Brasserie in Yorkville the directors, actors, and producers of the latest crop of films distributed by SPC. On hand were Anthony Hopkins of Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, along with director Stephen Frears, here to promote his fest hit Tamara Drewe, plus the creme of film journalists. The energy and spirits run high at this party; there's a genuine sense of celebration. Because in truth, thanks to the vision of toppers Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, SPC almost single-handedly keeps culture vital in the U.S. with its slate of important, entertaining films.

I instantly pounced on Charles Ferguson, director of SPC's Inside Job, unable to curb my enthusiasm. He's made what to my mind is the year's most essential film, a must-see for anyone who cares about the health of this country. Inside Job deconstructs the 2008 financial meltdown and fingers the culprits -- and no, Virginia, WE are not ALL at fault (as right wing pundits like to say), only the Wall Street malefactors and their flacks.

I'm a great Michael Moore fan, but Inside Job won't trigger the attacks he's endured about bending facts and grandstanding. Ferguson -- handsome, slight, scholarly-looking and a mathematician by training -- proceeds with ironclad logic -- and humor and style -- to deconstruct how greed and egos unleashed a catastrophe that imperiled the American public. And continue to do so, given Wall Street's incursions into Washington. One piquant fact Ferguson dug up: the study of brain activity shows that the part of the brain stimulated by money is the same as the part stimmed by cocaine, a tidbit the filmmaker relays along with Wall Street's penchant for hookers, blow, and black corporate credit cards.

The hour was growing late and the flowing wine invited indiscretion. I inadvertently got a lesson in just how desperate filmmakers are to get their films buzzed about and picked up for distribution. Foreign films have it especially hard because Americans dislike subtitles -- they're like that Gerald Ford joke about not being able to do two things at once, however that goes. So directors with subtitled films looking for distribution here are especially desperate. One such individual told me that he/she would get me a date with ____ (fill in the blank) if I went to see his/her film Adding, but you know, actors are pretty stupid.

I figured maybe it was time to leave. I generally know it's time to leave when flakes from the spanakopita drop into my decolletage. And it was starting to rain -- Toronto being like New York, a vicious grab for cabs ensues at the first drop. So I passed on my next party. Imagine, there I would have hobnobbed with James Franco, on hand to promote Danny Boyle's 127 Hours about the hiker who gets pinned in a canyon and cuts off his own arm to free himself and survive. About that film: I'm a bit worried about the amputation, uh... sound effects. I may, like some of my colleagues, just leave the theater once I've got the setup.

Tune in tomorrow for my review of one of the fest's towering films: Incendies by Denis Villeneuve.