Behind the Scenes: TIFF Programmers on Surviving the Festival
Two of the festival's unsung heroes talk glamour, caffeine intake, and (literally) hitting the wall.
Omnipresent at screenings and events, TIFF’s cadre of programmers gets more time in front of audiences than most of the celebs and luminaries. Yet as glamorous as the gig may seem, the demands on programmers’ time during the 11-day festival are daunting. Soon to be tasked with being in eight places at once, Andréa Picard, curator of the experimental-minded Wavelengths program, and Jane Schoettle, who picks titles from Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Germany, and the American indie scene, share the skinny on what it’s really like to be a TIFF programmer.
Estimated number of intros and Q-and-As conducted during last year’s festival…
Andréa Picard: Thirty-three.
Jane Schoettle: One hundred twenty in total, but I split them with my associate Emily Reid, so around 65. My program this year is larger, so 2014 will be higher by about 15.
Last year’s most frantic attempt to get between appointments and still make it on time involved…
Picard: …a frantic bicycle ride though the city and me leaving my bicycle with a total stranger in the lobby of the Lightbox as I ran upstairs straight to the stage in Cinema 2 doing my best to conceal my panting and my disquiet about whether or not my bicycle would still be there or if I was making this poor stranger late for another film. I was consumed with both worry and guilt as I introduced one of my favourite films at the festival.
Schoettle: …a cab, the subway, cutting through private property, and a final breathless sprint through the back door of the Elgin—into the world’s slowest elevator.
How your longest day at the festival started and ended…
Picard: It began quite normally, with an espresso and a bath (at home!) around 7 a.m. Much happened in between, including an exhibition opening, a number of screenings, a reception or two, a major downpour (I swiped an umbrella from the Lightbox’s lost-and-found), then a big director’s dinner. The evening concluded at the Ritz-Carlton where the Italian political and experimental filmmaker Yervant Gianikian was being housed, much to his bemusement. Joined by Canadian critic Mark Peranson and Portuguese filmmaker João Pedro Rodrigues, we drank a great bottle of Barolo as we discussed the Italian resistance in World War II and Gianikian’s father’s heroics in the most unlikely of settings: the Ritz’s fancy bar filled with youthful revellers sipping day-glo cocktails. It was both a surreal yet strangely touching experience. Then I left my favourite jacket in a cab during my ride home—certainly some kind of karmic exchange for the cheap, purple umbrella I later returned to the lost-and-found.
Schoettle: 2013, first Sunday—an 8:30 a.m. breakfast meeting, moderating a panel and then hosting a private event for female directors (all before noon), and then intros and Q-and-As for seven different films, ending at 1 a.m. Not my longest day ever but typical of most long days!
The most and least glamorous parts of the gig…
Picard: Being the recipient of others’ escalating stress levels is never enjoyable but spending intimate moments with some of the greatest film artists of our time is both a privilege and a pleasure.
Schoettle: Most—standing on the stage of the Elgin or Princess of Wales about to intro a film I love. Least—the nine months of crushing, sleep-deprived, economy-class travel/work/negotiation to get to that moment at the Elgin.
Personal secrets to sustaining necessary amounts of energy and momentum…
Picard: Ristrettos, dark chocolate, riding my bicycle to and from screenings while listening to music (hazardous, I know), spending time with filmmakers and colleagues from abroad, and sneaking in a game of tennis or two at impossible hours. And, of course, watching a great film is all the replenishment I need—isn’t that what it’s all about?
Schoettle: No alcohol, minimal parties, changing shoes, coffee, water, vitamins, finding an occasional quiet moment, and focusing on happy filmmakers and audience members.
What hitting the wall looks and feels like…
Picard: It can be very literal—I did hit a wall last year while (again) on my bicycle as I was rushing to park in order to make it on time to an event in which I was expected to speak. I badly bruised my knee but that was nothing compared to some of the nauseating moments that I have forever banished from memory.
Schoettle: Worn out, used up, thrown away. It’s not pretty.
Photo by Miles Storey/Torontoist.