Chandler’s TIFF Diary: Day One
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Chandler’s TIFF Diary: Day One

Parties, movies, dreamy celebs, etc.: Writer and filmmaker Chandler Levack takes a deep dive into the world of TIFF, and we're all invited to join her.

TIFF mania photo by Bruce K, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Naomi Watts and her legion of fans. Photo by Bruce K, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

8:30 AM: It’s the first day of TIFF! I’m so excited that I immediately go back to bed.

9 AM: Get dressed frantically in my back-to-TIFF clothes that I lay out the night before and bike to the Starbucks at Queen and John where I get my honourary first-day-of-the-festival pumpkin spice latte. I’m truly doing me.

9:30 AM: My first film is Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery Of Splendour. It’s a languid slice-of-life movie about a soldiers’ hospital in Thailand and the female workers who care for them. It’s mystical, hilarious and eerie and centred by a staggering performance by Jengira Pongpas Widner as a middle-aged woman with an American husband who stumbles around with one leg 10 inches shorter than the other, forced to wear leg braces and a platform shoe. This is a movie where layers of the past, present and literally build up on each other. The hospital is built on a graveyard that will soon be torn down to make room for a fibre optics company. Jengira speaks to an aid that can recall past lives and connects with a soldier who falls asleep at a moment’s notice thanks to a strange, psychosomatic disease. The hospital builds these futuristic sleeping machines with ever-changing lights, yet Jengira also visits temples, street markets and embues the film with so much humour and warmth. The cinematography and staging of this film is so like-like, yet instinctive, I completely forgot I was watching a movie. I left in a daze, stricken by the deep melancholy and beauty of this film. How do I get back there again?

12 PM: Local filmmaker Mark Slutsky and I eat a $9 sushi combo and talk about what TIFF parties we are going to. I really hope no one overheard our conversation because I’m pretty sure we sounded like douchebags.

1 to 3 PM: I pick up a ticket at the Bell Lightbox and do some work in the weird press complex hub that is mostly journalists from Israel eating free pasta salad. [Film critic] Adam Nayman tells me to see Assassin.

2:30 PM to 3 PM: On my way to the Sicario press screening, I see Tatiana Maslany while I am peeling an orange over a garbage can. Yay!

3 PM to 5 PM: All the fear, desperation and anxiety of Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario can be found in Emily Blunt’s placid blue eyes which burn and flicker even when in repose. She plays an Arizona police agent who is used as bait for an investigation for a Mexican drug cartel even though her supervisors (played by a scenery-chewing Josh Brolin and an enigmatic Benecio Del Toro) assure her this is probably a promotion. Blunt’s character Kate is soft-spoken but radiates a hardened intensity. There are layers to her character at work here, which the movie doesn’t even answer. She’s married to her job, divorced and in an ideal friendship with her partner Reggie (a standout Daniel Kaluuya). Throughout the film, Kate keeps asking questions that no one seems to be interested in answering. They tell her to shut up even when pushing a gun to her head. It’s a smart sendup of the way women are used in a lot of workplaces, bargaining chips where having “a girl” might prove useful. Villeneuve films the dusky Arizona safe houses and Mexican favelas with the same banally evil lens as Enemy (he loves a sickly yellow palette and a silhouette at sunset), but his climatic combat scene in heat vision is the real standout sequence here. The film’s many explosions and gunfire offer impressive fireworks but I’d rather stay on Blunt’s blank stare. What happens when the deer in the headlights gets run over?

5 PM to 8 PM: Sicario took the wind out of me. I go home and make breakfast tacos and take a shower. My goal is to make myself look like a person Jake Gyllenhaal could make direct eye contact with.

8:30 to 11:30: I’m supposed to cover a TIFF party that starts now, but the publicist tells me that no one is here yet. I kind of like the moment before the party begins better. The caterers stand around you foisting all their food on you, the bartenders are all too eager to give you a cocktail. I watch at the DJ takes a selfie and pretends to play music, even though I’m technically the only guest here.

I leave and head to the Lightbox to pick something up but it’s on lock down for another party. I run into the TV programmer who has just interviewed Matthew Weiner onstage where they did a live commentary of the Mad Men season one finale, “The Wheel.” We embark on an adventure with two TIFF interns where we try to sneak through the Reitman Square parking garage and eventually through a side door into the building. Me and the TV programmer get on the elevator to find it full of TIFF volunteers in orange t-shirts. “You guys look like minions,” he says.

I go back to the party at Patria. Jake Gyllenhaal is here now! So is Naomi Watts. And Jean-Marc Vallee who is kissing everyone on two cheeks. I don’t know anyone so I drink three cocktails and watch Jake across the room. He is so handsome! His beard is so cool! Taylor Swift totally made out with him and then was emotionally destroyed by his cavalier attitude! Matthew Weiner walks in and we talk about screenwriting and I basically die on the spot and come back to life and text my parents who love Mad Men and did advertising in the ’70s. (“What a great thrill for you to meet such a man,” texts my dad. “I think Mad Men captured the culture of the business so accurately. Creativity and cynicism together.”) Jason Reitman walks in and leaves five minutes later. As soon as the celebrities escape, a guy from (“out of town, Oshawa, have you heard of it? I just wanted to say that you are a very stunning woman”) asks me if I want to dance. I leave.

11:30 PM to 1:30 AM: I meet my BFF Emma outside the Lightbox for the TIFF opening night party. There are a million people here, rice crispy treats on a stick and people straight up giving you mini bottles of champagne. A DJ plays The Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started” (controversial version!) and we run into Monica Heisey and the Young Astronauts film team. Other dope filmmakers in attendance are Connor Jessup, Cory Bowles (of Trailer Park Boys) and the terrific local documentarian Allan Zweig.

1:30 to 2 AM: Emma and I take a cab home. I regret not asking Jake Gyllenhaal about the nickname she has for him, “Vape Chillenhaal.”

2:30 AM: I go to bed. The weirdest thing I ate today was a radish that had anchovy paste on it and the funniest moment was when a woman in the press line for Sicario asked “if the film was in 3D, as in all the great movies of today?” TIFF is the best. See you tomorrow!