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.
11 AM to 5:30 PM: I’m having a little trouble maintaining the TIFF/work balance, so I skip the entire day of films to do some writing. All my dishes are dirty and my groceries are going bad and I’ve been surviving on a diet of mac and cheese bites and champagne. I would punch someone out for a salad.
5:30 PM to 6:30 PM: I cab to the Elgin Theatre and meet my friend Eric Foley outside to see the premiere of Allan Zweig’s documentary, Hurt. He’s just spent three weeks at a cabin in the woods with no electricity, so the roaring crowds of people and the insane rush line are making him a little overwhelmed.
6:30 PM to 8:15 PM: Allan Zweig’s Hurt is an incredible documentary about the disgraced Canadian hero Steve Fonyo, who ran across Canada despite losing his left leg to cancer at age 12. His goal at age 18 was to complete the run Terry Fox started and he did it, changing history and bringing him national attention. However, Fonyo’s Order of Canada was later revoked when his life dissolved into drug abuse, police arrests and jail time. Zweig’s film picks up with Fonyo at age 50. He’s living in Surrey, BC with his wife Lisa and when Zweig returns, he’s left his wife for a younger woman named Lisa Marie who, the film indicates, will slowly drive Fonyo to ruin. As a character, Fonyo is incredible vulnerable, abrasive and contradictory. Rage and pain bubble beneath his chattiness. There’s an amazing contradiction in Hurt about how a young man capable of such a great act of courage could then, by age 50, end up homeless and confessing to smoking crystal meth “because it makes the sex fucking amazing.” Zweig’s occasional addresses behind the camera centre the film – it’s clear he wants to help, despite Fonyo’s refusal to take responsibility for his actions. Archival footage is well used to provide a startling contrast to the desperate situation Fonyo finds himself in today. (The scene where Fonyo is beaten up by Lisa Marie’s methhead ex-boyfriend is devastating.) It’s a great portrait of a guy who inspired a country and now can barely find a place to live. Hurt asks deep questions of what we demand from our heroes and whether redemption is even possible. It’s another great doc by a master filmmaker who is surely en route to an Order of Canada himself.
8:15 PM to 8:30 PM: I go to pick up my bike from outside the Ryerson Theatre (I left it there for two days) and am devastated to find that both of my wheels have been stolen. I unlock it and carry my busted frame to my next TIFF party, unsure of what to do. I’m really pissed off.
8:30 PM to 10:30 PM: I attend the after party for The Dressmaker at Byblos for Toronto Life. Before entering, I debate whether or not to check my broken bike. After awkwardly standing around, I run into journalist/friend Anne T. Donahue and we try not to stare directly at Kate Winslet the whole time. Seeing a celebrity is like directly looking at the sun. “Pretend we’re having a conversation,” suggests Anne. “Okay,” I say. “Stop staring – you’re not that thirsty.”
Liam Hemsworth is also there and a woman talks about how hot he is the entire time. When I suggest she fully YOLO it and introduce herself, she makes me go up to him first. I hide in the background and feel like I’m at a grade seven dance.
At this party, I also meet the writer/director of Muriel’s Wedding and completely lose my shit. This is the best celebrity sighting yet!
10:30 PM to 1:30 AM: I sneak into the Soho House by dropping writer Emma Healey’s name (wassup girl) and meet Rachel McAdams through my friend. We actually hang out. She is absolutely as lovely and cool and funny as you would think she would be. And her brother is a personal trainer at the JCC.
1:30 AM to 3 AM: My friend Deragh Campbell (rising star 2015!) sneaks Emma and I into the afterparty for Paul Gross’ Hyena Road at the Drake 150. I don’t remember much that happened at this point except that I talked to a key grip for a long time about “maintaining your vision” when you are a short, female director (“they exist, it’s cool,” he says) and I ate a lot of pizza. Shoutout to Hannah and Jack Gross. And shoutout to me, for making it this far.
3 AM to 3:30 AM: I take my zillionth cab of the night, spending all the money I have and go to sleep in my onesie for the sleep of kings. I am dehydrated like a mofo and I want to see more movies. TIFF I have failed you today, but I’m coming back strong.
11 AM to 8:30 PM: I have to go to Burlington today to do a catering gig with my mom. After several days of TIFF parties, it’s fitting that the catered becomes… the caterer. TIFF circle of life and all that. Me and my mom serve short rib sliders to workers of the city of Burlington and I eat stolen scones when no one is looking. When we’re done, I take the GO Train back to Toronto (thanks mom, I love you!) and head back to Union Station around 8:30 PM.
8:30 to 9:30 PM: I stand in the rush line for Anomalisa, which is playing tonight at the Princess of Wales Theatre, a place I haven’t been since I saw The Lion King: The Musical when I was nine. I strike up a conversation with the programmer of a film festival in Boston and we discuss how the hell one exactly programs a short film. How do you know it’s too long? Too short? The right fit with the other shorts you programmed? Going to strike the right mood? Here’s my new tagline: shorts – they’re not just features.
9:30 PM to 11 PM: Anomalisa is the collaboration between Charlie Kaufman (the brilliant screenwriter of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, writer/director of Synchedoche, New York) and Duke Johnson. (Johnson is probably best known for directing the Christmas episode of Community with all the puppets.) Like Kaufman’s other work, it’s concerned with identity and love. What makes us all human and is it really possible to get know and love another person? In essence, being alive is completely insane.
The film is a well-drawn portrait of Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis, from Mike Leigh’s Naked), an employee productivity guru who travels to Cincinatti for a business trip alone. He spends the night before the conference alone in his hotel and quickly unravels, desperate for human connection. He calls up an old girlfriend and meets her for a drink at the bar before he’s swiftly rejected. He talks briefly to his wife and son on the phone. He’s restless and he’s convinced he needs to know someone. Then he bangs on different hotel doors trying to seduce a stranger before finding Lisa (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in an achingly beautiful performance), a somewhat disfigured customer service rep who is in awe of Stone’s brilliance. They spend a night together and have tender oral sex (this was really well done), but the future of their connection is up in the air. Perhaps this is because Stone is convinced that something is really wrong with him – and the film frequently ruptures his reality. All the other people in his life are voiced by Tom Noonan, so they’re variations on a theme, from Lisa’s best friend to Stone’s own son. When you’re convinced you’ve finally found your person, everyone else is literally just background. Between two people about to fall in love, there are only two people in the world. But the film is also careful to explore the different mascinations of masculinity, insecurity, mental illness – it’s literally about every aspect of life and the particular way entitled men glom onto woman for an answer without being able to provide any kind of reassurance. Lisa – Stone calls her “Anomalisa” because she is different, special, an anomaly – takes the wild ride of Stone’s sudden affection with open arms. But she’s soon dropped. Often being chosen by someone doesn’t give you any agency.
Johnson and Kaufman make the brilliant choice to stage the entire film with stop-motion puppets, a process so elaborate I can’t even imagine how they pulled it off. Their sense of staging and acting is meticulous – the puppets give performances so textured and emotional you truly feel like you’re watching real people. (There is really great blocking, you guys!) It’s based on an original soundplay penned by Kaufman and that’s what Anomalisa feels like. It’s a Broadway play meets Thunderbirds. It’s Being John Malkovich meets Team America. And you need to see it immediately because it will help you understand what it’s like to be human. That’s my pitch.
11 PM to 11:30 PM: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis and Tom Noonan take stage for a Q&A. The saddest part is when a guy aggressively waving his hand in the balcony gets the last question of the night and tries to thank Kaufman for his films and helping him with his mental illness. Everyone in the audience groans and he’s soon silenced, which is pretty mean. But even Kaufman seems over it. I wonder how this moment would play out in a Charlie Kaufman film.
11:30 PM to 1 AM: Emma Healey asks me if I want to cover a Shia LaBouef afterparty at the Soho House and I have never been so happy to say no. I walk home down Queen Street and enjoy a warm September night, thinking about a great movie I saw and how I can make movies of my own one day. Goodnight Toronto, goodnight TIFF and goodnight Shia LaBouef.