Chandler's TIFF Diary: Weekend Edition
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Chandler’s TIFF Diary: Weekend Edition

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.

Photo by b m a n  from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Photo by b.m.a.n. from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

FRIDAY

10:30 AM to 4 PM: Because I have work to do, I decide to take the morning/afternoon to #vapechillenhaal at home and get my haircut. (My hairdresser sent me a DM after I posted a picture of myself looking dangerously close to the love child of Justin Bieber and Guy Fieri.) That gets me to TIFF late and I’ve already skipped the last P&I screening of Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (which I hear is excellent), giving me a dangerous Sophie’s Choice to see that film or The Lobster tomorrow, aka the only two films I wanted to see at the festival. I suck ;(

4:30 PM to 6 PM: I walk into Johnnie To’s film Office, which is in 3D! It’s a musical set with production design like Stargate: Atlantis set at a cosmetics company in modern day Hong Kong. As bored employees fall in love with each other and gaze languidly singing by the coffee makers, To finds a little love and drama in the boring acts of life. It’s a pretty fun movie that would be better with a big crowd.

6 PM to 6:30 PM: I stand in a line with three affable guys from Washington who have been attending the festival for over 15 years. We’re waiting to see Miss Sharon Jones!, a new documentary by Harlem County: 1978 director Barbara Kopple. (She’s one of a few directors to have had the honour of featuring a film in the first edition of TIFF, and also directed The Dixie Chicks’ Shut UP And Sing.) By the time they’re ready to admit me into the film, I’m told my pass doesn’t work and I have to have a physical ticket. So I go downstairs, wait in another line and get a ticket and go back into the theatre. I feel like most of my time these days is exiting and re-entering the Scotiabank Theatre and riding that terrifying escalator that gives me vertigo.

6:30 to 8:30 PM: Miss Sharon Jones! is an intimate portrait of the legendary soul singer Sharon Jones (of the Dap Kings), a former correctional facility officer-turned-soul singer who reached her professional peak in her fifties. I love her music and once interviewed her for SPIN, where she sparked a huge joint in front of me in the backstage dressing room of The Phoenix (this was one of the best Almost Famous-style moments of my life and I truly felt in the presence of greatness), so this documentary is FOR ME.

Kopple’s portrait turns devastating when Jones is diagnosed with stage two pancreatic cancer and the future of her band is up in the air. Jones, whose unflagging keep-it-real spirit keeps her swearing, singing and refusing to wear her wig in public, remains determined to beat cancer even when she goes through a gruelling chemotherapy process and lets her friend take care of her in Upstate New York. Woven throughout is the story of the Dap Kings, a band of merry soul musicians in Bushwick, and a portrait of a woman who is truly herself, almost to a fault. Having been told by executives that she was “too black, too fat, too short and too old” to make a career for herself, Jones unapologetically shakes her ass and never watches it. Heart-rending moments – like an emotional performance by Jones at a gospel church in Queens that leaves the singer winded and reduced to tears afterwards, and her assistant manager coping with the fact that the cancer has returned – make this doc resonate. The story of Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings building a home for themselves and a musical connection that’s stronger than a family, all through a love of great soul music, is profound. But what happens when you could lose it all? Stay for Jones performing the cut “Longer & Stronger” for a sold-out crowd, on top of the world again.

During the Q&A, Sharon Jones appeared onstage and sadly announced that her cancer has returned. As a die-hard Sharon Jones fan, all I can say is the world is so much better for her being in it. She sets a powerful example to blaze your own course, to take up more space, to be louder, brasher, sexier, more soulful. To feel more feelings and reach out to connect with other people. To be wholly yourself and know that it’s enough. I watch as Jones walks out of the theatre. I give her a hug and walk out in the rain crying.

8:30 to 9:15 PM: I eat a kale caesar salad in a Starbucks and text my film critic pal Adam Nayman. He’s going to see a Romanian movie at 9:15. Alright-y then.

9:15 to 11 PM: The Treasure is the anticipated follow-up by Romania’s Police, Adjective director Corneliu Porumboiu (who won a Cannes Jury Prize in 2009). It’s a very wry, very minimalistic comedy about a man who is convinced by his neighbour to search for some buried treasure in his family estate. Porumboiu’s signature has always been investigating the absurdity of life, especially in the context of modern day Romania. In this film, searching for buried treasure is apparently an offense so the man arranges a state metal detector man to survey the property in secret. The scene of him scanning the property and the incessant beeping is one of the funniest, simplest scenes of comedy ever. (It’s just as iconic as that damn dictionary scene in Police, Adjective.)

11 PM to 11:30: I bike home in the rain, happy to make an early night of it for once.

11:30 to 1 AM: After a bath and listening to The Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, I go to bed! What a chill day!

SATURDAY

9:30 AM: I wake up late but decide to go see a movie anyway.

10 AM: I bike over to Scotiabank to try and catch Twilight director Catherine Hardwick’s film Miss You Already. I made a pledge to watch as many movies by female directors as I can and I’ve only seen one.

10 AM to 11:15 AM: Miss You Already is a cancer comedy about two best friends (played by Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore) set in London, England. Collete plays a busy, vain business professional (I came in late so I don’t know what she does but she wears a lot of high heels) who contracts terminal breast cancer and is forced to do a mastectomy. Barrymore’s character (who doesn’t seem to work, she’s just super supportive and wears long sweaters and red lipstick all the time) is trying to get pregnant. The contrast of life/death and the vague gulf between these BFFS is realistic and well-played here. And there are some good performance moments, too. I have to commend Hardwicke for sticking to her signature filming style (intense handheld cinematography bordering on documentary) even though it becomes aesthetically alienating throughout the film. Though this is still an aspirational middle-class dramedy with undeveloped husbands and a lack of depth (the climax is ridiculously apparent before it happens) – Hardwicke’s trying for something deeper about the themes of female friendship and aging. The actresses are, too, but something’s lost in translation.

11:15 to 11:30 AM: I miss the end of this movie so I can pee (#filmcriticproblems #TMI #ifyourereadingthisitstoolate). Then because I’m sick and coughing up weird stuff, I buy a ridiculously expensive green juice and walk around drinking it like a REAL cool Hollywood type before lining up for the Canadian film The Sleeping Giant. (Cool people in attendance include MDFF producer Daniel Montgomery, music video director Jared Raab, cinematographer Bobby Shore and The Dirties director/star Matt Johnson.)

11:45 to 1:30 PM: The Sleeping Giant, by Ryerson alum Andrew Cividino is the best Canadian film I’ve ever seen. I know that sounds like a caveat, but it’s rare to find a local film that’s this wild and hilarious and raw but still seems to reflect our inherent national identity. Filmed in Georgian Bay cottage country, three 15-year-old boys spend a summer drinking stolen beer, smoking weed, play-fighting and egging each on to brasher, more brutal acts to prove their masculinity, despite their class differences. The quiet Adam (played beautifully by Jackson Martin, an innocent capable of extreme asshole-iness), who comes from a safe, middle-class home that’s quickly eroding, strikes up a friendship with two lost cousins Riley (Reece Moffett, think Justin Bieber with an overbite) and Nate (Nick Serino, whose hoser accent and diminutive frame belie a lost child who could go either way – one of which is an absolute psychopath, he is also the funniest 15-year-old boy ever). Layered and filmed in a striking handheld style, Cividino nails the psychology of boys on the cusp of their sexuality. They spend a summer dicking around but in this film is the erosion of their childhood into something more dangerous and wild, not unlike the titular cliff they dare themselves to jump off of. You could compare this film to Kids and Kings of Summer, but it also feels rawer and more alive than anything I’ve ever seen before. How the hell did this come out of Canada and can it please set the bar for Canadian films to come?

1:30 PM to 2 PM: I talk to some people in the lobby, including my friend/former classmate Stephen Dunn, whose debut feature Closet Monster is premiering in the festival. (Watch it if only for Isabella Rosselini voicing a talking hamster named after Buffy, The Vampire Slayer). After debating whether to attend a panel on how to finance female-lead features, I decide I’d rather that that thing didn’t exist and get in line for the P&I screening of The Lobster.

2 PM to 4 PM: I love the concept for The Lobster so please let me articulate it here. The film predicts a future where single people are forced to find their new life partner in 30 days or they are turned into an animal. Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (of Dogtooth fame) makes his English language debut in a startlingly original comedy with the strangest tone ever achieved (pitch black comedy on the verge of doom at all times). Colin Farrell stars as a blotchy overweight man with a bad mustache who is sent to a dystopian hotel to try and find the woman of his dreams. A bizarre series of mating rituals and a lack of options force him to join “the Loners” in the forest who can never fall in love with each other, for fear of death by their evil overlord (played by Blue Is The Warmest Color actress Lea Seydoux). I won’t spoil the love story twist here, but it’s powerful, redemptive and incredibly fucked up. Supporting performances by John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw and Rachel Weitz center this movie that’s maybe the best metaphor for dating I’ve ever seen. (If I got to choose what animal I’d turn into I’d choose a platapus, by the way.)

4 PM to 6 PM: The TIFF-based gods have blessed me with a ticket to the Jason Reitman Princess Bride live-Rread, which is one of the things that makes me glad to be alive, so I have some time to kill. I eat a weird pad thai at Ginger and line up in the light rain. At 5:30, my new friend Elan Mustai, who wrote The F-Word, one of my favourite romantic comedies of all time (I cry every time they give each other sandwiches), joins me. We are nerding out pretty hard and he brings me a cookie shaped like a pumpkin, so I am pretty happy.

6 PM to 8 PM: The Princess Bride live-read is incredible for all kinds of reasons. Rob Reiner, who directed the film, plays The Grandfather! Rachel McAdams plays Princess Buttercup, who is magnamious, despite her character having very little to do. Donald Glover shouts out Wallace Shawn’s signature line “inconceivable!” with perfect comic timing. Catherine Reitman (Jason’s sister) fills in for Gael Garcia Bernal who is stuck on a plane and nails Mandy Pantikin’s Inigo Montoya. Chris O’ Dowd does a very funny Christopher Guest impression. Patrick Stewart is awesome. But maybe best of all is Cary Elwes, who reprises his original role with pitch perfect delivery. What I love about these live reads (and I love them a lot) is how much of a celebration of screenwriting they truly are. William Goldman is probably the best screenwriter of all time (sorry Paddy Chayefky) and The Princess Bride is not only a fairytale but a tale of great romance and courage. It’s also a very funny and post-modern script that would set the bar for all the Shreks to come. At the end of the final line, we give the actors a standing ovation and everyone leaves with a ridiculous smile on their face. As you wish.

8 to 9:30 PM: Elan and I go for ramen and talk about screenwriting.

9:30 PM to 10:15: I head home in a cab to pick up my laptop and travel to Wayla, a bar in the east end, to DJ. I am #exhaustedAF.

10:15 to 2 AM: I DJ for 10 gay men who are on their phones the whole time in a glass box while a go-go dancer shimmies on the bar as I play Hall and Oates “I Can’t Go For That.” It’s a weird and surreal ending to a long day.

2 AM to 3 AM: I head home in a cab.

3 AM to 4 AM: I take another bath to warm up and finally go to sleep. Long day! Great movies! When will this be over? Just kidding! Am I? I don’t know anymore!

SUNDAY

10:30 to 11:45 AM: I wake up and decide to go to the CFC Barbecue with my ex-boyfriend. Guess what? This is a terrible idea! I am supposed to meet him at Second Cup but I keep delaying it because I don’t know how to put on eye makeup properly and how to dress for the sudden fall weather.

11:45 AM to 12:30 PM: We travel to the CFC together, which is our old alma mater where we first met (spoiler alert: it’s really far) and catch up, painfully as one does. Eventually it’s decided that it’s too intense so I take the bus from York Mills by myself (he gets off and catches the next one) and overhear some people on my walk over to the CFC talking about Sleeping Giant. We decide it’s the best Canadian film of all time. #holdingit2together

12:30 to 2:30 PM: I do the CFC BBQ, which is a sprawling event on the grounds Norman Jewison built. I went to school here three years ago for the screenwriting program. This party is fun but overwhelming and I only want to talk to my friends. I think I do a pretty great job of not networking and I drink some rose and have a weird coconut truffle.

2:30 to 3:30 PM: My friend Jade Blair’s roommate’s cool dad drives us home! He’s the manager of the Open Roof Festival, which shows great independent films on the rooftop of 99 Sudbury. Jade is the best human of all time and loans me her new fancy silver heels and Coach purse so I can attend a weird gala for Haiti that Paul Haggis is hosting at Casa Loma. #humanafterall

3:30 to 4:45 PM: I score a free ticket to Kill Your Friends (thanks Allison) and walk through the Annex to get to the Bloor Cinema in the rain. I buy a pretty fresh looking umbrella in Chinatown for $5 and am wearing my new fall coat. It’s fall in Toronto already and it’s all good.

4:45 PM to 6:30 PM: Kill Your Friends has been described as American Psycho but with Britpop and that’s a frankly apt description. Nicholas Houalt is all willowy abs/charisma as an A&R rep who commits dastardly deeds to stay on top of an industry that has absolutely no idea what it needs to do to stay relevant. He’s absolutely commanding and the straight-to-camera, grotesque violence, Chemical Brothers-soundtrack, post irony of it all is like a demented Trainspotting.

6:30 PM to 7:15 PM: With a beautiful sunset, I walk through the Annex to go to this party for the Artists for Justice and Peace. I touch up my makeup in the Shopper’s Drug Mart at Dupont and Spadina and change my shoes in Jade’s borrowed heels right before entering the party, a la Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. There’s a stunning sunset over Casa Loma and I feel almost as if I’m in a movie myself. A sad mumblecore one!

7:15 PM to 1:30 AM: I attend the Artists for Peace and Justice gala for Toronto Life. Highlights include:

  • Talking to Moby about Neil Young
  • Watching Win and Regine from Arcade Fire play drums and dance onstage for their Haitian side project DJ Windows 98 while dancing next to/around Moby
  • Scoping out Helen Mirren and deciding that like a fine wine, she only gets better with age
  • Celebrating Rosh Hashanah with fellow journalist/jew Jonathan Dekel (get your apples and honey on)
  • Talking to a very fancy socialite about all the sloths she owns, and how to take care of a sloth (they sleep for 20 hours a day so they’re actually pretty low maintenance)
  • Lowlights include:

  • Some incredibly awkward moments of the Property Brothers auctioning off a close-up magic session with David Blaine
  • Hours and hours of watching Paul Haggis ask wealthy people for money for the people of Haiti
  • A weird snot green trout mousse thing on a cracker (that was very awful)
  • 1:30 to 2 AM: Jon Dekel drives me and lovely journalist Sabrina Maddeaux home. I am again, super exhausted and a bit TIFF’d out but I did get a free Diptyque candle, so again, score.

    2 AM to 2:30 AM: I try to take off all my complicated makeup off and wear my fleece onesie to bed. I am tired of making my face look like another person’s face. What a freaking weekend. I’m the sleepiest woman in Toronto and there’s only more TIFF to come.

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