Don't be that guy in the TIFF Q&A.
— Max Covill (@mhcovill) September 8, 2016
Today marks the beginning of the peak period for the festival: it’s the first Friday of the first weekend, the first full day of public programming, and all public venues are in use.
It’s an exciting day for #popcorn lovers.
What Were People Talking About Yesterday?
The big news of the day was that the “giant escalators” broke down at the Scotiabank Theatre, which was hosting a full slate of press & industry screenings. Because it affected people with direct access to the heart of the film industry, this became a big story at the Hollywood Reporter. “The Scotiabank multiplex’s second-floor auditoriums are 45 feet above the ground-level lobby, a distance that film critics and Hollywood execs were having to walk up a long staircase to cover.” Now‘s Norm Wilner revealed a dirty little secret via Twitter; that these escalators have been in a state of disrepair for months, though never before at the same time. Will you need to bring your mountaineering gear to ascend the vertiginous staircase for your screenings at Scotiabank today? Probably a good idea.
It sounds like the premieres of Toni Erdmann and Free Fire went over well according to Film Twitter™; prosaic tweets about Erdmann were light on details but called it a masterpiece, with the film’s Bulgarian hair monster was also singled out as a major virtue, while Ben Wheatley’s shoot-em-up was favourably compared to Reservoir Dogs, and everyone was happy to see Brie Larson back in town.
How Not To Embarrass Yourself At A Q-and-A
Many in the audience at a film festival consider the opportunity to ask questions of the talent after a screening one of the main draws of the experience, despite the long odds that you will get to ask your question in a packed house. But honestly, I’ve been in the room for some mortifying moments that take place during a Q-and-A. I would like to take this opportunity to identify some dos and don’ts, giving some examples of the Don’ts I have actually witnessed as a member of the audience, so as to spare you the wrath of several hundred people in a small room and/or immediate Twitter shaming.
First, the Don’ts:
Don’t Insult People: Even if you hated-hated-hated the film, it should go without saying that these are real people with real feelings up on the stage, even if they exhibit bravado, and this is often their film’s premiere, so a lot is riding on it for them. Being cruel to strangers is a weird personality trait to demonstrate publicly. I went to see a very very difficult French film once (title of film withheld) and about two-thirds of the audience walked out before it was over. I stayed to the bitter end, and the first question the director got was “Who was the idiot who financed this film?” It went over like a lead balloon and I think I saw the filmmaker’s heart break. Everyone still left in the theatre hated this person for being so mean from the stands. Show some respect, for your own sake, if for no one else’s.
Always Remember: It Is Not About You: I worry sometimes that promotional slogans like “Our TIFF Is Your TIFF” embolden people to monopolize these situations, making the following common mistakes:
- Promoting Yourself: At a Werner Herzog event, the first “question” was someone who claimed Herzog as a great inspiration for his artistic career and then came down to the front of the stage to present him with a personal invitation to the upcoming opening of his gallery show. The man was booed all the way down to the stage and back to his seat.
- Telling The Story Of Your Life: You can practically hear every eyeball in the theatre roll up to the ceiling when the question starts with a sentence like “But first let me tell you a story about myself.”
- Pointing Out Flaws You Found In The Movie: I went to the premiere of The Usual Suspects and the Q-and-A ground to a halt when one person felt they identified plot holes in the film’s tightly-woven screenplay and spent several minutes debating these “errors” with director Bryan Singer, who did a fine (though increasingly impatient) job defending the movie’s structure, while the cast on stage and the audience waited for it all to end. This standoff wound up being the final question of the evening, making everyone groan.
- “What Was The Budget?” / “What Camera Did You Use?”: Some filmmakers are happy to answer these questions, some aren’t (and may publicly burn you for doing so), but everyone in the audience knows you are asking this kind of question out of pure self-interest, perhaps planning a film of your own. It’s annoying to many in the room, particularly when this kind of thing can be looked up on the Internet later.
In terms of what you should do, it’s an open road but my main advice is simply two things:
- Speak Up!: Sometimes it’s a big room, and if there’s no microphone, the audience can’t hear the question unless you project your voice. Many Q-and-As get bogged down if you have to repeat the question or the moderator on stage has to repeat it so everyone in the cinema knows what it was. Do your best!
- Use Your Best Judgment: This is especially true if you’re a huge fan of the person on stage. It may be tempting to ask them about your favourite thing they’ve done in the past, but it’s even better if you can tailor the question so it’s relevant to the film you all just watched; after all, that’s why they came to TIFF!
What’s Going On Today At TIFF?
I mention protocol at Q-and-As today because things might get slightly tense at two of the premieres tonight:
Elle is the first real feature from Dutch master Paul Verhoeven in 10 years, and as one can expect from the director of Basic Instinct and Showgirls, he’s a filmmaker unafraid to push buttons. Isabelle Huppert (one of the greatest actresses in the world) stars as “a high-powered businesswoman whose brutal sexual assault elicits both erotic fantasies and dreams of revenge.” You are generally in good hands with Verhoeven, and if you are upset by what he presents in one of his films, it is quite likely he agrees with you. Nonetheless, this is a film guaranteed to elicit a powerful response, and if there is a Q-and-A things might get interesting.
The other potential powderkeg is if there is a Q-and-A at the Canadian premiere of Nate Parker’s The Birth Of A Nation, which received a rapturous response at Sundance earlier this year and was programmed in prime slots tonight (first at the Winter Garden at 8:00 p.m., then an hour later at the Elgin). It tells the incendiary story of Nat Turner, who led the first major slave revolt against plantation owners decades before the Civil War, and takes its title from D.W. Griffith’s silent epic that depicted the Ku Klux Klan as heroes and is one of the most #problematic films of all time, even 100 years later. The film was bought at Sundance by Fox Searchlight for over $17 million, but its planned rollout this fall and expected Oscar campaign was blindsided by the news that Parker and a friend who shares story credit on Nation‘s screenplay were accused of rape at their college campus in the late 90s, with the additional shock that the woman in question committed suicide in 2012. TIFF did not pull the film from the schedule in the wake of this news, and the question in the film industry is whether this project will overcome this context? Will Parker address the allegations with either the public attendees or at the film’s scheduled press conference? Will Parker even attend the premiere?
Free Cinematheque screenings today at Bell Lightbox include a rare chance to see One Sings, The Other Doesn’t by the grande dame of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda, who happens to be in town this weekend for an non-TIFF event at the Alliance Francaise. Will she be at today’s screening? Tickets available two hours before the 2:45 p.m. show.
Tomorrow: a report from Festival Street!