A strange and exciting journey to the Toronto International Film Festival

“Do you want to go to the orchestra?” Whispered a voice from the darkness.

I was at Toronto International Film Festival and, a few moments earlier, I had just realized that I was the only festival-goer in the very large and very empty balcony. Normally, this 2,000-seat theater, the mainstay of the festival, is full of enthusiastic participants. But normal is so much 2019 as are the crowds. I felt terribly alone up there with just me and a few ushers so I said Sure! and ran towards the orchestra, settling in among other participants who, maybe like me, were trying to feign a sense of oneness – at a distance from Covid, of course.

One of the biggest film events in the world, the Toronto Film Festival celebrated its 46th anniversary this year and, darker, its second year of performing during the pandemic. On many levels, it was a success: although on a small scale compared to its pre-plague days, the festival, which ends on Saturday, has presented some 200 films, in person and digitally, from around the world. There were previews, signs and lots of “Have a nice day!” Masks. Staff. Benedict Cumberbatch – Jane Campion’s star “The power of the dog” and Will Sharpe’s “Louis Wain’s electric life”- went via satellite to chat.

It was much the same, yet profoundly different. More than anything, as I attended films in the festival’s strangely depopulated cinemas – seated in theaters that under Canadian safety regulations could not exceed 50% of their capacity – I was reminded that a film festival is not just a returning series of new films. They are also people, gathered, and usually stuck together, like one under the cinematic groove. There’s always vulgarity, of course, the posing on the red carpet, the hustle and bustle of the Oscar race, and I’ve seen plenty of secular monstrosities in Toronto, Sundance, et al. But even when movies disappoint, I’m always happy at a festival, watching alongside people as crazy about movies as I am.

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