Your Guide to the Toronto International Film Festival

Hollywood might be the center of most cinematic action, but every September the film world heads to Canada for one of its most prestigious events – the Toronto International Film Festival (aka TIFF). From September 6-16 Toronto will be overrun with movies and stars, everything from the newest names in international cinema to the iconic elite. Consider this your all-in-one guide to the festival and city that has risen from obscurity to become “Hollywood North.”

THE CITY

Toronto (derived from the Mohawk phrase “tkaronto,” meaning “where there are trees standing in the water”) has an interesting history just begging for a film treatment—involving a cholera epidemic, escaped slaves, hippies, weird rich folks and, some say, ghosts. It's where Hemingway started his career, and essentially ended his friendship with F.Scott Fitzgerald after a boxing match, and where William Faulkner allegedly flew his plane into a building. Toronto was even a den of “erotic vagrancy” for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as the pair waited for her divorce to go through so they could be married. (The city was too prudish to host the nuptials, so the couple had to seal the deal in Montreal .) Today, the city is experiencing a mass expansion of just about everything, from hordes of new condos, to ever-increasing notable restaurants and chefs, to – of course – the ever rising TIFF.

For wacky Toronto History, check out the Toronto Dreams Project.

Movies to Give You the Toronto Experience in Your Own Living Room

Don McKellar’s end-of-the-world drama, Last Night; Atom Egoyan’s erotic thriller Chloe (pictured, right); Sarah Polley’s romantic drama Take This Waltz; Bruce McDonald’s rock conversation piece Trigger; and Edgar Wright’s adventure Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. That is, of course, aside from the many American cities Toronto has portrayed.

FESTIVAL HISTORY

TIFF began in 1976 as the “Festival of Festivals” – a collection of other festivals’ favorite picks. Initially Hollywood thought Toronto was too uptight and withdrew their submissions but as the event expanded, big studio productions screened alongside art house fare, and the festival even embraced pulpy cinematic adventures – first with a 1979 retrospective on American horror movies, and ultimately with the creation of the uber-popular Midnight Madness in 1988. By 1994, the fest was rebranded as the Toronto International Film Festival, and today it has screened almost 10,000 films.  

Before becoming leading Canadian filmmakers, Atom Egoyan and Bruce McDonald were rejected from the festival and set up their own projector on the street to screen their films – not even 10 years later, both would be winners of the Best Canadian Film prize. Hollywood bad boys like De Niro, Keitel and Nicholson would come up for good parties and women, with the latter once asked to dance by a reporter only to have Jack say: “Pity she used the wrong verb.” The fest built Andre the Giant an over-sized chair when they premiered the beloved classic, The Princess Bride. During a press conference for A History of Violence, Ed Harris threw a glass of water against the wall to make a point about violence. Of course, we can’t forget Sacha Baron Cohen showing up for his Midnight Madness premiere of Borat in a cart pulled by a group of sturdy women. There’s rarely a dull moment.

Great resources for the above information and much more can be found at Cineplex, CBC, TIFF, FIPRESCI, and THE GRID.

TIFF CLASSICS

Despite its rocky start, the tide quickly turned. By 1981, the People’s Choice award-winning flick Chariots of Fire was making critical waves, headed straight for the Best Picture Oscar. In fact, many beloved classics got their start as TIFF’s fan favorites – The Big Chill, The Princess Bride, Roger & Me, The Fisher King, Shine, American Beauty, Slumdog Millionaire, and The King’s Speech. They are but few of the notable thousands screened, films that include My Own Private Idaho, The Crying Game, Muriel’s Wedding, Boogie Nights, Life is Beautiful, Training Day, Walk the Line, Melancholia and more.

THE TIFF EXPERIENCE

The Screenings

When the festival kicked off in 1976, it was held at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto, on the southern end of the Yorkville, which evolved from hippie bohemia into the premiere rich neighborhood of designer-everything, where today fanatics descend every year to get a glimpse of Hollywood celebrities. (Fun fact: Keanu Reeves once played in the excavated site of the future Four Seasons Hotel.)

The actual festival has moved south, anchored by the TIFF Bell Lightbox, an arthouse movie theater/ event space. One of TIFF’s greatest perks is how varied the actual movie-going experience can be within just a half-mile radius: movies screen at  the newly renovated and Art Deco-restored Bloor/Hot Docs Theatre, the Isabel Bader Theatre at the University of Toronto, Roy Thomson Hall – the fancy event space where Kevin Smith’s “lay the podium down” was born, the gorgeously theatrical Elgin Theatre, and its partner, the most unique locale of the bunch – The Winter Garden Theatre. No lie – it’s a fake garden oasis directly above the Elgin, where the audience sits below a mass of fake ivy and flowers that sometimes obstruct the view of the movie screen.

The Parties

In the old days, much of the partying took place in a handful of infamous, now-shuttered locales. When TIFF was housed at the now-closed Sutton Place Hotel (where Robert Downey Jr. once had a wall-punching meltdown), for example, celebs would pour across the street to the also-closed Bistro 990 for further shenanigans whispered far and wide. Today, parties and eats have no boundaries – they are found all over the city, from the waterfront to Yorkville, in swank fanciness and dive-bar holes. In fact, the many funky haunts across the city have become more desirable than the typical A-lister hotspots. In 2002, Mickey Rourke opted for an appearance at the not-so-Hollywood Bovine Sex Club, while in 2008, Drew Barrymore even bailed on the official party for Whip It, eager to hang out at the dark dive bar Sweaty Betty’s.

TIFF 2012: THE BUZZ

This year, the fest is as strong as ever – overflowing with intriguing options and prime picks. Some of the year’s biggest and most-buzzed films are premiering, including the Kristen Stewart-starring On the Road (pictured, right), Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep, the long-awaited return of the siblings Wachowski with Cloud Atlas, Ben Affleck’s next directorial stab – Argo, and one of the most eagerly anticipated pulp pieces of the year -- the Walken, Farrell, Harrelson, Rockwell-starring dark comedy, Seven Psychopaths. Just to make the mix even juicier: Juno director Jason Reitman is bringing his Live Read series to the fest, featuring old TIFF hit American Beauty with a cast to be announced on the director’s Twitter page.

It all starts this Thursday, so if you want to follow along at home, keep your eyes glued to our coverage here at Fandango and our sister site Movies.com (for even more in-depth reporting), and the #TIFF12 hashtag on Twitter.

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