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I'm there in spirit at Toronto festival

By Philip Martin

This article was published September 15, 2017 at 1:47 a.m.

We’ve been to a few film festivals over the years.

I got a Facebook message from a friend who's at the Toronto International Film Festival saying he'd like to get together. The title of a Todd Haynes film springs to mind: I'm Not There. I haven't attended TIFF in a decade.

That seems weird; I still have very clear images of Yonge Street and Yorkville, of rubbing shoulders with LeBron James in the elevator of the Four Seasons. I have a lot of memories of TIFF, like the time Salma Hayek slid into the chair next to me in a private screening room and asked me, in a whisper, if the air wasn't redolent of cat urine. I remember passing notes with Roger Ebert and running into Kris Kristofferson on the street.

I remember we were sitting in a restaurant when Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe came in together; Kinnear glanced around the crowded dining area and decided that their party must be tucked away in a "private" area, so he headed off to find them. Dafoe seemed about to reach out and stop him, but then broke into a wide grin and let his co-star (they were there to promote the Paul Schrader film Auto Focus, so it must have been 2003) wander down the staircase.

To the restrooms.

We were leaving the film festival on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001; we were at the Toronto airport and my wife, Karen, was in line to buy a sandwich for our flight home when we looked up at the television and saw what looked like a small plane crashing into a building. My first thought was that it was a trailer for a movie. We made it all the way to our gate before they told us our flight had been canceled and we were sent out to rebook. I was standing in front of a ticket agent when someone walked up beside him and whispered -- loud enough that I could hear -- that American air space had been shut down. It came up on the computer the agent was clicking on a second later.

Somehow we made it back to our hotel, which found another room for us. And we wandered back down to the festival, where all screenings and press conferences were canceled, and watched the news with hundreds of other journalists from all over the world on a big screen in the press lounge in the Park Hyatt.

I remember how kind and heartbroken the Canadians were. I'll always love Toronto.

But we don't go there regularly anymore.


After Karen created this section all those years ago, she decided that we'd better do more with it than just write about the movies that came to town every Friday. So we started going to film festivals outside the state; the first one was Palm Springs. Toronto was the most important one, but we've been to festivals in Vancouver and Memphis and Austin and Nashville and Savannah as well as New York. Our copy desk chief Joe Riddle went to Sundance for us. We never made it to Cannes, but we talked about it.

But things changed, and like a lot of people, we had to figure out how to do more with less.

So these days, Piers Marchant, our Philadelphia-based freelance critic, covers Toronto for us. You can see his daily reports from the festival on our blood dirt & angels blog ( You can read more from the festival here in the newspaper.

Our coverage hasn't suffered. There's only one of Piers but he stays up later and remains at the festival longer than we did.

He also covers Sundance for us. And we usually run into him at the Tribeca Film Festival, which we triple-team. Piers and our Kansas City-based critic Dan Lybarger cover the True-False Festival in Columbia, Mo. Generally we pick up one or two others in a year. We're going to the Philadelphia Film Festival in October.

It's not tough duty, even when you're watching four or five films a day, but it isn't a vacation either. Critics have to know their subjects, and you can't really know cinema without investigating what's on offer on the festival circuit. That's where you get a chance to see the experimental and the unusual and even the misbegotten. While only a few of the movies we see at these festivals will eventually make it to theaters (Toronto is the exception; many of the movies Piers sees there will eventually open in Arkansas and be reviewed in this section), watching all sorts of movies is the larger part of a film critic's professional education.

Even though I don't attend TIFF any more I always look forward to it; it marks the end of the summer silly season and signals that the awards season is nearly upon us. It won't be long before I'll start receiving those end-of-the-year "for your consideration" screeners. Publicists are starting to schedule some local screenings.

I'm starting to feel like a film critic again.


MovieStyle on 09/15/2017

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MaxCady says... September 15, 2017 at 11:56 a.m.

Name drop much, Phil?

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