Our Canada correspondent Swati Sharan covered the Toronto International Film Festival 2014 for a second year in a row with lots of energy and enthusiasm. She asked questions at press conferences when all the other journalists were silent, sportingly took part in jokes by the actors, got to hug Al Pacino and watch 26 International films and review them for Minority-Review. Here is a diary of her experience in her own words of being part of such a dazzling and delightful event.
We may have often heard as you dream, so shall it appear. As I ventured into the stardust world of TIFF, I couldn’t help but feel just that. This experience of meeting with all these famous people has truly got me to see the wisdom behind the visualisation exercises for actualising what you want. As you keep visualising over time, in a logic-defying way, you will attain your goal. For as a teen, I would have posters of Hollywood stars including Kevin Costner on one wall and Bollywood stars like Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff and many more on the other. I would incessantly daydream about it all and feel an immense peace when entering my bedroom. So was it any wonder that after so many years Kevin Costner should appear before me and I could ask questions with an unheard of confidence to him and his fellow talent?
In this process of attending press conferences, I also made some very dear friends. One of them is my friend Bruce, a senior journalist. And whenever I deliberated over whether I made the right choice by approaching a given TIFF day, he told me what his senior once told him. With a festival like this, every choice you make is the right choice i.e. everything happens for a reason. So don’t think. Just go for what feels right even if you think you could have done otherwise. So I stopped strategising and went with my gut feel. I lived from moment to moment. My movements were organic. Anything I got right was by sheer accident. Yet things have seldom felt more right.
Like for example, in spite of Priyanka Chopra getting delayed by over an hour to attend the conference, I was still able to squeeze in an extra question after her press conference was over. What were the odds of that happening when she had such a tight schedule for both flying in and flying out the same day and a red carpet to prepare for after this?
Then two days later, I was due to attend Salma Hayek’s red carpet for The Prophet but was given the wrong directions to get there and so, I was late. I couldn’t be in the regular journalist line up. And I was thinking, oh gosh. But then because of where I ended up having to stand, I got pictures of Salma Hayek that not even the most sophisticated photographers could get. (They were standing in the opposite line from me and their cameras couldn’t reach that angle). I actually got her in action interacting with her fans and signing autographs. So that was truly special and she was really sweet with an openhearted smile. And the whole week was an onslaught of eye-opening opportunities planting themselves on my doorstep.
In terms of some other things that I felt were highly noteworthy were the moderators during the press conferences. It was mind-boggling how deftly they would manage addressing both the attendees and questions that they couldn’t have forecasted.
So just like it happened with meeting Annette Benning last year, I stumbled onto the first or second row for the public screening of Learning to Drive with no prior knowledge of what was to come. Before I knew it, the team for Learning to Drive appeared on stage and I got an opportunity to take a picture and ask a question. And I got noticed for their question and answer session more easily because I was in the front rows. So my tardiness to get a ticket just gave me a huge advantage once again. Yet another opportunity landed the following day when I got to meet Aamir Raza whom the film Tigers is based on at the film’s public screening. It was very heart-warming to see him and his wife addressing the audience question and answer session with a lot of grace. So at TIFF, you just never know what can happen.
One of my dear memories of course is of Al Pacino being the one to go out of his way and embrace the reporters or shake hands first and personally direct people to ask him questions rather than the reporters having to persist for their time. This was a classic and a true first. So gregarious is Al Pacino even though he has such a great stature.
Otherwise, it was a cathartic experience to be at these press conferences considering how much fear and nervousness I have had in this type of set up. This year, I felt myself get out of it though improvements can always be made. But besides the great honour of having such established personalities answering my questions, this experience has also been very personality enhancing. I have certainly come a long way since all I wanted to do was throw up when Aamir Khan was answering questions for Dhobi Ghat a few years ago at the same festival.
I also got to admire some pretty actresses from up close and some dashing actors. Reese Witherspoon, as I saw her at the press conference for A Good Lie, was an impeccable beauty. And it’s amazing how transformational she’s looked in both her film Wild where she’s got no makeup on and A Good Lie, in which her role is loosely based on the film’s writer and her looks are matched accordingly. (A Good Lie is based on some real incidents about an American woman helping settle Sudanese refugees in America. It’s a very thoroughly researched film).
Chloe Moretz is just absolutely flawless in her looks. Jennifer Aniston has a beautiful tan. Jane Fonda has got an exquisite presence. And the actors, well, don’t get me started. Everyone from Kevin Costner to Robert Downey Jr. to Anthony Mackie to John Travolta, Denzel Washington, Al Pacino and Sam Worthington, they’re all very handsome in real life. It was also a lot of fun to be made into an instrument of comedy by Hollywood star Dax Sheppard during the live press conference of This is Where I Leave You. And everyone just had such a good laugh. And when all the film stars including Dax cheered me on to ask the final questions, I summoned up the courage to bring the proceedings to a grand finale! Who would ever think they could be wrapped in such fun interplay with Hollywood stars? It was nothing short of a fantasy. So thank you guys for livening things up.
These 10 days also provided an interesting note of the impact of the questions asked by Minority-Review. We had 13 different Canadian media outlets including TV building their story framed from a question that we asked during The Forger press conference. And with Wild, we had one from a major national newspaper, which used some of the answers to one of our questions for their story.
Attending the awards ceremony at the end was also very wonderful. I had the pleasure of sitting with Nilesh Maniyar, whose film Margarita, With a Straw won the NETPAC Award. I met the Toronto film commissioner Zaib Shaikh. Both of them are our handsome desi achievers. I also got to see the Imitation Game winners’ speech up close. I additionally learned that it was humanly possible to watch 74 films in 10 days through one of the TIFF patrons. Way to go! And I was inspired by one of the people at my table who is 81 and still active as a journalist for a seniors community newspaper. His secret? Be mega-involved in lots of activities and keep an active mind.
Through TIFF, we were provided with an equal platform for asking questions at the press conferences. Through these efforts, we were able to be on the same stage with big media outlets like Variety, CTV, BBC and so many more. And we thank the red carpet organisers who work hard to manage such an ebb and flow of media and for providing us with the opportunity for coverage. The volunteers were also such kindred spirits and everybody was so helpful. At points, TIFF feels like the world under one umbrella.
Truly, this was an experience worth reminiscing over and over. And as some say, the more happy memories you think of, the happier you’re likely to stay. So here’s to wishing you all with the happiness I was blessed with and more. Keep dreaming.