By Swati Sharan, our intrepid and meticulous reporter for the Toronto International Film Festival 2013
Each day I spent at TIFF felt like a special gem with every moment feeling precious. So much so, it reminded me of some childhood tales of King Bhoj’s discovery through the 32 stairs that led to the King Vikramaditya’s underground treasure trove cellar. For each day that Bhoj would take a step with great intrigue, a statuette that would tell him a tale of Vikramaditya’s would greet him. Eventually, he made his way down to the treasure trove and sat on the throne. For a film buff like myself, what could be a greater reminiscence of a treasure trove other than to have a global banquet of films for an unlimited appetite?
And when you get to witness some of People’s most beautiful people and famous faces for dessert, why not appreciate nature for her external beauties? For example, Sandra Bullock can make any man brave the Sahara for her. Such is her radiance.
Daniel Radcliffe was so earthy that he brought out the motherly instinct in me. I did not at all feel like he was a movie star. Kazan and Megan Fox, who were in the film The F Word, were also very pretty. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and her gang for Enough Said just had the perfect hairstyles for long hair and Julia looked timeless. It was as if age had not touched her. And her facial movements and expressions were so much like her character Elaine’s from Seinfeld. Toni Collette and Caroline Keene were stunning.
Julia Roberts and the rest of August Osage County cast also proved to be mind-blowing in both performances and looks. (Meryl Streep was the only one absent due illness). Julia, in real life, is very youthful-looking and she carries the million-dollar smile she is fabled for very well. Though I was just on the cusp of being able to ask a question when the press conference had to be called to a halt, it was a very lively and enjoyable experience to hear everyone speak.
Jennifer Aniston had an unconventional charm and a very friendly demeanour. And I appreciate how light she could be because that’s half of what gave me the confidence to ask her a light question in an atmosphere where largely people’s tendency was to be so serious. I think heavy movies at TIFF can do that to people.
It was also interesting to make friends and learn from many of the other people that were attending these press conferences. And often these exchanges would take place in the line to get in. People from all over the world were there and from all kinds of fields. I had the pleasure of meeting people who worked in little known companies to highly lucrative ones like TV Mag or Variety or The Guardian and so on. There were also many videographers and photographers who shared their experiences of working with the different celebrities that they’d encountered. Some of them were even asking me about Parineeti Chopra because of the Shuddh Desi Romance gala premiere.
In between all this, I met Jaideep Sahni (read his interview here), the writer for Shuddh Desi Romance. And boy was he great at handling an impromptu 5-minute interview when I was in quite the rush. If I can ask questions at bullet speed, he can answer them at that speed too. Pan Nalin (read his interview here), the director for Faith Connections, was also a pleasure to meet. Even though he has so much recognition, he was very humble.
With Liam Neeson, it’s as though his eyes can’t lie even when he may not want to show it. And though he seemed like he was feeling out of place and is not somebody that can just ‘put on’ in real life, his eyes changed into one of genuine interest when I asked my question. (Of course, I have an impartial bias!).
But perhaps the one to spur on the inspiration for the rest of the week was Ralph Fiennes. When he and Felicity Jones expressed to me their genuine interest to come to India to promote their film The Invisible Woman, it totally spun another angle on the possibilities of what could be.
And that inspired me to expand my outlook and work harder at what I was doing in the manner of pure pleasure. As I did this, one of the most miraculous experiences occurred later on during the week. Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan were doing their press conference for The Love Punch and many people had left TIFF by this time. Consequently, there were fewer people attending but whoever was there was just feeling very nice that day. And Emma and Pierce were just so warm, friendly and laid-back that almost none of us ever remembers ever having felt this sense of coziness at a press conference before. And due to Emma’s wit and the audience’s spin off of it, I don’t think we also remember having laughed so much like this in this set up either.
And for those who question Pierce’s friendliness because he’s not verbalising it, it’s all in the energy of the unsaid or conveyed through his aura. And Pierce’s demeanour was very calm and laid back. But truly, there was just such pure universal love permeating in the atmosphere that morning and we all became so much bubblier with one another. I don’t know what it was. And it started when one of the senior journalists guided me about how to approach the questions and how to handle people’s reactions towards me. And it made such a huge difference in how I handled the unexpected at the actual conference.
Watch highlights from one of the TIFF 2013 days featuring Jennifer Aniston:
But that day, the song I felt like galloping to was “Subhanallah jo ho raha hai pehli dafa hai valla” from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Translation: Oh God, whatever’s happening is happening for the first time (It’s a falling in love song). Even the moderator was thanking everyone after the conference was over when normally that never happens. People just tend to split and move on to the next thing. The experience was just utterly divine.
The next icing on the cake was when my friend pushed me out of a theatre where I didn’t want to be and pushed me into the hall for the film The Face of Love. As I got into the hall, I got bumped into the front row because the hall was almost full and I wondered why. At the end of the movie, who else should be crossing my path but Annette Benning so that she could go up to the podium near me to speak to the audience with director Arie Posin? And I tell you, she was more beautiful and dignified in real life than she is on film. Unfortunately, because I wasn’t expecting to see these guys, I didn’t have anything to record the question and answer session with the audience. But I can recount a couple of things that were spoken of then. One audience member related to the storyline about being infatuated to someone who looks like a deceased spouse because it happened to him after his wife died.
Ed Harris, the male lead, was engaged in a play, and so, he couldn’t be present for TIFF. Annette spoke of how generally, she can know early on in reading a script about whether she’s going to be interested in pursuing the project or not. Someone asked Annette about the increasing trend of cinema showing older women in main roles. She counter-argued that there are those that feel there aren’t enough of them. She then mentioned how that because films have a lot of money involved, many times projects with women in general are seen as being unviable and if it’s an older female lead, it’s even more unfeasible.
She argued about how in order to see more innovation occur, different ways need to be developed to make the film costs more affordable as well as the distribution channels. Technology was one possible way for this to happen. She also spoke with Arie about group alchemy when performing. As it turned out, Arie lived in Toronto earlier on in his life. Some audience members were keen to know where in Toronto but Arie couldn’t remember. So he screamed out “Mom, do you remember where we were?”
Sure enough, his mother voiced loudly for the audience to hear: “Bathurst and Finch.” Arie then responded about how he likely attended Hebrew Day School there because he was so young then. This is part of a Jewish area in Toronto and their baked goods are very tasty including the bagels. The audience then pushed him to go visit his area though he was feeling quite tight on time because he had to leave the next day.
Later, as they exited, I caught hold of Annette and I welcomed her for Toronto and TIFF and thanked her for coming. And she said very softly, “Well, I am glad to be here.” And then I said, “You’re really beautiful.” And she smiled very radiantly and said “Thank you.” We exchanged a couple of points about the film and I mentioned how I really appreciated her versatile style of acting and she did a great job in the film and she said “Thanks.” Still not over my awe about our proximity (like we were like co-worker close distance at this point with her towering over me in height), I said, “I’ve never met a Hollywood star up close before. Wow, this is amazing.” At this, she chuckled and exited the hall in a manner ever so graceful.
But just as she did so, in came Arie and his affinity with the Jewish area just struck a light bulb with me. At one point in time, I used to visit a bagel shop there every week, which I really used to like. So when I caught Arie on his way out, I told him “The bagel shop on the corner of Finch and Bathurst is really nice. I like going there.” At that point, he paused in thought while staring at me with wide eyes and smiled and said, “I really need to go see this neighborhood.” And we laughed as he exited.
On the red carpet, I briefly interviewed the director Marion Vernoux and French actress Fanny Ardant for their film Bright Days Ahead. The film is about a woman in her 60s who’s nearing retirement and living a normal family life until she falls for a man half her age. I asked the director Marion Vernoux how it felt to be at TIFF. She joked about how it felt cold to be here because the weather at the time was rather cold and people were forced to stand outside for these photo ops. I asked if there were plans for showing this in India and she smiled and inquired on the side with someone about this. She said that there weren’t right now but they were open to the possibility of having the film shown there. I then asked Fanny what she would like to be doing in the ideal world. Looking at me solemnly she said, “I’d like to go to the woods and lie down with my family on the ground and tell my grandchild stories.”
I also got to shake hands and meet with Allan Zweig, the winner for the best Canadian feature film When Jews Were Funny. What’s very nice about him is that he can laugh and make others laugh too.
Truly, this was an amazing week, which I never wanted to see end. It made me extend a deep prayer for all the festival volunteers who were looking for paid work to find some. There are 2500 of them and many of them were likely doing it for experience building for paid work because the market is so slow right now. May God bless them all. For without their tireless efforts, TIFF could never have been the same.