Opening Argument: The Toronto International Film Festival, Virtually
Attending the Toronto International Film Festival is generally my favorite professional event of the year. I started going in 2012, and it’s been an opportunity to get ahead on big upcoming films that will feature in Oscar season. But it’s also a chance to see things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, because they may never even get distribution (like a theatrical release or a TV/streaming deal). On top of that, there are people I see there whom I see only there.
This year, The Year When Everything Is Different, everything is different. The festival (for me) is virtual only, meaning a selection of films is available to stream with my press credential. There are far fewer films available than usual, and in particular far fewer that have high profiles. A combination, I suppose, of reluctance to allow big-money movies to get into any streaming space lest they be somehow pirated and reluctance to start the cycle of reviews and promotions when nobody knows when anything is going to actually open.
There are things that would be a big deal in a regular year that are still a big deal: Regina King’s feature directing debut, One Night In Miami, is here. So is Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland. Some of the things I most love to see in Toronto, I will watch at home, like a Frederick Wiseman documentary about Boston city government, called City Hall, that’s over four hours long. (If you love that kind of thing, you love it. If not, you are very confused right now, as you perhaps were when the three-plus-hour film Ex Libris, about the New York Public Library, thrilled me a couple of years ago.)
But mostly, this is a year for me to explore. Most of the space in my viewing schedule will be occupied by things that I often don’t have time for, because so little of it will be occupied by the bigger things I’m sure to eventually see anyway. So far, I’ve watched Holler, a drama about a young woman doing scrapyard work in Ohio; Apples, a trippy drama-comedy-ish film about a guy who enters a program to rebuild memories during an epidemic of amnesia; and Akilla’s Escape, which stars the musician Saul Williams as a man trying over one long night to keep a young kid he meets from repeating his mistakes. None were titles I was familiar with. All were well worth seeing; in a typical year I might have made it to one of the three.
There are pluses and minuses, of course, to the living-room festival. I have to be more disciplined to avoid picking up my phone and getting distracted. On the other hand, it’s not a bad thing to be able to stretch your legs (as I’m sure I will during City Hall).
I’m so grateful to be able to do this, so glad to have a chance to enjoy the art of others, and so sad that I can’t see my friends. I don’t know when I’ll be in a movie theater again. I don’t know when I’ll be in Toronto again. But for now, there are still movies, and I will still be in my seat for them, even if it’s a seat in my house.
Newsletter continues after sponsor message
The New York Times has a feature in which they talked to a bunch of theater people about how to move forward with an industry that’s been, even more than most, devastated by this pandemic.
Sending out this newsletter on September 11, I will recommend — as I do every year — the beautiful and vivid piece my friend Sarah Bunting wrote about being in the financial district on September 11, 2001. It’s upsetting to read, but also full of the small kindnesses of New Yorkers.
I’ll have a full review of it early next week, but on Monday night, HBO is premiering a miniseries called The Third Day, starring Jude Law. I don’t want to tell you anything about it — give it a go and see what you think.
On our Friday show, hear a conversation about Charlie Kaufman’s sometimes baffling I’m Thinking Of Ending Things. (I wasn’t on the panel, but I would vote «a little too fond of its own weirdness.») If you want to read Glen’s full review, it’s still available on NPR.org.