I should be honest and say that the alternative working title for this post was and in many ways still is “Stalking Jared Leto in Toronto.” Such was my excitement at hearing he was in town at the same time as me presenting his film Artifact, which premiered at Toronto International Film Festival. Within moments of landing at Toronto Pearson I’d seen news reports that Jared had already walked down the red carpet and I’d be lying if I said my stomach didn’t backflip a little. Once checked into my hotel, with my press pass in hand and tickets to the film’s screening tucked intimately in my jeans’ back pocket, I was on a mission to meet the man I’d been a little bit in love with since my early teens. The reason for my
obsession love? My So-called Life. (If you are unaware of this TV program because you were too cool to watch it (more fool you) or are too young to have heard of it (more fool me) then please spend a few minutes watching this.)
But back to Toronto, the perfect backdrop to my own cinematic adventures. Neck-bendingly tall skyscrapers lined my walks from cinema to cinema, the purrs and beeps of traffic whistled past me as I explored a new city for the first time, orange posters hung from lampposts with four letter baring down at me from all angles: TIFF, TIFF, TIFF.
It’s fair to say that TIFF is a fairly big deal in Toronto and not just because it attracts the handsome likes of Jared Leto, George Clooney and Ryan Gosling to its red carpets. It’s because of what it means to the city. For two weeks Toronto, a modern looking, forward thinking city, gets to celebrate a different kind of cultural identity. The festival is the most important annual cinematic event in North America and is rivalled globally only by Cannes. Year after year it’s proved a launchpad for some of the best in Hollywood and independent cinema,namely due to the success of the TIFF Peoples’ Choice award whose previous winners include American Beauty, Precious, Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech. This is a film festival attended and participated in by real film lovers and enthusiasts.
I found this out as I sat down to my first film in TIFF’s purpose built home, TIFF Bell Lightbox. A huge, spacious and light building housing movie theatres on a number of floors, I tentatively tottered up the red carpet (they actually do have them) and walked inside where I was welcomed by one of the many volunteers that ultimately keep TIFF ticking over for two weeks. I was shown to my screen and settled into a surprisingly comfortable chair. Behind me I listened as two strangers greeted each other and proceeded to discuss films they’d already seen at TIFF, films they liked in general and then, more amusingly, films they absolutely abhorred. As I considered turning around to agree with the woman about how annoying Leonardo DiCaprio was, I was interrupted by the dimming lights and an introduction to the film by one of TIFF’s curators, i.e. the people who choose which films are shown. What a job…
The film was called The Central Park Five. A documentary about the plight of five young teenage boys who were falsely accused and found guilty of the high profile rape and brutal attack on the so-called “Central Park Jogger”, a 28 year old woman. At first glance this film was expected to be very sober watching and a definite Jared Leto free zone. And indeed it was. But it was also deeply moving, frighteningly enlightening and ultimately an incredibly sad story, though with occasional glimpses of hope about human strength and love. Superbly directed and produced by Ken Burns, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
After nosing around the press area and getting only slightly lost, I glanced at my schedule and realised I’d have to wait an entire day until the screening of Artifact that I had tickets for. I had plenty of sight-seeing to do in Toronto to keep me busy and dare I say it the colour of Kensington Market, the authentic energy of Chinatown and the cool of West Queen West, easily took my mind off Mr Leto.
But then it was time and the scene of my love crime was to be the beautiful old Bloor Hot Docs Cinema a turn of the century movie theatre whose interior was dusted in art deco features. As I took my seat I noticed a very different crowd to the one that surrounded me for Central Park Five. It was a younger crowd, there was a lot of black being worn and every other person had at least seven tattoos clearly visible. I realised that these were Jared’s new groupies, the ones that followed his band 30 Seconds to Mars – the subject of the film Artifact. Conscious of my age and brightly coloured outfit I sunk down into my seat and realised that Jared Leto wasn’t going to make an appearance today. It wasn’t the film’s premiere and even if he did show up these groupies wouldn’t have let this old fuddy duddy shouting “Jordan Catellano!” anywhere near him.
Luckily for me the film was good; shockingly insightful about the record industry and a very open and honest account of the band members and their struggle against their label EMI who sued them for $30 million. As I watched a scene where Jared plays guitar in his pyjamas and struggles to find the right lyrics for Kings and Queens, I realised that TIFF wasn’t really all about Jared Leto for me. It was enough of a pleasure and privilege to be part of a festival that stirs of a city and community and celebrates the beauty of film-making.
There are a number of ways that the general public can see films and get involved with TIFF next September. Here is a great post about just that but also check out the TIFF website. Many thanks to Canadian Tourist Commission and Tourism Toronto for the tickets to some fascinating films and for ensuring that I was in the same city as Jared Leto.
All photos by Frankie except Photo 1