It’s Toronto International Film Festival time again, and the city is buzzing. They turned King Street from University to Spadina Avenue into a pedestrian precinct for the first four days of the festival. This is the geographic heart of TIFF, the home of the TIFF Bell Lightbox with its several very comfortable high-tech screens, the Ticket Center at Metro Hall, the large venues at the Princess of Wales Theatre and Roy Thomson Hall where the big galas take place, and the activities at David Pecaut Square. In addition to the red carpet entrances provided for the big stars at the gala venues, the Lightbox has become the honey pot for movie star groupies who congregate to see their favourites in the lobby or at the “stage door” entrance outside. Eating places and watering holes expanded onto the street, assorted games and industry curiosities amused passers-by, and TIFF volunteers sporting their bright orange t-shirts seemed to abound. People streamed to the street, revelling yet again in walking a public space freed of traffic. What Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume yesterday termed “the festivalization of Toronto” is one of his “reasons for optimism” for the city, one of his “eight reasons to love Toronto.” I agree.
Closing the street caused some controversy. The King streetcar line is one of the busiest in the city, serving thousands of commuters to the Bay Street core of the city every day. As diverting these streetcars around the King Street TIFF scene would slow the commute, there was a concern that inconveniencing commuters to accommodate movie goers would not go down well. After all, inadequate transit, traffic congestion and, if you are “Mayor” Ford, anything which interferes with the free flow of cars (let alone streetcars of any kind) are major themes in the current municipal election campaign. Toronto streetcar riders, however, are resilient, infinitely patient, and as starstruck as anyone else. The media consensus seems to be that the pedestrian-only experiment was an outstanding success which should be repeated in the future.
It helped that, the weekend before TIFF began, the Toronto Transit Commission launched the first two of their fleet of 240 modern, readily accessible, air-conditioned streetcars on the Spadina line which crosses King. It may be several years before the new streetcars become the norm on all lines, but the actual appearance of the new streetcars, after a transit draught spanning decades, has provided a glimmer of hope. Whatever “Mayor” Ford may say, the people in inner-city Toronto love their streetcars and are thrilled with concrete evidence that streetcars are here to stay.
Getting back to TIFF. Another change this year was the new TIFF policy that galas featured during the early days of the festival (“prime time” apparently) must be real “world premieres,” not reruns from a prior festival such as Cannes, Sundance or Telluride. TIFF regulars were fearful that major new movies would be deterred from coming to Toronto. Such has not been the case. The galas have been as big and spectacular as ever; if anything, the new policy has meant that big new films which may have opened elsewhere are now spread throughout the ten days of the festival which makes it easier for fans to fit them into their schedule.
I had intended to write about some of the movies I’ve seen at TIFF, like the new biopic about Stephen Hawking, called The Theory of Everything, which I saw yesterday. It is a wonderful movie and well worth seeing. Another time. And look for further posts on the Toronto municipal elections and other issues that have come to my attention over the summer. Having left the Alsek River, it is time to move on.