North America

My first visit to the Toronto International Film Festival

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I am a huge fan of the cinema and motion pictures, but until this September, a significant wish remained unfulfilled on my travel bucket list:  traveling to see a movie premiere at a major film festival.

For those fans of cinema who are in the same boat, I can tell you my first festival was every bit as entertaining as I hoped it would be. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) should be the first festival you ever attend. It’s definitely more casual and not as snobby in “Hollywood North” as you might encounter in Cannes or Hollywood. I attended the 40th anniversary of TIFF — the world’s most publicly-attended film festival.

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From the U.S., Toronto, is easy to visit from Michigan or New York. I took VIA’s passenger train from the U.S. border city of Windsor (across from Detroit), and then arrived in Toronto’s Union Station four hours later on a Saturday afternoon. Toronto is one of North America’s most beautiful, cleanest and safest major cities. I never tire of visiting Canada’s largest city, and there is so much to do in Canada’s entertainment hub throughout the year. After checking into my hotel in the Garden district, I couldn’t resist grabbing some poutine — the Canadian national dish of french fries, cheese curds, gravy and your choice of meat toppings — for dinner at a stand off Dundas Street. Then I headed to my first movie at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Jackman Hall.

Jackman Hall was just one of multiple venues across Toronto hosting screenings during the multiple-day festival. They even had red carpets rolled out and hosts outside the theater to show you to your seats. Upon entering, I took a seat in the non-VIP section, but the red seats were also comfortable and terrific. Then a representative of the festival came out with a microphone to introduce the film and talk about the director, who was not in attendance.

The first movie I watched was the North American premiere of the Argentine/American movie, “Hermia and Helena,” directed by the brilliant Argentine director Matías Piñeiro. Set in Buenos Aires and NYC, it had an interesting connection to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but it instead told the story of an Argentine theater director’s sojourn in New York City. Piñeiro has made similar movies based on other Shakespeare plays including “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and “Twelfth Night.” The movie floated between Spanish and English, Buenos Aires and NYC. Overall, I found the movie entertaining, artistic and intellectually sophisticated.

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The next afternoon I attended my second movie, which was another North American premiere: Swiss director Michael Koch’s “Marija.” This screening took place in the Scotia 10 commercial movie theater off Queen Street. Many different screenings were happening at the venue on Sunday, and it made for an exciting atmosphere. You could literally spend all day at the movies watching films you could not see anywhere else in North America, or perhaps, in the world.

“Marija” told the gripping story about a Ukrainian woman and the chaos behind her search for a better life in Dortmund, Germany. This movie was a bit dark, but gritty and real as it showed how far a woman named Marija was willing to go by making some tough life choices in order to succeed with her business plans. German-Russian actress Margarita Breitkreiz’s performance in the title role was believable and unforgettable in portraying a character who who will not accept being a victim in life. The cinematography was captivating as Koch filmed Marija from behind earlier in the movie because she hadn’t found her place in Germany society, but by the end of the movie, you could see her from the side and front because she had found her place in Dortmund.

For all the cinema fans, I cannot recommend enough attending the Toronto International Film Festival. I didn’t attend any of the lectures, discussions, workshops or red-carpet events, but TIFF is a top Toronto cultural institution and it’s unique with its accessibility to the general public. Also, the 11-day festival is a charitable organization that supports the community by providing programming to families facing financial challenges and brings the power of film to life for everyone.

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