Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware of all of the problems currently happening in the film industry. Longest story short, the Hollywood system is on a major strike now for the writers and the actors and nothing is being created or even promoted right now.
How this will affect the 2023 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival is anyone’s guess at the time I publish this article but what we DO know is that there will be far less celebrities attending, red carpets, question and answer sessions and overall crowds outside the big events. For a lot of locals and nearby businesses in the downtown Toronto core, this is a heavy blow as a big part of the festival is all of the glitz and glamour and what it brings to the city in what is arguably the busiest and most popular festival in the world. This is also the kickoff for what will be the awards season with a lot of the big potential nominees all premiering at TIFF. This festival definitely sets the tone.
For someone like me, however, I bypass a lot of that “glitz and glamour” and have always looked as TIFF as one of the biggest offerings of cinema of any festival that I attend. It’s my Christmas for 11 days; a terrific mixture of movies big and small. Sure, I have run into the occasional celebrity and grabbed a selfie with a movie star and I too love the excitement in the air of watching the world premiere of something like KNIVES OUT in 2019 with the late great Christopher Plummer sitting a row away from me. And I know Toronto friends of mine live for the opportunity to get a selfie or an autograph from celeb visitors. I totally get that and we all “Festival” in our own ways.
Living in Western Canada all my life, Toronto was a festival I grew up hearing about first as the “Festival of Festivals” then turning into the behemoth of days and days of premieres from all over the world with big red carpet premieres, many of which I would see on TV. After first hitting festivals in the early aughts (2002 to be exact in Vancouver), I first took a chance in 2013 as a public movie fan, flew to Toronto, made many scheduling mistakes and wrote up a few reviews for my old outlet (this one didn’t even exist yet). Since then, I have attended as press and industry and have been able to watch both big public screenings along with attending press & industry screenings that have absolutely no filmmaker or guest involvement. It’s kind of like two festivals in one. For the press and industry screenings, for the most part you show up to the Scotiabank Toronto with a badge, walk in, find a seat, sit down and watch the movie. And that’s it. Luckily, for this moviegoer, the balance is also the joy of the festival. I have had a great time simply bouncing between auditoriums at this venue with 5-10 minutes in-between shows, furiously scribbling down notes whenever I can and poorly attempting to scan said notes into my iPad to upload to Get Reel Movies while munching on popcorn and the occasional hot dog. Through the 2019 edition, this has been my “recipe”.
The most telling years of TIFF have been the last two years. The 2020 edition was all online and I did watch a few screeners but didn’t do much else. In 2021 I attended a very “different” festival in the midst of a pandemic. Proof of vaccination, masks and distanced seating were a priority AND any international visitor had to be tested. I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of TIFF when I left that year, but I look back on it as “interesting”. In 2022, there were still some restrictions here in there (I recall flying in with a mask) and I also had major issues with the public also being VERY disruptive. I couldn’t tell you how many times I asked someone to put away their phone or stop talking, and I was also at the mercy of a flawed ticketing system that shut me out of a lot of big movies.
This year, the venues are once again all close together which makes for a very walkable festival. I have planned to attend most of my screenings at the massive Scotiabank Theatre Toronto venue with its 14 screens and large seating capacity along with some of the best projection and sound for a multiplex in the country. There’s also the heavenly Bell Lightbox which is a film lover’s paradise with five cinemas made for a projection and tech fan like myself. There’s also the main gala venues at Roy Thomson Hall, Princes of Wales and Royal Alexandra Theatre; the final of which is also the host of Peter Kuplowsky’s Midnight Madness series which is always a favourite of mine and thankfully moved from the Ryerson campus auditorium, which I tended to not like as much over the years with its poor sound and cramped seating. For 2023, all of the venues surround Festival Street on King St which is full of music performances, free samples (oh the free samples!) and vendors. With that said my “office” is usually at the Bell Lightbox lounge which has terrific coffee. If you know, you know.
If you are planning to attend a lot of screenings, make sure you book ahead depending on if you are attending as a member of the public or as press & industry. One little trick too is that if you are desperate to check out a movie that is considered “off sale” (aka sold out), try getting tickets the day of right when box office opens. Usually the unclaimed vouchers and returns get all piled and released at this point.
Opening the 2023 edition is Hayao Miyazaki’s final feature THE BOY & THE HERON. Already a hit in Japan where it was released this summer, I am thrilled to see an animated feature open the festival, especially at a festival where the filmmaker is already in high regard (one of my favourite memories was seeing THE WIND RISES at the 2014 edition at the Elgin). This really is Mr. Miyazaki’s swan song and exit from the industry with an incredible career.
There are many special presentations of some pretty big titles as well with ONE LIFE from director James Hawes and featuring sure to be another great turn from Anthony Hopkins. Nicolas Cage is also back with yet another big movie, DREAM SCENARIO, which made me cheer when I was able to secure a ticket. He won’t be here, but he’ll be on a gigantic screen at Scotiabank Toronto so that’s good enough for me.
I am also always watching the Canadian front, and the biggest one on my radar is SEAGRASS from filmmaker Meredith Hama-Brown, who I met many years ago at Austin’s Fantastic Fest and had a lot of fun with her short film work. Watch for a reaction on the site for this one soon.
Earlier I mentioned Midnight Madness as a favourite and this year’s lineup is no slouch; I have already heard many mixed reactions to Harmony Korine’s latest work AGGRO DR1FT which apparently is all night-vision. I mean, Korine is no stranger to derision; ask any audience member what they thought of SPRING BREAKERS over a decade ago. I think I am the most excited for the selection from India called KILL which earned a comparison from programmer Peter Kuplowsky with comparisons to UNDER SIEGE 2 DARK TERRITORY. So you know where to find me.
Closing the festival next week will be SLY, which should be an all-out documentary love letter to Sylvester Stallone, who does plan to attend the festival. The doc comes from a favourite filmmaker, Thom Zimny, who blew my mind away with the Bruce Springsteen concert doc WESTERN STARS which was one of my favourites of the 2019 edition of TIFF.
And speaking of concert films, there’s also a little restoration coming to the festival called STOP MAKING SENSE….also my all time favourite movie, in case you were wondering. Jonathan Demme’s legendary 1984 concert film which featured The Talking Heads touring with their then new album SPEAKING IN TONGUES and filming at the Pantages Theatre in LA is equal parts a celebration of music but also in a way that still is cinematic storytelling throughout. I have screened this movie locally to new audiences and old and my hats off to distributor A24 for giving this a full on 4k restoration that will premiere live in IMAX 4k laser at the massive auditorium at Scotiabank Toronto.
Even with all of this writing I have barely made a blip on all of the movies playing here from big to small. Nearly every corner of the cinematic world is here this year and it will be really amazing to see how everything runs without a big movie star element. Overall I am predicting that the festival will really be a moviegoer’s festival in 2023, and one of my favourite things is chatting with festival goers in line before a show. With a bigger focus on the movies themselves, I predict a lot more reactions around the downtown core of Toronto and a lot of good reactions. Either way, let’s do #TIFF23!
Watch closely on our site and the hashtag for some TIFF reaction reviews from this year’s edition and many more reviews to follow during the festival. Our thanks to the TIFF PR department for supplying yours truly with press credentials.