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The Shape of Cinema: The Toronto Film Festival

Stunning films and stars abound at Toronto International Film Festival (Photo courtesy of Vox.com).

Anthony Miller

Learning Services

Staff Writer

Toronto International Film Festival is the most prominent annual exhibition of world cinema in North America. Every year, a variety of celebrated international filmmakers and onscreen talents exhibit their newest work under the culturally diverse umbrella of Canada’s most populous city. TIFF attracts hundreds of thousands of film lovers from across the globe, and as luck would have it, I was able to join two faculty members and three other students in representing Millersville University at this year’s festival. 

During our four full days at TIFF, we developed a rigid routine dedicated to seeing as many films as possible. Each morning, we departed from our hotel by 8am to have an early spot in line for tickets. Although our industry passes afforded us free access to any tickets, many screenings were sold out in a matter of minutes. So unfortunately, we were denied access to highly anticipated movies like A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut featuring Lady Gaga, If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to his Best Picture winner Moonlight, and First Man, Damien Chazelle’s cinematic representation of the life of Neil Armstrong.

However, missing out on such heavy hitters (all of which are guaranteed a wide release in the United States this year) forced our group to compile a list of films that mixed in a handful of obscure entities. In my opinion, this mystery factor accentuated the film festival experience as my preconceived notions of a film’s content, which shape the way I approach the consumption of any narrative, were rendered to a completely blank slate. Consequently, films like Greta, a horror thriller that takes joy in its twisted antics, were able to unleash their full effect uninhibited by my imperfect judgments.

In addition to a fascinating film diet, attendance at TIFF guarantees several unique filmgoing experiences by virtue of its beautifully constructed theatres. Rushing from one stunning coliseum to the next was one of the most memorable segments of our trip. For example, the Winter Garden and Elgin Theatres exist as the only stacked theatres left in the world. Both offer an otherworldly ambience to the filmgoing experience, preparing the crowd for the magisterial experience that is moviewatching. 

            Although TIFF organizers do not declare an all-encompassing premise for the festival’s films, certain narrative and thematic patterns sketched themselves out over the course of our film list. Most evidently, a large percentage of the films we saw involved the disappearance of young women, and showcased the subsequent lack of retributive action from authority figures. Perhaps these themes are coincidental; however, the “missing daughter” premise taken up by Through the Black Spruce, Three Faces, and American Woman all echoed the sociopolitical context of the #MeToo movement. Each film facilitated criticism of its respective cultures for ignoring the plight of the young and abused.

            An idiosyncratic feature of TIFF in general is its emphasis on late night thrills. The Midnight Madness installments represent the rowdy underbelly of the usually measured and tasteful veneer of filmgoing crowds. Nekrotronic, a gory yet goofy concoction strongly influenced by both Pokémon GO and Ghostbusters, offered a campy experience that beckoned the audience to hoot and holler alongside its unpredictable tomfoolery. An opposite approach to the late night crowd came from the final film our group attended: The Wind. This psychological thriller/Western combined genres to conjured unique type of tension that was tangible in a theatre of hundreds of silent filmgoers.

            TIFF is an experience worth pages of gushing description; however, no article or essay could properly take the place of our week in Toronto. Assuming the money/time investment required for TIFF seems slightly out of reach, I strongly recommend attending any local film festival you can. Diverse crowds unite under towering screens painted with artistic vision. I recommend popping your head in. Also, see Roma at all costs.