Monday, September 17, 2012

TIFF 2012 Recap

Well, another festival is in the bag. Did 26 movies spread over 46 hours (with about 26 hours of standing in lines).

Things that worked well:

  • General consensus seems to be that the new ticketing system worked well, and was a welcome improvement over previous years; credit to the technical team and TIFF for putting together a system that appears to have avoided many of the performance issues faced in the past.
  • Most of the people that I saw mention issues around being able to log in or fulfill orders appear to have been able to call the box office and get their orders processed over the phone, and for the most part it seemed like issues were fixed relatively quickly without having to take down the whole site, which I know can be challenging if not impossible.
  • The new ticketing system allowed you to see exactly what you were getting and to make your own changes in real-time, rather than having to go the voucher/exchange route.
  • The ability to get the Flex package in 10-ticket increments was good for those of us picking large numbers of movies, and being able to get more than 1 ticket per screening in the My Choice packages helped in sharing packages amongst friends and family.
  • The Premium package was a good replacement for the old Visa Screening Room packages or not being able to pick premium screenings in advance at all.
  • The Festival started accepting other credit cards besides Visa.
  • I liked the approach of having slides listing the sponsors before the movie, so that the programmers didn't have to go through the whole spiel before introducing the film; too bad they couldn't do that in all the screenings.
  • Usual kudos to all the volunteers for helping to put on another good festival.
  • Used again this year to help with planning, and as usual, it was a big help.
  • An option for online voting for People's Choice was also a nice touch, although it's still a bit unclear on how they actually tabulate votes (e.g. do they account for different size audiences at all?)

Things that could use improvement:
  • The quantity showing 0 in dropdowns on the ticketing site; most people, including myself, assumed that meant the film was off-sale, when that might actually not have been the case. While there's probably nothing technical that could be done to get around that, a bit more information would probably help.
  • On that note, it would have been nice to have more information around the new ticketing system overall prior to logging in, to relieve a lot of the uncertainty everyone had with the new approach. Thanks to blogs like In a TIFF and commenters like mathew5000 for providing early information and tips on the process; it definitely helped me plan out my session! And I think people liked the screenshots I was able to post after my picks were done. Even if it's on a secondary FAQ page, more information, not less, would be helpful especially to all those festival die-hards who are also the people most likely to gripe and complain (myself included).
  • The whole virtual waiting room concept needs a bit more work, especially since it's not actually first-come-first-serve, and the text on the screen really doesn't help those poor souls that actually believe the timer is counting down to when they'll be let in.
  • It would have been extremely helpful to have a public listing of off-sale films, so people can plan out their schedules before their selection windows, especially given the time limit. Only seeing availability once you've logged in doesn't give you much time to hunt around for backups unless you're really prepared. Given the fact that everything is online and connected, it would seem this would be more achievable now than in past years. Thanks, though, to all the commenters who were good enough to post off-sale screenings after their picks, to help those who would come later.
  • A few people seemed not to have realized that the back-half and daytime packs had selection windows after tickets went on sale to the general public. While the dates were visible on the site, if you were only looking for a daytime pack, it would be easy to miss the fact that you'd be picking after everyone else. It would have been better to make that clear on the site when purchasing packages.
  • Also, people who commented on my site seemed to think that the lower per-ticket price for those packages was not worth the reduced selection. The day before the daytime/back-half ticket window, there were 186 screenings that were off-sale, including most of the big ones (e.g. Argo, The Master, Cloud Atlas, etc.)
  • More detail was needed earlier on how the pricing of the Flex Package broke down (e.g. if you wanted to buy 60 tickets, it wasn't clear in advance how much that would actually cost).
  • It should also have been clearer exactly how many My Choice regular/premium or TIFF Choice packages you could buy in one transaction.
  • There also needed to be more details on the times for ticket selection windows for the different TIFF member levels and the public. Dates alone are never sufficient.
  • Definitely could've used a bit more variety in the trailers this year; by the end I had all the dialog from the L'Oreal trailer memorized (I did end up looking up exactly what a key light is in cinema :-)). The Midnight Madness crowd had a good way of dealing with all this.
  • On a side note, people have commented on how it seems like every year there's less and less morning screenings. Out of curiosity, I ran the numbers, and in 2003, there were 79 screenings that started before 12:00 PM. In 2012, there were 85, but there's also one extra day that didn't exist in 2003. More interestingly, if you ignore weekends, 2003 had 55 morning screenings, but in 2012 there were only 19. So if you're wondering why it's harder and harder to see 50+ films in a year, there's one answer for you.

Thoughts on some of my films this year:
  • Rust and Bone: I've never been particularly fond of Marion Cotillard in English, but I really liked her in this film. And the special effects were pretty amazing, as anyone who has seen this film could attest to; I'm still not entirely sure how they did it all.
  • Imogene: a really entertaining and endearing film, if a bit goofy in places, but Kristen Wiig gives a more grounded performance, which helps.
  • The Place Beyond the Pines: while I didn't necessarily like this as much as Blue Valentine, I thought there was some strong acting from Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper and some surprises in the film.
  • A Liar's Autobiography: interesting approach to use animation to illustrate the tapes Graham Chapman made before his death, but it felt like the movie lagged in places, especially towards the end. As the directors pointed out, this is *not* a Monty Python film, and you'd do well to keep that in mind if you're planning on seeing it.
  • How To Make Money Selling Drugs: slyly starts out styled like an infomercial, but eventually reveals the social, financial, and criminal impact of the war on drugs and posits different solutions to a seemingly intractable problem.
  • Love Is All You Need: enjoyable, much lighter than some of Bier's other films; given the setting, plot, and the casting of Pierce Brosnan, I'm tempted to describe this as Mamma Mia with less singing and more cancer, but that trivializes lead actress Trine Dyrholm's fine performance.
  • At Any Price: found Dennis Quaid's character almost too fake and superficial in the first half of the film, but it provides a sharp contrast with his true self revealed in the latter half.
  • Antiviral: very stylish, reminiscent of elements of director Brandon Cronenberg's father's work, but I think he still made it his own. Fascinating speculation/satire on how far we might actually take celebrity worship. Nice touch with the voice cameos from Ben Mulroney and Tanya Kim.
  • Tai Chi 0: entertaining, action-packed, and funny, made me want to see the next film in the series.
  • In Conversation with Jackie Chan: consensus in the crowd seemed to be that it might have been better to get someone like Colin Geddes to moderate this one. The Chris Tucker cameo was nice surprise (and nicer still they got him off quickly), and the trailers and featurettes shown for his new film made me want to see it. There wasn't much time for audience Q&A so it felt rushed, but in any case there were way too many people with personal pleas/comments as opposed to questions, which was frustrating and uncomfortable at times.
  • Storm Surfers 3D: almost made me want to take up surfing, at least up until the point where Tom Carroll gets slammed by a wave and almost drowns. As a plus, the directors got Ross Clarke-Jones on the phone during the Q&A.
  • Key of Life: one of my favourites, a really entertaining, funny, and well-constructed story.
  • Ghost Graduation: another favourite, it's the Sixth Sense crossed with The Breakfast Club. While not necessarily the most original story, the way it's put together and the actors themselves all combine to make something satisfying.
  • Imagine: a rather soft and quiet film, it is actually quite effective at putting you in the shoes of the blind, allowing you to experience the world as the lead character senses and describes it, without giving anything away visually.
  • Smashed: short but sweet, Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives a very good performance as an alcoholic school teacher who finally realizes she has a problem. Also helped by Aaron Paul and Nick Offerman in a more dramatic turn.
  • Passion: this is not a subtle film by any stretch of the imagination, and the style is laid on quite thick in the last third of the film compared to some of his other work, more than I would have liked. But as De Palma said in the Q & A, he wanted to visually portray the mind of Noomi Rapace's character as well as find a different take on scenes that have been done to death in other films and TV, and he definitely succeeded on that front. I did like Rachel McAdams playing a manipulative character and not the wide-eyed innocent.
  • Much Ado About Nothing: I thought it was a great adaptation, although the modern setting with the original dialog took me a bit to get used to at first. But the film definitely won me over, and I especially enjoyed the rapport between Alexis Denisof as Benedick and Amy Acker as Beatrice. The rest of the cast was good as well, including Reed Diamond, Clark Gregg and Fran Kranz. And I can't forget Nathan Filion (it would've been funny if Stana Katic somehow showed up while Filion was interrogating the villains of the piece).
  • Blancanieves: very much a dark fairy tale of a young girl with no end of misfortune in her life. And I barely recognized Maribel Verdu as the evil Encarna.
  • The Thieves: a stylish heist movie, with a great action set piece on the side of a building. This film is interesting in that it essentially changes focus on who the main characters are midway, asking you to shift your allegiances and sympathies, which is a bit confusing and disconcerting.
  • Laurence Anyways: intriguing film, though going in I thought the running time would be a problem, especially after reading reviews, but I found it didn't bother me and helped to fill out the main character's journey.
  • Thale: seems like it may have come from, or could have been, a short film; it's like a Scandinavian fairy tale of sorts.
  • Room 237: kind of engrossing film, with some really interesting theories about hidden meaning in The Shining, although there are many points that seem to be a stretch. The film never takes sides or provides an opinion, it just provides an non-judgmental forum for people to air their thoughts. I thought the most interesting ones were simultaneously running two copies of the film over one another (one playing forwards and the other backwards, revealing some startling coincidences), and the various long dissolves of one scene into another.
  • Motorway; not a bad action film, with some innovations, but also some cliché plot elements, and a number of chase scenes were difficult to see because they were shot in close up or in the dark.

Miscellaneous thoughts overall:
  • Favourite comedies: Key of Life and Ghost Graduation, with Imogene an honourable mention
  • Favourite dramas: Imagine and Much Ado About Nothing
  • Favourite documentary: Storm Surfers 3D
  • Favourite Canadian film: Lawrence Anyways
  • Favourite action film: The Thieves
  • WTF?! Award: The End of Time
  • Screening with the most celebrity wattage: was a bit sparse this year because of the screenings I picked, but probably Imogene wins with Kristen Wiig, Darren Criss, and Natasha Lyonne. Honourable mention to In Conversation With Jackie Chan just because of who he is (plus the surprise cameo by Chris Tucker), and to Passion, just because Brian De Palma showed up to do a Q&A even though the screening was in the back-half of the festival.
  • I wonder if anyone asked Deepa Mehta in the Q&A for Midnight's Children what she plans to do next year for the TIFF volunteer trailer :-)
  • The team, or at least part of it, from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour (of which I am an avid listener) made the trek to TIFF this year and posted a number of reviews, and even did their regular podcast by borrowing a studio from the CBC. Have a listen for their take on TIFF and Canadian culture in general.


Thank you very much for your work on this blog, it was a great source of information on TIFF this year, particularly the new online order system.

About the people's choice award, TIFF said on their official Facebook page, ”Everything is weighted against percentage of voters based on capacity. The film that wins will be the film for which the most people voted based on how many people could vote.“ Poorly worded, but appears to mean the winner is the film whose votes-to-tickets ratio is highest. Personally I forgot to vote for any films after the first few days; I'm pretty sure I did vote for Amour and a couple of other films.

I agree with you about Key of Life (it was hilarious) and also Thale (interesting concept but a few problems in the execution). I didn't see any of the other films you saw. I was at one screening of Midnight's Children, nobody asked that question of Deepa Mehta! About that volunteer trailer, for the first week of the festival I was wondering if all the "auditioners" were celebrities, or just those two.

From what I understand (or I should say, from what someone told me who seemed to know what he was talking about, but might not), the problem with scheduling weekday-morning screenings is that the Yonge and Dundas cinemas are all used as lecture halls by Ryerson, and fully occupied weekday mornings. Despite that, there are still enough other venues. I think that TIFF ought to ensure that every morning of the festival (except day 1), there are at least 6 films beginning before 10:30, to give enough options to both the daytime-pass-holders and the filmgourmands who want to gorge on 60 TIFF movies.

Thanks, and thanks for your updates and contributions this year, the info you added was a big help in my own planning and picking.

Guess it does sound like the voting takes into account the relative sizes of the screenings, which is good to hear.

Do you know if they mix in press or industry screenings at any of the public theatres or if they're kept separate? Always wondered if that had an effect on available theatres. This year, Scotiabank doesn't have any morning screenings during the week. Maybe it's a Cineplex staffing issue?

Great wrap up - thanks again for all the info you've provided!

Yes, the P&I screenings are mixed into the public theatres - I know that Scotia has P&I throughout the day and I think that Lightbox also has P&I. But I believe that some of the P&I screenings are placed in the smaller theatres which aren't used for public screenings.

About the P&I screenings, sorry to respond so late but I meant to tell you that I had some photos of the last four days of the P&I schedule, in case you're interested. This was at the top of the escalator at the Scotiabank theatre: TIFF press screenings pics on Picasa Web Albums

My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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