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I love to party, but it's the films that make the festival


Friday, September 15, 2000

This is the part of the week where everyone decides whether 2000 will go down in history as a good festival or a mediocre one, whether all those stiff necks and bad sandwiches were worth the effort.

No two people ever have the same experience, of course. I have at least a dozen colleagues who've spent 10 days and nights in the same four-block radius as I have, yet I've never seen them. But, somehow, we reach a consensus.

Usually, this is also the time when people complain about the festival's sprawl -- how it's no longer just one festival, focused on films. It's many parallel festivals: the hotel-corridor festival of interviews and press conferences; the meeting-room festival of buyers; the taxicab festival of going to as many parties and drinking as many cosmopolitans as possible and still getting up for an 8:30 (okay, a 9:30) screening.

But I think 2000 is different in that respect. Though we've spent a lot of time talking about how things have changed in the past 25 years, I think we've at last accepted that the mom-and-pop store has forever evolved into a major franchise. It's sprawling, flashy, enervating, annoying, and delightful, and finally, we like it that way.

But when the klieg lights are snapped off and one's bottom gradually unflattens (we live in hope, right?), what remains are just a couple of images, a handful of stories.

The celebrity who kept the press waiting the longest this year (2½ hours!) was Minnie Driver. Luckily, the Destination Films hospitality suite had a buffet; reporters made each other nachos and licked the chocolate off every last strawberry. Minnie's tardiness, however, can't compete with that of model/actress Claudia Schiffer last year: Reporters were told to sit tight, Claudia would be there soon. Eventually it was revealed that she was still at the airport in New York. "But it's a short flight," her flacks said, straight-faced.

The party with the tightest security was for InStyle magazine: the entire block in front of the Windsor Arms Hotel was cordoned off; there were police and private security guys and staffers with headphones and clipboards, and three separate check-in points. Inside, the food was lovely and the flowers were nice, but who the heck was there? Mark Wahlberg went straight to his room; I saw Marcia Gay Harden and Farrah Fawcett. Admittedly, Farrah looked like she needed some protecting -- her hair was a cloud of wild curls, her breasts billowed alarmingly under her tight white sweater, her silver pants and blue eyes glowed a little too intensely. But I'm not sure a couple of babes with clipboards can do that job.

Of course, I get a kick out of the parties: Who was the woman Philip Seymour Hoffman was hugging so warmly on Saturday night in the VIP area at the Royal Ontario Museum? What made the tight little knot of actor Willem Dafoe, photographer Herb Ritts and director Kathryn Bigelow laugh so hard at the Premiere party on Sunday evening? Did any of the leggy twentysomethings at the Lion's Gate party on Tuesday night have anything at all to do with Lion's Gate?

Still, I love the movies best: the thrilling discontinuity you feel going straight from Christopher Guest's wacky Best in Show into four bleak Beckett shorts; the coincidence that I saw three films in a row featuring people being kicked in the head; and, especially, the public matinees when the director takes questions afterward.

The highlight for me this year was at Wednesday afternoon's screening of the Jackson Pollock biopic, starring and directed by Ed Harris, who laboured over it for more than 10 years. After his first answer, when Harris revealed that he knows the name of Pollock's high-school art teacher, the vast audience at the Uptown One knew we were dealing with an obsessed man. Then a couple of well informed women dared to question Harris's vision, and he got testy.

One asked why Harris didn't include the allegation that Pollock used to beat his artist wife. Harris was visibly rattled. "Where'd you hear that? From a book? Who wrote it? I have a stack of books this high, I never read that," he spat out. "Their relationship was certainly verbally abusive."

Another asked why Harris showed Pollock discovering drip painting in a single moment of inspiration, instead of the long process of evolution she understood it to be. First he corrected her pronunciation of Pollock's name. Then he went into a long rant about how difficult it was to condense an 800-page biography into a 100-page film (which is the filmmaker's problem, not the audience's, and didn't address her legitimate question). It ended with him practically shouting, "I was trying to make a two-hour movie, not a five-hour movie, give me a fucking break here."

He followed that immediately with, "Hey, I'm just kidding. I hate being defensive, it's just my nature." And he later apologized to both women. But by then the crowd was divided.

We were united, too, though -- we'd had an experience. All of us, in that great big theatre, together. Which is precisely what the festival is about. Wouldn't it be great if we could carry that feeling into every movie we see all year?

As I was exiting the InStyle party, a wall of flashbulbs went off. Behind me, Farrah was leaving, too. So I now have a new way to gauge things, a new catch-phrase: When Farrah leaves the party, you know it's time to go.

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