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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

A door-crasher's guide to the Toronto film festival

Globe and Mail
Thursday, Sep. 4, 2003

Alex Mamlet got his start as a professional party crasher at the Toronto International Film Festival.Two years ago, he and partner Amir Bar-Lev made a documentary about their attempts to wheedle their way into all the most important cinematic soirees, come hell or high security. ''As independent filmmakers on the festival circuit, party crashing was something we were doing naturally, so we thought, ''Why not bring a camera along?' ''

The result is Kid Protocol, a documentary short featuring Mr. Mamlet commandeering limousines, faking an identity as a film distributor, dressing up as the help, and attempting to charm the so-called "clipboard Nazis" who lurk behind every velvet rope.

Since then, Mr. Mamlet has become a leader among crashers, that strange subculture of people who will lie, cheat and dress up like chambermaids to get into parties without invitations. When the film festival rolls into town today, crashing season officially begins. Over the next two weeks, hundreds will try to smuggle themselves into exclusive galas and celebrity dinner parties, but only a skilled handful are likely to succeed.

For Mr. Mamlet, the highlight of his festival crash crawl was the notoriously status-tiered barbecue at the Canadian Film Centre hosted by Norman Jewison. Sneaking into the CFC picnic was a military obstacle course of social scamming. First he snuck onto the bus; then he got into the party, and finally he managed to talk his way into the exclusive VIP tent. "It was a great crash," he said. "The best thing about it is that once you get into the party, everyone loves a crasher. You're the underdog."

Mr. Mamlet sees crashing as part of the mandatory modus operandi of any young independent filmmaker. While there are a lot of lavish parties at TIFF filled with the famous and the powerful, attendance is often restricted to big industry players and media. The struggling directors and writers who come to screen their work are rarely invited to anything above the minor-league events.

"The film-festival circuit is fun, and the parties are one of the few perks of being a young filmmaker. But even that one perk has to be fought for.

"I consider [crashing] a kind of performance art. At the end of the day, it's not really about sneaking into these parties. In the long run I don't really care about meeting celebrities or schmoozing; it's really just about attacking the ideal."

He describes that ideal as "the elitist party system where the people at the top get everything." And he is not above admitting that the free booze is also a serious draw.

Mr. Mamlet's well-honed techniques have grown to include impersonating journalists, reading the guest list upside down and simply sailing past security with such an air of entitlement and confidence that no one would dare question his presence.

"No one's going to stop you once you're inside, so it's really about getting past the initial security at the door. In the end it's really about balls. To be a great party crasher, you really have to have balls of steel and be a master bullshitter."

But as security becomes ever tighter, party crashers are being forced to get serious about their craft.

"Any time you have a party with famous people attached, it gets crazy," says Viia Beaumanis, features editor at Fashion magazine. A former Toronto social columnist and nightclub owner, Ms. Beaumanis still attends the occasional film festival party, always with invitation in hand. "At the Alliance Atlantis party last year you had to show a passport at the door -- I don't how people manage to crash something like that. It would be easier to sneak into Guatemala."

Ms. Beaumanis recommends that would-be crashers do their homework.

"If you're going to crash, crash through connections. It's more about smart planning than anything," she said. "If you're halfway connected, you can probably manage to get on the list."

But connections, say diehard crashers, are beside the point. While many young filmmakers crash industry parties to schmooze executives and cozy up to all-powerful Hollywood stars, other crashers do it purely for the rush of getting inside.

"The act of crashing is actually more fun than the parties themselves," said Jamie Reid, a Toronto civil servant and veteran TIFF party slip-in. "During the festival it all about just showing up at places, making myself believe I belong there and just sort of walking in. There's no strategy or goal to it. The key thing is not having a professional stake."

Mr. Reid eschews disguises, preferring instead to make a dignified entrance by simply sauntering in with panache. When attempting to slip by the door people, he says, "look them in the eye, smile and nod. If you look like you know them they will probably default to thinking they know you. Don't be dodgy. Always try to chat with someone very briefly at the door. And remember, when in doubt, all publicists are named either Karen or Deborah."

If you do get caught at the door, Mr. Reid says, the best method of attack is to behave in an authoritative but pleasant manner, as if there must be some mistake.

Because crashing is generally considered the height of social rudeness, impeccable manners are often the crasher's best weapon.

"You have to look at it from the door person's perspective," Mr. Mamlet said. "The world of a publicist outside a party sucks; you've got three people on the headset yelling at you, a clipboard full of names of people who should be there and a lineup of angry people outside. Any ray of sunshine in that world is rewarded."

It is the only approach that works with Kevin Pennant, head of the Pennant Media Group. After doing PR for Warner Brothers and many events for TIFF (including parties for Deborah Cox and Kevin Spacey), Mr. Pennant has seen every party-crashing trick in the book. So has veteran Toronto party publicist Danielle Iversen, who is organizing two festival events this year, and while the publicist might seem like the crasher's archenemy, Mr. Pennant and Ms. Iversen are relatively amiable toward wannabe invitees, so long as they have something to offer.

"Sometimes parties crashers aren't a bad thing if they have a purpose for being there. If someone is working on a related project or they're there to network and gather information, I'll generally let them in," Mr. Pennant said.

"Have the balls to come up to me and look me in the eye and tell me why you want in, and then maybe we can work something out.

"I'm a reasonable person." ROBTv Workopolis