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Where do I start?

Everyman filmgoer Victor Dwyer consults learned movie critics Johanna Schneller and Liam Lacey on the fine art of festival-going. Their advice? Establish your movie agenda, pack deodorant, and keep one eye out for that vigorous, dirty Dutch sex

From Saturday's Globe and Mail


Hail thee, oh twin oracles of the filmic festival whose gods and goddess are now descending, a-glitter and a-bow-tied and a-Jimmy Choo'd, onto the klieg-light-washed shores of Tinseltown-on-the-Great-Lake. I appear before you today on bended knee, beseeching your wise counsel and in humble recognition of your role as erudite interpreters of moviedom and professional prophets of the picture show.

For, lo these many years, I - a mere citizen filmgoer and generally obtuse diviner of celluloid merit (especially when it comes to the foreign stuff) - have had a singular adroitness for choosing film-festival movies that either (a) stink more than Vancouver during a garbage strike or (b) sound good on paper but are more inscrutable, in the watching, than the logic that would lead a Sûreté du Québec officer to wear standard-issue boots on his agent-provocateur shift. What I have a genuine knack for bypassing, alas, are the cinematic gems that glow brighter than Danny Williams's halo in the fabled land of Hebron.

In front of me on my desk is a TIFF catalogue. In it are 340-something films unspooling over 10 frenzied days. At best, I can hope to see maybe one in 10 of them. Where to begin? How to decide? And, if we have time at the end, what was with those Sûreté boots?

Liam: Obviously, the right footwear is as key to a film summit as it is to a free-trade one. At TIFF, there's a whole lot of line-standing, getting toes stepped on and (gently) kicking the seat in front of you.

Victor: And, as Johanna can tell you, strategic placement of one or both feet in the door of certain middle-of-the night, column-required parties.

Johanna: But for those you need stilettos, fellas.

Liam: Also required: proper hydration, pain medication, breath-freshener and deodorant, as per any event involving long hours with germ-carrying, faux-butter-eating, haven't-been-home-since-that-9-a.m.-screening strangers in close proximity.

As for the films, you have to establish your agenda. Is your goal to see the big movies first so you can enjoy bragging rights for the rest of the fall? In that case, just track the name directors: David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises; The Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men. Also, stick to Special Presentations and the Gala programs and you'll see most of the likely Oscar faves: Paul Haggis's In the Valley of Elah; George Clooney's lawyer movie Michael Clayton; the CIA torture film Rendition, with Reese Witherspoon; Cassandra's Dream, by Woody Allen; and The Brave One, with Jodie Foster.

Victor: Jodie channelling Bernhard Goetz channelling Aileen Wuornos - "a radical feminist militia of one" who avenges the murder of her fiancé (and, I hope everyone's sitting down, the kidnapping of her dog) by viciously terrorizing a whole lot of men. I've noticed there's also a for-the-tots counterpart to Jodie's lost-it spree in the festival's Sprockets Family Zone series. The Besieged Fortress is about a mad-as-hell, had-it-up-to-here termite colony; the catalogue promises viewers will be rabidly "cheering for the same creatures that devour your beams at home."

Johanna: Me, I plan to be first in line to see Elizabeth: The Golden Age, solely because of Clive Owen's costume and facial hair as Sir Walter Raleigh. Rrowf! I'm hoping the look catches on, at least for Halloween. It's festive all right.

Liam: Right. Its post-TIFF premiere is Oct. 12, just in time to get your jerkin patched and your codpiece padded. Which raises a question: What's the point of fighting the festival crowds to see movies that will be in the multiplex in a couple of months anyway?

For me, the heart of the festival is the Contemporary World Cinema program, about 60 or so films from all over the world that range wildly in quality, from profound to abysmal. It's like playing the slots. You lose a lot of time and some money, but every once in a while, there's a big ka-ching.

Victor: Okay, I've just flipped to that section in the catalogue, and at a glance, I'd say you're right. It's the Contemporary World Crapshoot. Several things look promising, though, especially Sarnia, Ont.-born Bruce Sweeney's American Venus, in which the always darkly divine Rebecca De Mornay plays a crazed figure-skating mom.

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