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Soo Lyu's big moment
It's a Canadian film director's big moment: the day her first feature film debuts at the Toronto International Film Festival. For Rub and Tug's Soo Lyu it's a day of excitement with more than its share of tension

September 11, 2002

Soo Lyu signs an autograph

Soo Lyu shares the excitement and anticipation of her festival experiencevideo link

It's midnight on Sept. 10. Canadian director Soo Lyu has been awake since early morning and her exhaustion is starting to show. She's at her own premiere party, still half-smiling and hugging those who come over to congratulate her.

But her tired eyes resemble those of a bride who's trying hard to follow that clichéd advice: Enjoy your big day because it goes by so fast. And while the day has not gone off hitch-free, Lyu is allowing herself to finally relax and congratulate herself.

The day began at 6 a.m., an ungodly hour for someone who's been spending the week going to late-night parties. But Rub and Tug's first press and industry screening was at 8 a.m. and Lyu wanted to be at the theatre in plenty of time.

She didn't really need to be there, but Lyu was adamant about talking to the projectionist beforehand to make sure he used the right settings. A guy in Ottawa had gotten something wrong at a screening there, and Lyu doesn't want anything to mess up this time.

After an error-free showing, it's straight back to the hotel suite rented out by her distributor and its PR company for media interviews. Later, there's time for a late breakfast with one of the film's stars Don McKellar, and a cigarette or two. Then, it's back to more interviews with publications like the Montreal Gazette and the Georgia Straight.

Lyu is still getting used to this interview stuff. Her crew members will tell you it's not in the shy director's nature to be doing so much talking about herself. It shows. Lyu answers questions slowly, listening carefully to what you're asking, giving it some thought, before answering.

A film fest veteran is a lot quicker on the draw, with a scripted answer in hand, ready to throw out the sound bites that reporters love because they make for snappy quotes. But Lyu is savouring the process.

"Basically, I tell reporters the same things because they ask similar questions," Lyu says. "But sometimes, the interviewers ask light, funny questions and other times they ask tough questions about each of the characters. So it can be interesting."

She's been doing this all week. First it was CityTV's Festival Schmooze, a big jam-packed show, aired live on a Toronto TV station. Lyu and her cast were the hit of the party. They got all glammed up before hand, with the three female stars wearing sleek white dresses, crystal tiaras and feather boas.

The outfits worked. Lyu found herself bombarded with television interviews and the cast found themselves on the cover of The Festival Daily, the daily TIFF newspaper.

"You should have seen it,' says Lyu's producer Ed Stanulis. "Soo was just going from camera to camera to camera. She never stopped moving. It was so great."

Later, over the weekend, there was the big party at the Canadian Film Centre, another important chance to see and be seen. And then it was a week of more of those hotel suite interviews.

After the breakfast meeting, one of Lyu's interviews cancels and the director has enough time to talk about how she's feeling just hours before the public screening. She never says she's nervous - and who wouldn't be - preferring to tell us, and perhaps herself, it's really more of a happy excitement going through her.

"I'm very excited. I've been looking forward to this for so long," she says. She then takes stock of the moment, and her gratitude. "As a first time filmmaker, I really feel so privileged to be doing this."

Rub and Tug has been screened once before to a large audience, the one in Ottawa over the summer. But it was mostly film industry types there. This time it's showing to a general audience who aren't family or friends of the cast or there because they're paid to review the film. These are regular filmgoers who've heard the talk about the film and are here because they want to see it.

Lyu says she'll know whether her film's a success by the reaction of this audience.

"I'm really hoping the audience will be with the film and will laugh with the film," she says, before shifting into self-assured director mode.

"In Ottawa, that was fabulous. Everyone laughed and enjoyed it. It gave me so much confidence. I think that because that first one went so well, that I'm really confident this will go well, too.

Lyu shows up at the theatre a full hour before the screening at 9:30 p.m. She wants another last-minute check with the projectionist, and she wants to sneak a peek at how many people have showed up.

Thankfully, the street outside the theatre is jammed. There's even a long line of Rush ticket seekers, those filmgoers who hope that if someone who bought a festival pass doesn't show up, there'll be room for them. Minutes before the show begins, about a dozen are let in. The rest go home disappointed.

The cast pulls up in a Towne car, wearing sexy tops, jeans and high heels, 15 minutes before the show begins. The audience is allowed in, the cast follows, and Soo Lyu is introduced to the crowd by Festival organizers. She quietly steps up to the microphone, thanks the audience for coming and tells them how pleased she is to see so many people. She then heads back to the seat and the lights go down.

Ten minutes before the end of the film, disaster strikes. Something's gone very wrong with the focus. It's a crucial scene and the audience can't see what they're looking at. Lyu and her producer Stanulis rush out the back doors in a panic, frantically demanding that something be done right away, clearly furious.

A theatre staffer radios over to the projectionist who fiddles with the controls. Within minutes, the focus is fixed.

But Lyu can't calm down. Stanulis tries to assure her that no one will remember the problem, that they're too busy laughing and enjoying it. But Lyu is not pleased. Before she can seethe any further, the movie ends and the audience is cheering the credits. Lyu and Stanulis go back in, to the sound of applause.

From all appearance, Lyu's hopes have been realized: the crowd seems to love the film. They laugh at all the right places, get hushed during the climactic last act, and applaud the cast as their names roll across the screen.

But that projectionist is going to be a sorry man. So now that it's all done, how does director Soo Lyu feel about her first film's big debut? Check in again Friday Sept. 13th for Lyu's final thoughts on her first experience at the Toronto Film Festival.

Next screening: Saturday, Sept. 14, 1 PM, Uptown 3

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