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Festival News
My festival
It takes countless people to make the Toronto International Film Festival happen. Here are some of their stories

The Globe and Mail
September 10, 2002

Kerri Huffman
Festival widow

I've attended the festival twice as a journalist, and I also worked it twice as a publicist for a film company. I think because I've been through it, it makes me a little more patient -- not a lot more patient -- in understanding the crazy hours and the demands that are placed on my husband, Steve [Gravestock, TIFF's manager of festival programming].

I find the hardest thing is actually not during the festival, but the month and a half leading up to it. It's summer, and where I work now, the summer is less busy and I'd like to go out at night and sit on the patio. Of course, Steve's always working. I see him only on Saturdays, but other than that I become what's called a Festival Widow. I go home from work, I eat alone all week long, and I rarely see him. When he is home, he's literally watching videos all night long -- I'll go down at 4 in the morning and he's still at it.

Life during the festival is weird enough because I work at the University of Toronto and there's an energy there that has to do with the start of the school year. So I go to work and it's very hectic.

But then I go home and get all dressed up and go to the festival, and for all the unhappy parts, there are some really great moments. I get the inside scoop on what films to see. And then I get to go to cocktail parties and dinners that Steve hosts for his directors, and I meet these interesting people who I'd never in a million years get to meet otherwise. A couple of years ago, we had drinks with Jean-Luc Godard. He is such an imposing figure and everyone was starstruck and nervous that they would say something stupid.

Everyone wants to know if I see any stars at these parties, and I do, but you get used to it -- certainly I think the people who work at the festival get used to it. Once I was at a party that was packed with movie stars, and it was only when I saw [the Toronto Blue Jays'] Carlos Delgado that my knees just started to shake.

Because I'm a writer and not in the film industry, it's not all business talk. And I think they appreciate it, too, that I'm not quizzing them: "When is your film opening? Who have you spoken to? Did you sell it today?" In the past, I spent one opening-night party talking about literature with Brian de Palma. The other night I had dinner with Baltasar Kormakur [director of The Sea and 101 Reykjavik], and we were talking about horses. I rode growing up, and he owns horses, and he said, "Well, come in the summer, and you can ride horses across Iceland." In real life, that sort of thing doesn't happen that often!

Lesley McLaughlin
Freelance makeup and hair artist

It's chaotic, crazy and busy. The film festival is the 10-day stretch when I know I'm going to go non-stop. I get booked for a particular person for a particular film. The film festival people take me to their room or they come to an already arranged room early in the morning and I do their makeup and hair there. Then I stay with them all day just making sure I'm keeping them fresh and finished.

I get to talk to them early and figure out what they like.

I just follow my instincts. I know what they need. I know they don't want to be pawed at all day or have people thinking they have to have their makeup fixed all the time. I try to be low-key. You're set up to handle whatever happens. If they're going to a gala then we take them after dinner and get them fixed up.

There's a group around each other all day and we gab and if they don't want to then you give them their space. I love this, it's one of my favourite things to do.

I take it on fully and I try to see some of the movies. There's something about watching it with the people when it first comes out. It's very intense.

I get some odd requests. I always ask if there are any special requests that people have and one time when I asked, everyone said no. So I showed up with all my curling irons and rollers and everyone was like, "No, I need this kind." So I had to run out and find a certain kind of rollers. I spent a half an hour calling places trying to find these rollers.

The guys all have requests for taste-good lip-gloss. I give them a choice between flavoured and plain and most of them choose flavoured.

It's wonderful to watch them as real people and watching how wonderful they are when they perform.

Even people I've been warned about are fine as long as you're real with them. You can be told, "Okay get away from me now," and I can understand that. But it doesn't happen often.

I really noticed the paparazzi last year. They knew where the people were and times when they'd be there. They were always around last year. Because I've been watching it throughout the years, I noticed more people made a concerted effort last year to come out and see the stars. There were so many fans who came out to see Hayden Christensen -- he is such a sweetheart. I've been mobbed in cars and had to take different routes to avoid the crowd.

I always ask the actors about the Toronto audience and how they find the fans and they always say, "It's easy to walk around here and not feel threatened." They feel they have a little more freedom here than other places.

John D'rozario
Signatures Restaurant
Hotel Intercontinental

Once I was doing the minibar and I was in Tony Danza's room, but I couldn't recognize him because he looked skinnier. He was asking for jelly beans. He loves them, he finished two jars. And as I was leaving I realized it was him and I turned and said, "Hey, Tony." And then he smiled and came up and shook my hand.

The last film festival we had a famous actor from India staying with us. He was in the movie Gandhi; he is like our Al Pacino in India. One day I was serving lunch and I noticed him in the restaurant with a very pretty girl from India. So I told his waitress who he was and she introduced herself to him and he was very surprised that she knew who he was. I think later he realized that I must have told her because he came up to me and said "Hi," and I was very pleased.

We get very busy. The film stars are not like our regular customers. The business people are very organized, but film people are not organized and it gets a bit messy. It can be frustrating for a waiter.

From my point of view, stars are making millions of dollars and the waiter's expectation is higher, but it's not always the case. Usually they just tip the regular 15 per cent.

They never order much. Maybe a pot of tea or a Diet Coke. They don't eat much, I guess because they're stars.

Mary Moore
Food and beverage manager
Roy Thomson Hall

It's crazy. You go on autopilot for 10 days. If someone says they're tired it really doesn't matter because everyone is. You have to think on your feet and you are sleep deprived, but we love it.

We get things like the wrong food delivered for the wrong night. Or 300 of our guests are having a good time and want to come back later and we have to try and gather up food and staff. Or there's red wine spilled on 12 of the 15 linens and we have to try to find more. Clients have called the day of an event and said, "I've changed my mind about the linens and the wine."

We've seen racks of dishes fall off the back of the truck the day of a dinner. These things happen all the time, but when it happens during the film festival it raises the bar a little.

Usually we have about two or three events per evening. And those guests, although they've had fairly substantial meals, still want to take popcorn in with them. You've got to have popcorn with a movie.

We only have popcorn here during the festival and we go through tons of it. You get really sick of popcorn after 10 days of popcorn.

We serve thousands of meals and we get special requests. Some star who wants to be a regular person wants to have a hamburger instead of what everyone else is having. We have to keep all the orders straight.

Initially it's really exciting to see all the stars. Some are just regular people, but it's my experience that sometimes it's better to leave whatever stars you think you want to meet in your imagination. Sometimes they can be disappointing. But quite a few years ago I met Sophia Loren and she was just stunning, I was speechless. And Robert Redford made eye contact with me once, that was thrilling.

Mina Shum, filmmaker
For me, now that I don't go to high school any more, this time of year has become the beginning of film-festival year. It's a very exciting time. You never know what to wear.

As a Canadian, going to a leading international festival in Canada is great. It's less alienating than going to Italy and not being able to negotiate in your own language. It's almost like Toronto gets taken over in this thing called the film festival.

The day I premiered Double Happiness (in 1994) I was broke, because when you make a film, you put all your money into it. I went to the CIBC to take out my last $100, and I was so excited about my film that I left my money there. That's indicative of how exciting this thing is.

You're on your feet all the time and there's a lot of, "Where did I leave my drink?" But it's okay. I remember one time I was at a party and my producer said to me, "Let's go dance." And I said, "But I'm not done my drink yet." And he said, "That's okay, it's sponsored."

With Double Happiness, I was up one night until 4, and eating doughnuts at 3:30 trying to sober up because I had an interview at 7 with Canada AM. Now I've learned that you don't stay for the whole festival. You condense the partying and sleep-deprived thing to about four or five days.

It's not a fault with the festival, but I never get to see any of the films any more because I'm so busy with the events. When I had a short film in the festival, I actually got to see the films because you don't get invited to any of the parties. The way they co-ordinate the events in Toronto is that you go from one party to another - you don't have to choose, which is good.

One of the things I noticed at these things is people talking to you but not really talking to you. They're looking around to see who else there is to talk to. One of my best friends now is someone I met a few years back at a festival, and we were talking to each other and not looking away, and that's what we bonded over.

I think the audience makes the film festival. They're enthusiastic, the screenings are sold out in two days - it makes you feel like people care.

Gerard Chrysostum-Louis
Front-of-House Supervisor, Roy Thomson Hall

It's a really intense couple of weeks just with the volume of people we get. Usually there are two gala screenings a night, and you have to get one group in and the other group out. Some of the Hollywood types can be a little impatient, like, "Don't you know who I am? I'm going out this door."

It's really a matter of getting people to where they're supposed to be. A lot of the time, people get placed in seats they weren't expecting, and we have to be able to accommodate that and make sure that they are comfortable.

Last year Kenneth Branagh was here, and I was watching him out front on the red carpet, and I saw him completely charm the media. He was talking to everyone and smiling, and when he came into the building I saw his whole body relax. Denzel Washington was here last year too and everybody was so excited to see him.

The stars are very guarded. They are moved in their little entourages and moved out. You have no contact with them. Just watching the buzz, you'll hear people whisper, "Oh there's so-and-so," but half the time you don't even know if it's them.

We keep an eye on things and make sure they get in smoothly. For the most part, fans just want to take their pictures or get their autographs. They don't cause any trouble.

Because of 9/11, things got cancelled and delayed last year. A lot of people went home to see their families. So there were very few people who came out to the hall to see the premiere of [Atanarjuat] The Fast Runner. But after the film, the whole cast came out into the lobby and there were no more than 50 people, and they just kept applauding. It went on for about 10 minutes. It was totally unexpected and really amazing to see.

A lot of parties were cancelled as well last year. There wasn't much of a buzz at all; it really brought it all back down to earth.

The film festival is a really big thing for the hall and staff. You really get a kick out of being right in the middle of something that's so high-profile.

Kevin Daniels
Operations Manager, Personnelle Limousine Ltd.

We become machines. Everyone works, like, 24 hours a day, based on demand.

The drivers start early in the morning for interviews and early screenings. Then they have to get ready for the gala films and then the after-parties. Some drivers are out until 3 or 4 a.m. The more experienced drivers are put on the gala because after the show, a driver must know the hot spots, restaurants and where all the parties are.

The most irritating thing for us is Metro Licensing's failure to recognize that there is a much higher demand for cars than there are actual cars in the city. During the festival, it is tough for us to get enough cars to attend to the millions of people who come into the city.

We sell out all of our cars every festival. We have requests beyond our fleet.

Last year was extreme because of Sept. 11. We found ourselves driving out of town many times because people wouldn't fly. I think the farthest we went was New York City.

The most interesting part of the festival is fooling the paparazzi. We're constantly coming up with Plan B's - arranging detours, pickups at the back or in the alleys, setting up dummy entrances to make it look like the main entrance, and then you drive by the front and watch everyone waiting excitedly for the door to open.

Funny enough, you rarely see tips in the car during the festival. Everyone gets into the car because they are told to. During the festival, people don't look at the service as if it's been personally ordered for them.

We look forward to the film festival every year. We know not to bother them for autographs; we're part of a circle of trust. If you're starstruck, then you need to get out of the business.

Leslie Mclaughlin, John D'rozario, Mary Moore, Mina Shum, Gerard Chrysostum-Louis and Kevin Daniels spoke to Sarah Kennedy. Kerri Huffman spoke to Rebecca Caldwell.

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