Taylor Swift? Harry Styles? Fine, but how about more movies and decent press access?

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | Sept. 29, 2022

Jorge with Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival was a muted affair. After two years of going virtual thanks to the pandemic, the decade’s first in-person festival was lean, and had little bite. I mean “lean” not just in the number of films (200, down from 333 in 2019), but also journalist accommodations: The press lounge was a third the size it used to be, the once ubiquitous free beverages disappeared, and the handy paper schedule was eliminated.

If once upon a time you got a bag of goodies with your press pass, now you should count your blessings you got a lanyard. I know, ‘cry me a river, guy who watches movies for a living.’ But given that the vast majority of journalists attending the fest aren’t bankrolled by their outlets, every little expense adds up. I know a handful critics who only ate at parties, and those were exceedingly rare this year. Lots of grumbling tummies at screenings. Personally, I had a lot of Popeyes.

The Big Ticket Item

TIFF ’22’s big coup was bringing Steven Spielberg to the festival for the first time ever. The American auteur wasn’t just introducing any random movie, but his most personal yet — The Fabelmans, a lightly fictionalized account of what it was like growing up at the filmmaker’s household. Spielberg got a hero’s reception (most of the audience grew up watching his movies, myself included), but the film was middle of the road by his standards: affecting, but lacking the emotional punch of Schindler’s List or A.I. As was expected, The Fabelmans won the People’s Choice Award, an early Oscar buzz indicator. Surely that wasn’t the reason Spielberg brought his latest picture to TIFF…

Searching For Parasites

The South Korean presence at the festival was noticeable. Six high-profile features had their North American premieres, including two efforts by known auteurs: Broker by Japanese master Hirokazu Koreeda (working with a Korean cast) and Decision to Leave by Park Chan-wook (Oldboy). The protagonist of the Netflix phenomenon Squid Game, Lee Jung-Jae, brought his directorial debut Hunt to the fest. The film, starring Lee himself, blends political fiction with high-octane action and violence. The number of double and triple crossings, shifting alliances and changes of heart in Hunt puts Infernal Affairs to shame and makes it nearly impossible to follow. But kudos for the ambition.

Gimme Shelter

Toronto has never been a cheap city, but during TIFF prices become absurd. You would be hard pressed to find an hotel room for under $400 a day or an Airbnb under $300.

Given my terrible experience from TIFF ’19 that had me lining up outside a police station instead of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, I went with tried-and-true and ended up sleeping on a twin bed in a very hot apartment off-Spadina for a week, the same I stayed at nine years ago. One thing I didn’t see then was rats. Rats the size of cats. I get that downtown Spadina is a restaurant area, but come on. The rats looked like daily all-you-can-eat buffet customers. They dissuaded me from attending the Midnight Madness shows a couple of nights. Who wants to deal with rodents of unusual size at two in the morning? Not even Cary Elwes.

Interviews? What Interviews?

In line with the rest of the downsized festival, access to the talent was way down (many stars just came to walk the red carpet. Weak). If, at an average TIFF, I get 10 to 12 interviews and roundtables (avoid, avoid) with at least a couple with A-listers, this year I did four with no one my grandma would recognize. That said, one was a junket with Park Chan-wook, because why wouldn’t you. The man directed The Handmaiden, Thirst and the Vengeance trilogy. I also talked with the director of Rare Exports about his not-so-Christmassy movie Sisu and documentary filmmaker Brett Morgen about his Bowie extravaganza Moonage Daydream.

And I caught up with Oscar winner and fellow Chilean Sebastián Lelio about his movie with Florence Pugh, The Wonder. We’re the same age. He makes me feel like an underachiever.

Nobody Cares, Everyone Coughs

Masks were (very mildly) encouraged but few embraced the recommendation. For the press-and-industry screenings, I would put mask use at 70 per cent, a number that plunged as the event went on. Several journos and publicists got COVID, but that didn’t change any minds. I strongly suspect if Ebola ever becomes airborne, we’re toast. Thanks so much to everyone in the “you’re infringing my civil liberties by stopping me from spreading my diseases” crowd. ■


TIFF ’22 Fast Facts

It’s a good bet most people who truly love movies still prefer seeing them in theatres. But what upcoming films are worth the price of a ticket and $30 popcorn? What should you avoid? Here’s my recommendations. /Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Top Flicks

EO A Polish drama about a donkey on the loose? Beautiful, poignant, and extremely weird.

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN Writer/director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) simplifies his schtick to portray two friends falling out.

OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN The best kind of movie at TIFF is the one you’re not planning to watch, and it pleasantly surprises you.

HOLY SPIDER Imagine Law and Order: SVU set in Iran and with half the population supporting the killer for “moral” reasons.

THE FABELMANS Spielberg captures how small cracks in a marriage can end up destroying its foundation.

TIFF Trash

PRISONER’S DAUGHTER A glorified TV movie with Kate Beckinsale miscast as a waitress and terrible acting by The All-American Rejects frontman.

V/H/S/99 One could forgive the film-school production values (part of the anthology series’ ethos), but the scripts are embarrassing.

ALICE, DARLING Emerging from the water to symbolize rebirth is so a decade-and-300-movies ago.

THE WORST ONES Documentary filmmakers manipulating reality for their own benefit? Great idea. Knowing what to do with it would have been nice.

PEARL On paper, a Douglas Sirk-style horror film sounds delightful. In reality, we get an angry girl hacking people out of frustration.