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Saturday, April 10, 2021

Film festival-ing in the pandemic

TIFF may be just another window on my computer, but the difference between a streaming platform and a platform created specifically for the festival, is that the films are lovingly, carefully curated by people who love the movies as much as you do.

Written by Shubhra Gupta
September 10, 2020 11:23:39 pm
Toronto International Film FestivalThe 45th edition of Toronto International Film Festival will take place from September 10–19.

In a world with no virus, all going according to plan, I would have been getting off a never-ending 17-hour flight from New Delhi to Ontario, Toronto just about now (Eastern Time). It would be a lovely, crisp, autumn day, and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) would be about to open. And like so many other accredited journalists, I would join the throng in front of the Bell Lightbox, the beating heart of TIFF, to collect my bag, badge, schedule, draw in a deep, delighted breath, and jump right in.

Ever tried watching a film when you are jetlagged and dead on your feet, but nothing will keep you from lining up for the first screening of the day, and then go from that one to the next to the next, till you are ready to collapse? A few hours shuteye, and then up, still in red-eye mode, to write your report, and then tear off to make the first film of the day at 8.30-45, or if the gods are kind, at 9.15? And repeat, for the next seven days?

I’m making it sound dreadful, but let me tell you, dear constant reader, there is nothing better. Your eyes can be propped up by matchsticks, and you struggle to find a balance between day and night (India is 9.5 hours ahead), and you end up either not eating for long hours or stuffing your face with unhealthy carbs (no scope for civilized sit down meals when you have ten minutes between screenings). But all is well. Because here be riches, the films we have travelled to the other end of the world for, that will make us happy, angry, sad, and every other emotion that you can think of.

In this Year Of Covid, there’s no TIFF travel for international press. But, dear constant reader, I’m happy to report that your faithful film critic is right there. Virtually. Through a screen, lightly. My computer has become my theatre, and my passport to films which will be accessible for a certain period of time, before others take their place. There won’t be the lively parades, and milling crowds on Kings Street, dotted with makeshift tables serving multi-cultural cuisine. We won’t be getting on to the steepest elevator in the universe in the Scotiabank Theatre. But the films are right where they need to be: press ‘play’, and they start.

How does it feel to be right at home, and right in the middle of one of the best film festivals in the world, at the same time? There are very few cities which feel as diverse or as accessible or easy to get about as Toronto, and the downtown area where the screening venues are, is dotted with eateries and coffee shops that become life-savers for us viewers on the move. I’m missing, of course, just the buzz of a large-scale film festival, and the efficiency and the friendliness of the TIFF volunteers in their bright orange jackets: the year before last, I fell down a few steps in the dark and twisted my ankle, and before I knew it, I was surrounded by such solicitousness that I forgot the pain.

I’m missing the long lines. Yes, I am. The slow heart-in-mouth-will-I-make-it crawl can be painful (I couldn’t get into the first screening of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma because the darn line was so long), but it’s such an intrinsic part of the festival experience. I’m missing the hanging out with fellow critics, some who make equally long journeys, and who are equally bananas. I miss being inside the theatre, holding my breath or exhaling with a thousand others at a movie moment. But between a toss-up between the computer-as-substitute, and nothing, the answer is a no-brainer.

So this latest edition of the ten-day-long-TIFF is about to open, and I’m all dressed up (six months into the pandemic, pjs have lost their charm, and I’m back to legit dressing) and I have everywhere to go: TIFF may be just another window on my computer, but the difference between a streaming platform and a platform created specifically for the festival, is that the films are lovingly, carefully curated by people who love the movies as much as you do. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have films to catch, and places to be.

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