TIFF 2009 #2: A Stampede and Some Fine Line Wrangling

Today was the official start of my TIFF ’09 moviegoing and, to mark the occasion, I decided to walk to my inaugural screening. I chose a route right through the heart of festival central – Yorkville – and, thus, encountered not one but TWO celebrity swarmings en route to the AMC.

The first happened near the Four Seasons. A couple of blocks away, I could already hear the distinctive, high-pitched screeching of tween girls in a full-on lather, so I figured there was a young, cute, famous boy (or boys) around somewhere. I knew the Jonas Brothers were staying at that hotel – thanks to extensive TV coverage of their comings and goings – and, as I got closer and could gauge the median age of the screamers (answer: about 13 years old), I knew it was Jo-Bro-induced mayhem I was about to behold.

And behold it I did as, no joke, several dozen of these girls came stampeding along the sidewalk right at me, wielding cameras and cellphones, because an enormous SUV containing one or more of the Jonas boys was stopped at a stoplight beside me. May I just say: these girls are nuts! I mean, freaky nuts. They descended upon that vehicle and practically swallowed it whole, screaming the entire time and literally pawing at, and pounding on, the windows! That said, I did find the whole scene hugely entertaining.

No more than 15 minutes later, I stumbled upon my second herd of fans surrounding a high-profile TIFF guest: George Clooney, who’d been making his way out the side entrance of the Sutton Place when he was met with a throng of admirers looking for photos and autographs. This crowd was comparatively more sedate, likely due to the fact that their median age was more like 28, but no less expansive in size. I didn’t actually manage to see GC myself, but I know it was him at the center of the huddle because one person after another emerged from the tangle on a cell phone, excitedly telling someone on the other end of the line some variation on, “OMIGOD!!!! I just saw GEORGE CLOONEY!!!!!!”

Anyhoo…

I carried on to my first film, which was screening at the AMC. Now, if you recall, there were problems a’plenty at that venue last year, ranging from my own experience with Grabby Glenda to the ongoing issue of line cutters sneaking in as ticketholders ascended a thousand escalators to get to the theaters. There were whispers that the festival would be adopting some kind of new, cutter-proof system this year, so I was eager to see what it might be.

When I arrived at the theater, there were no lines to be seen anywhere outside. A big sign at the foot of escalator #1 said the ticketholders’ lines were upstairs. Interesting. I followed the signs, and found myself on the food-court level… where audience members had been herded into holding pens! The spaces used for last year’s box office and merch rooms have been transformed into terrariums for ticketholders! Sadly, I wish the terrarium analogy was an exaggeration, but it isn’t – the space I was in was enclosed with big, glass windows facing south and west, which meant it had heated up quite nicely. Cram a couple hundred people into that space for half an hour and it gets TOASTY. Most peoples’ faces were flushed, and there was a lot of sweat dripping in there, and I kind of wonder if it might turn into a nice petrie dish for the H1N1 virus should anyone happen to start coughing or sneezing as they stand in wait.

BUT…

Huge kudos go to the pint-sized line wrangler who managed the proceedings last night! She was this wee spitfire with a big voice and a big personality, making regular announcements and, just before leading us all up to the theaters, reminding everyone VERY CLEARLY that it is OUR responsibility to ensure “NO ONE CUTS IN FRONT OF YOU IN LINE AS YOU GO!”

We were on it after that and, when I spotted her later, I actually congratulated her on her awesome wrangling. I don’t know what her name is, but I’m inclined to call her Super Susie. Not only that, but the AMC was so OVERstaffed with people, all being super-diligent and efficient, that it felt like a military operation… which, in my mind, is always fantastic when it comes to TIFF. It’s like someone somewhere actually paid attention to everything that went awry at that venue last fest, and actually implemented effective changes to prevent them from recurring. Biggest bonus of all? Everybody was cheerful! Who knew?

My sole screening for the day was Snowblind (6/8), a solid and occasionally moving documentary about Rachael Scdoris, a 23-year-old Oregonian and Iditarod racer who’s legally blind. Tracking her preparation for, and participation in, the 2008 trail race, the film examines the trials she faces, both from the competition itself and from the mushing community, who feel perhaps she doesn’t belong among them because of her need for a guide. There’s some really beautiful cinematography, Scdoris makes for a compelling subject and the film thankfully never reverts to any kind of maudlin or condescending “wow, she is a hero to us all!” manipulation. It’s an interesting story, and I challenge anyone not to sit right on the edge of their seat when one of Scdoris’ (lovely and adorable husky-pointer cross) dogs suddenly collapses while racing or (seriously) a helicopter nearly crashes on top of her. Some pretty great stuff.

Oh, and I know I’ve said this every year but, apparently, it bears repeating since people clearly aren’t getting the message: BREATH MINTS. Honestly, just keep some with you, especially if you’re the kind of person – like the guy sitting next to me last night – who’s a constant mouth breather. It was not pleasant. The world thanks you for your cooperation.

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