Has Toronto's film festival become too elitist?
Published Saturday, September 13, 2008 7:42PM EDT
While tickets for the hottest movies at the Toronto International Film Fest have been hard to score in years past, some locals say this year's fest is a sell-out in more ways than one.
Big gripes with this year's edition include long lines, a pumped-up corporate presence and preferential treatment for TIFF donors.
"I think this city gives a lot to this festival," film fan Jason Keller told CTV.ca this week.
"I don't know if the average Torontonian is getting enough back,"
That's why Keller, who sees upwards of 80 movies a year in theatres, decided to boycott this year's festival -- even if that meant missing out on screenings like the Coen brothers' "Burn After Reading" and Paul Gross' First World War epic "Passchendaele."
"The stuff that everyone wants to see is too hard to get to," he said.
"If you want to see the new Coen brothers movie, and if you're not a donor or in media or someone important, it's pretty much impossible."
Underscoring complaints of elitism is the Bell Lightbox: a massive, $196 million complex and condo tower planned for downtown Toronto, slated to become the festival's future home.
Festival brass hope the Lightbox, which will feature five theatres, will be ready for the 2010 edition of the fest, but organizers say they still have to raise about $50-million for the ambitious project.
The 'people's fest' no more?
During TIFF's early years in the 1970s and throughout the 1990s, it earned the reputation as the "people's festival" because regular fans could get access to the hottest movies.
But according to film fan and blogger Tim Shore, that moniker is a thing of the past.
"Maybe 15 years ago it was, but it's evolved over the years," he said in a telephone interview on Friday.
This year, for example, the festival jacked-up prices for Visa Screening Room events at the Elgin Theatre to $40, meaning another barrier to fans on a budget.
"That was definitely a downer," said Shore, who writes for blogto.com, a local arts website.
Worse yet, this year's TIFF got off to a bad start when about 200 pass holders were shut out of the opening night's "Passchendaele" showing so donors to the Bell Lightbox project could get in first.
Still, the fest offers plenty of options for film fans on a budget, said Mark Dillon, editor of Playback Magazine, a trade publication devoted to film.
"I don't think their selection of films has declined," he said.
"In defense of TIFF, they have a big, expensive event to put on, and corporate sponsorship is important," he said, noting that TIFF is a non-profit organization putting on a world class festival.
While Dillon said some great Canadian films and smaller budget flicks are often overshadowed by big budget Hollywood features, he noted this year's TIFF is pulling in big stars and big attendance numbers.
"I went to the 'Burn After Reading' gala and it was staggering," he said.
"When Brad Pitt arrived and the flashbulbs went off, it was like Beatlemania."