When you're in the midst of covering your fifth straight 14-hour shift on the TIFF beat, you wonder if this crazy ride is ever going to end.

But now that it has, I have to admit I'm going to miss it.

What other time of the year do you get paid to go to the movies, interview actors and directors and attend the city's hottest parties?

There have been a lot of memorable moments over the past week but here are a few that really stand out (in no particular order):

Interviewing Malin Akerman about her new film "The Bang Bang Club." The Swedish-born, Canadian-raised actress was as lovely in person as she is on film and it was inspiring to see how much it affected her to play the role of a photo editor during South Africa's final bloody days of apartheid.

Joking around with the cast from "Good Neighbours." Talking to actor Jay Baruchel and director Jacob Tierney about the twisted black comedy was a riot. We got along so well Jay even offered me a cookie. And Emily Hampshire was so excited to talk to me about the role she was born to play that I couldn't help but share her enthusiasm.

Meeting "Ross." Oops, I mean David Schwimmer. Even though he was here to promote his new movie "Trust" -- a powerful story about a young girl who falls victim to an online predator -- I couldn't help but be over the moon that I was talking to someone from one of my favourite TV shows. I couldn't believe how friendly and down to earth he was and it took everything I had not to scream, "We were on a break!" in front of him. The actor was also very passionate about his film that stars Clive Owen and newcomer Liana Liberato and I have a feeling this is just the first of many great things we're going to see from him as a director.

Fake Phoenix. As much as I hate to admit it, covering the "fake" Joaquin Phoenix's appearance outside the screening of Casey Affleck's film "I'm Still Here" was also kind of fun. The whole thing was clearly such a hoax that I shared plenty of laughs with the other media about just how ridiculous it was that we were even there.

I also enjoyed meeting Canadian actress Molly Parker, the young cast from "Score: The Hockey Musical," and "Gossip Girl" star Penn Badgley, who plays the leading man in new comedy "Easy A." Being part of the buzz when the TIFF Bell Lightbox officially opened its doors – and talking to acclaimed director Ivan Reitman about it no less – was also pretty awesome.

And meeting stars aside, what really makes TIFF memorable is the chance to watch some films which will be serious contenders come Oscar time. It's also great to meet journalists from around the world and hear their diverse perspectives.

I can't wait to see what's going to happen next year.


Sept. 15 -- Film premiere a family affair for Malin Akerman

If it wasn't going to be nerve-wracking enough for Malin Akerman to watch her performance in "The Bang Bang Club" during the premiere at TIFF tonight, she also has to worry about what her friends and family are going to think.

"I haven't seen the film so it's one of those, I hope I don't have to walk the walk of shame on the way out," admits the actress during a round table interview Wednesday afternoon.

"I have some of my closest girlfriends from high school who are coming, my brother, my mother, my step dad, it's just going to be great to see everyone. It's really special you know.

"The Bang Bang Club, " which also stars Ryan Phillippe and Taylor Kitsch, chronicles the true story of four young photographers in South Africa who risked their lives to document the final bloody days of apartheid. Akerman plays a photo editor at the local paper who pushes to get their photos published, despite pressure from the government to censor them.

Born in Sweden, Akerman was raised in Niagara on the Lake and attended high school in St. Catherine's, Ont., and Toronto. She also studied psychology at York University.

"I lived here for 22 years and always watched the Toronto film fest from the outside and I always wanted to be a part of it and now I finally get to go."

Now living in L.A., Akerman says she never attended TIFF while she lived in Toronto because she was always busy with school and the film industry wasn't on her radar. That all changed when she started doing some commercials and landed some guest roles on TV shows .

"I did that here for about a year to two years before I ended up going to L.A. and that's when I decided, ‘Oh this is fun. It's kind of like psychology but more selfish. I'll give it a shot and then go help others later,'" she recounts with a laugh.


Sept 14: Actor's kindness gets lost in translation

"Would you like a Petit écolier? A little schoolboy?" Jay Baruchel asks me as I enter the room to interview him and director Jacob Tierney about their new movie "Good Neighbours."

"What did you say?" I ask, somewhat flustered.

"It's a French cookie. We have a whole bunch of them," he replies, pointing to a table filled with the individually-wrapped biscuits that I'd clearly never heard of.

"Oh sorry if you misunderstood!" he adds, while bursting into laughter, alongside Tierney.

It certainly set the tone for the interview -- 15 minutes of hyper back and forth chatter with two genuinely nice guys about a movie that both disturbed and entertained me at the same time.

It's little moments like this that make working the TIFF beat memorable.

It was also nothing short of memorable to meet Emily Hampshire, a rising Canadian star who plays Louise in "Good Neighbours." She also starred in Tierney's 2009 festival darling "The Trotsky," as did Baruchel.

"Oh my God, I have the same voice recorder!" Hampshire said when she noticed the trusty Olympus digital recorder in my hand. Turns out she uses hers to record phone conversations between her husband … and AT&T.

"That's just the best sh*t to listen to. It's like a stand up comedy act," she says excitedly, leaning forward in her chair.

I would loved to have heard the story in detail, but we only have so much time together. "I know I'm totally off topic here," she says with a laugh. "Sorry about that."

No problem, Emily. That's all part of the fun.


Sept. 13 -- Remembering Tracy Wright

Molly Parker says as wonderful as it was to watch her co-star, the late Tracy Wright, on screen during the premiere of "Trigger" Sunday night at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, it was also a very emotional and difficult experience.

Wright, who was known mostly for her wonderful acting in small but memorable parts, died of pancreatic cancer on June 22. In "Trigger" she had a starring role alongside Parker.

"This whole week has been (full of) very mixed up feelings," said Parker. "It's sort of wonderful to have the opportunity to share the movie and to share Tracy and her terrific performance with an audience and with the Toronto film community, (but) it's terribly heartbreaking to not have her with us."

In the new Bruce McDonald flick, Wright plays Vic, a former rocker who reunites with her old friend and band mate Kat (Parker), a decade after their dysfunctional group Trigger broke up.

After Wright was diagnosed last December, the film's production schedule was pushed up and filmed in only nine days.

The beloved Canadian actress passed away in June at the age of 50.

"Bruce McDonald said it last night at the premiere when he introduced the film, it's a kind of testament to the (TIFF) programmers … they programmed a film with a lot of heart and a lot of guts -- a real indie film -- to open that space."

Parker says she sat next to Wright's husband Don McKellar (who also appears in the movie) during the screening.

"We all were (sad). I think it will be years before I can see that movie and not be."

Parker adds that while it was an honour to have "Trigger" be the first movie to be shown at the Lightbox, she admits hearing herself sing through the sound system was a little unnerving.

"What was crazy was to hear me singing the song that was basically recorded on a boom mic in a cubicle in an office building, (where) we were shooting a different scene. To hear that projected through the state-of-the-art sound system, it's so incongruous and just hilarious."


Sept. 12 -- Lightbox opens door with massive block party

 

Let there be light!

The TIFF Bell Lightbox officially opened its doors today and you could've sworn George Clooney or Matt Damon were inside with all the people lined up to get in.

But this crowd wasn't here to see stars -- they just wanted a chance to finally check out the new home of the Toronto International Film Festival.

To coincide with the launch, a giant street party was held on King Street, complete with food, entertainment and performances by Fefe Dobson and K'naan.

As we waited for the ribbon-cutting ceremony to begin, I noticed Oscar-nominated filmmaker Jason Reitman inspecting the "ribbon" made of film. His father Ivan Reitman, also an Oscar-nominated director, was nearby, capturing the fanfare with his iPhone.

Piers Handling, Director and CEO of TIFF, finally did the honours with a giant pair of scissors and everyone (including all the media) rushed in as fast as they could.

"You've sweated for it, you've put all your energies in it, you've raised money for it, you've imagined what it was going to look like … and (now) 10 years later to see people actually coming in the building and looking at what we've done, it sends shivers down my spine," Handling told me once we were inside.

It was also an emotional moment for Ivan Reitman. His family donated $22 million to fund the project and the block where the Lightbox sits was officially named Reitman Square, in honour of his parents, earlier this week.

"This whole week has been emotional. I've actually started crying a number of times," says Reitman. "This has been a long dream and I'm so happy for the Reitman family to remember Leslie and Clara, our parents."

Reitman thinks the Lightbox will generate interest in film 365 days a year, not just for the 11 days of the film festival.

"The Toronto International Film Festival (is) now among the top ranks of all film festivals. I think the building is a stronger cultural institution for us here. It gives filmmakers here in the city a real focus to go to learn (and) be inspired."

As I walked around the new space, I noticed crowds of people milling in and out of the five cinemas, examining the film artifacts in the Essential Cinema exhibition, sampling the popcorn, and taking in everything the building had to offer.

For Rita Picchiello, the Lightbox will allow her to experience TIFF in a way she has never been able to before.

"I think this is the only place where we can really be inside the film festival and participating rather than hoping to get a glance of a star outside and be disappointed. This is really close to the ambience."

"It's like a museum in a sense," noted another visitor, Barbara Sklar. "You can see movies from all different genres and all different eras, black and white, colour, anything you want. It's like Heaven for movie lovers."


Sept. 11 -- 'Score' stars admit they are star struck on red carpet

Noah Reid and Allie MacDonald, who are making their feature film debut in "Score: A Hockey Musical," may have been the stars of TIFF's opening night flick but the young actors admit they were the ones who were star-struck.

"The red carpet was nuts. I've never done anything like that before," says MacDonald of Thursday night's affair.

"Walking down the long carpet and seeing all the TV personalities that I recognized, I was like, ‘Hey, you're more famous than me! It's really good to meet you.' I was a little star-struck."

Reid, who has always wanted to act in a movie that premiered TIFF, had a similar experience.

"I honestly had no idea what to expect and it was a pretty amazing whirlwind with the press and the response and the celebrities there," says Reid, who got to meet some people he'd never thought he'd meet in his life, including Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.

"I'm a huge Leafs fan so that was pretty cool. He was like, ‘Are you going to come see some games?' And I was like, ‘Yeah, I can come to some games.'"

And while Reid is enjoying the newfound "fame" he has been experiencing since the movie debuted at TIFF, he says he will not be following in his character Farley's footsteps.

"I'm hoping I can handle it with a little more class than he did. If this film has taught me anything it's avoid underwear ads," says Reid with a laugh.

Veteran Canadian musician Marc Jordan, who is making his acting debut in "Score: A Hockey Musical" as Farley's father Edgar, says having the movie premiere at TIFF was like a dream come true.

"Just to see it writ large on a screen and to see that bunch of people that I sort of know so well now, it was very special," he says.


Badgley and the Breakfast Club

And from hockey stars to a Hollywood hunk, next up was a one-on-one interview with Penn Badgley, who plays the romantic lead opposite Emma Stone in the clever new comedy "Easy A."

While waiting to hit the Intercontinental patio for my interview, I chatted with a foreign journo about our day's assignments and when she found out who I was speaking with next she remarked, ‘Oh, enjoy him! I'm sure you will!"

Relaxed and easy going, Badgley didn't disappoint (ok, his dashing good looks didn't hurt either).

And when I told him how much I enjoyed his performance in "Easy A," in particular a pivotal scene with a fist pump that pays homage to the classic John Hughes 80s flick "The Breakfast Club," Badgley spilled a secret.

"The Breakfast Club," a film about high school students who spend a day in detention, came out in 1985, but Badgley was born in 1986 so has never seen the movie.

"So when I did my Judd Nelson thing I did this slow, straight arm fist thing, which is really more like a Socialist salute or something. It was not at all accurate. I actually saw ‘Breakfast Club' a couple months after shooting and I was like, ‘Nobody told me. It's like an iconic freeze frame right at the end!" Badgley recalls with a laugh. "I was really upset after that."

Check back for more on my interview with Badgley next week to coincide with the movie's theatrical release.


Friends fan meets her man

As the biggest "Friends" fan in the world I always hoped I could be so lucky to meet one of the actors in person and on Day 2 of TIFF, my dream came true.

I had the pleasure of interviewing David Schwimmer, who played Ross on the popular TV sitcom, about the new movie he directed called "Trust."

When I first walked into the hotel suite at the Intercontinental I could hardly believe that Ross was standing in front of me.

Nervous and giddy, I managed to introduce myself without turning into a super fan and yelling, ‘Oh my God, I love Friends! Were you and Rachel really on a break? Can you believe your leather pants started forming a paste? Remember when your teeth were SO white that they glowed in the dark?'"

Anyone that knows me knows how much I love ""Friends" and a day doesn't go by when I'm not quoting a line from the show, much to everyone's chagrin.

Warm, genuine and personable, Schwimmer was just like I always imagined him to be and it was so crazy to sit there and listen to his familiar and voice -- one that I hear coming from my TV screen almost every night (don't judge me, the show is on all the time! I also have all 10 seasons on DVD...but that's another story).

Starring Clive Owen and Catherine Keener, "Trust" is a powerful drama that tells the story of a 14-year-old girl (played by Liana Liberato) who gets lured in by an online sex predator.

The weighty subject matter is a far cry from the goofy role Schwimmer is famous for on "Friends" and the actor-turned-director (his first feature film was 2007's "Run, Fatboy, Run") hopes audiences won't always just think of him as "Ross."

""It's something I just can't control so I just don't try. All I can do, I realized a long time ago, is just focus on the work and hopefully in time ... I think of Ron Howard. Ron Howard started as an actor and 20, 30 years later he's Ron Howard the director. The difference between, well there's several differences between myself and Ron Howard, he's very successful," says Schwimmer with a laugh, "is that I also want to continue acting.'"

But one thing's for sure -- he won't be acting in a "Friends" movie, which has been rumoured since the series ended in 2004.

""I think the cast has all moved on to other projects and lives and careers. And also, personally I really like how it ended and I don't want to jinx it, I don't want to mess with it. We don't need the money. We're all really blessed so I don't know the 'why' to do it.'"

Check back later today for a full story on "Trust," with more comments from Schwimmer about his role as a director, as well as an interview with the movie's young star Liana Liberato.


Sept. 10 -- Foreign press in for TIFF giving T.O. mixed reviews

Subpar, pricey food and an inexplicable love for a game played on frozen water. That seems to sum up the early reviews of Toronto by some members of the foreign press as they arrived in the city for the annual film festival.

Here are a few of the most colourful comments we've came across so far:

Mike Fleming from Deadline New York said he was delaying his trip to Toronto until Friday because Thursday night's opening flick was "Score: A Hockey Musical" -- and he didn't like hockey …. or musicals.

Roger Ebert tweeted that TIFF managed to find a type size so small for its press screening list that it's invisible except under a microscope. Perfect in theatres, he added.

New York Times reporter Michael Cieply blogged how he had eaten a Mexican meal around the corner from the Bell Lightbox that was about half as good as the native cuisine in L.A., not to mention about twice as expensive.

Cieply also said he visited a restaurant across the street from the Lightbox where he had to ask the reluctant hostess to clean up both sides of the table. He also made note of how the festival had moved south from the prestigious area of Yorkville to an area with attractions such as Hooters, the Fox and Fiddle and a Canadiana Backpackers Inn. The only excitement around the Lightbox Thursday morning, he said, was a fire in a garbage can.

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune also wasn't sure what to make of the festival being split between its former headquarters in Yorkville and its new domain on King Street. Until the Lightbox and Scotiabank Theatre officially become the epicentre, he thought the spread-out confusion was more like Sundance without the $900 ski parkas.


Sept. 9 -- Is a fake Joaquin Phoenix on the loose at TIFF?

Word on the street is that there's a fake Joaquin Phoenix on the loose at TIFF and a showdown between the fake one and the real one is set to go down Friday night. It will reportedly take place outside the gala screening of the new Casey Affleck film "I'm Still Here" that documents Phoenix's transition from movie star to aspiring rapper.

With so many questions as to whether Phoenix's absurd behaviour and beard was a huge hoax to begin with, is this just another publicity stunt to get buzz for the movie? Your guess is as good as mine.

Nuclear Lounge Media, a PR firm representing the "labeled fake Joaquin," sent a press release out earlier today saying this charlatan has already been arriving at red carpets in a black limousine with an entourage of security guards and scantily clad female groupies, fooling fans into thinking he's the real Joaquin. He's also been claiming he's the real Joaquin and "It is the other Joaquin Phoenix who is the fake!"

The firm says this so-called imposter, who is going by the name "Zhoakin," will appear around 9 pm outside the Varsity Theatre to make a statement. The "real" Phoenix could be there as well and the "fake" one is ready to call him out.

Confused yet? Yeah, me too.

The release also says that Affleck, who is married to Joaquin's sister Summer, has been in touch with the imposter but no word on what came out of that.

The whole thing has already lit a media fire – with reports showing up on every site from Billboard.com to The Hollywood Reporter.

I'll be heading down there as well tomorrow night to try and get to the bottom of this. Hopefully we'll find out once and for all who's playing who.


Sept. 7 -- Pre-TIFF assignment: Making pampering a priority

With only two days before TIFF officially begins, I spent the morning working hard to get ready for the madness -- you know, by getting my nails done, my hair styled and my eyebrows threaded.

I realize that getting pampered doesn't sound like a priority when there's so much still to be done before TIFF starts, but looking good will help me better cover the festival (or at least that's what I told my editor).

I was invited to attend the first ever "Essentials Lounge For Media" created by Esther Garnick PR as a way to prepare journalists for all the long hours and late nights covering screenings, press conferences and red carpets.

"Everything in here is useful to that 10-day push. No one really has the time to get their hair treated or their nails done or their shoes looked after or anything else when they're in the thick of things," says Garnick.

"It's the trenches, it really is for the media. Everyone's got to wave hi, speak loudly, shake hands -- they've got to stand out, too, because they've got to get their sound bites and interviews and get their stories."

Held at downtown Toronto's Ra Sun Spa, my first "assignment" of the day was eyebrow threading. I've heard about this ancient method of hair removal and how effective it can be, but was always a little scared it would hurt. I've instead been opting for waxing, which is probably just as painful but over much quicker.

I told my esthetician Sharly I was apprehensive but her keen eye and expert thread yielding made it a (nearly) pain-free experience.

Next up was an express manicure with Tina, who did a rock star job painting my nails a deep purple. It was hard to completely relax though when all I could think about was how the work was piling up back at the office and my email inbox was overflowing. But with wet nails, I had to resist checking my Blackberrry. Maybe I should paint them more often (!)

Before leaving it was time to get a quick touch-up on my hair with Alain Larivée, the Canadian Creative Consultant for John Frieda. He showed my how to keep the humidity from ruining my ultra straight hair, which includes using the right products and only flat ironing small sections at a time.

But as much as I love my straight locks, Larivée says curls and waves are going to be ruling the red carpet this year when it comes to the celebrities. Half up, half down looks will also be popular, with an emphasis on glam.

And after I was looking and feeling fabulous, it was time to dash off to my next assignment – a sneak preview of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Check back to CTV.ca on Thursday for a first look inside the spectacular new home of the film festival!


Aug. 31 -- Is it really almost time for TIFF again?!

It seems like only yesterday I was dashing around Yorkville, attending press conferences with the likes of George Clooney and Matt Damon, chatting with Colin Farrell about "In Bruges," interviewing up and coming actors, meeting journalists from around the world and seeing the most amazing films.

It was my first time covering the festival and even though it was one of the most intense schedules I have ever endured (spending 12 hours on the beat and then staying up half the night to write stories), the whole experience was exhilarating and definitely a highlight of my career.

How could anything top that?!

Well, with another star-studded lineup of celebrities, including Clive Owen, Javier Bardem, Hilary Swank, Ellen Page and Will Ferrell, not to mention filmmaking greats like Clint Eastwood, Danny Boyle and Robert Redford set to attend, I'm thinking TIFF 2010 is going to come pretty close.

It's always exciting to see a film premiere at TIFF and then watch as it gains steady momentum into awards season. Last year I was fortunate to catch many movies that ended up being Oscar contenders, including "Up in the Air," "A Serious Man," and "An Education," starring the talented Carey Mulligan, whom I also had the pleasure of interviewing.

There are plenty of films slated for this year that are already creating buzz: Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" starring Matt Damon as a blue-collar American with a special connection to the afterlife; "I'm Still Here," Casey Affleck's controversial documentary on Joaquin Phoenix; Danny Boyle's "127 Hours" with James Franco as a mountain climber trapped in a Utah canyon and Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger."

I'm also looking forward to seeing David Schwimmer's "Trust," "Never Let Me Go" with Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley, and, of course, the festival opener "Score: A Hockey Musical," featuring a whack of Canadian celebs and musicians, including the wonderfully quirky Hawksley Workman.

After much late-night writing last year, I'm also hoping to balance my festival experience out this year by hitting some more hotspots, including the Drake Hotel and the Bell Lightbox. I live very close to the new home of the film festival and have literally watched (and heard!) the place go up piece by piece. It's sure to be abuzz for the entire 10 days of the festival and the close proximity to my house will surely come in handy after a late night party.

With only a week away, it's time to hunker down and fit in as many advance screenings as I can before TIFF officially descends on the city. Spending the work day at the movies and then having the opportunity to discuss the films with the people that made them? I've got the best job in the world.

Sheri Block has been covering entertainment for CTV.ca since 2008. As well as meeting Colin Farrell at TIFF 2009, Sheri's highlights have included going on tour with "Canadian Idol," being a stand-in on "Canada's Next Top Model" and reporting on such events as the Juno Awards and MMVAs.