EVERY September, the Toronto International Film Festival is crazed but glamorous nexus, a convergence of art, entertainment and commerce.
In attendance: dozens of stars, hundreds of journalists and thousands of fans.
In its 38 years of existence, TIFF has muscled a place for itself as an important international festival on the strength of its end-of-summer timing (announcing a fall season of prestige movies), and its hometown's reputation as a bustling, urbane, international city -- one of the most movie-mad of all big cities. Yet it is a place where necessary amenities are competitive: cheaper and more accessible than New York City, and providing a cooling respite from the sprawl and industry-town insularity of Los Angeles.
You may have heard about this year's roster of stars, including Robert Downey Jr., Jessica Chastain, Benedict Cumberbatch, Al Pacino, Bill Murray, Jon Stewart, Channing Tatum and Dustin Hoffman. (The list goes on.)
But go beyond the red-carpet glitz, the parties and the wall-to-wall press coverage. TIFF is a place where Canadian filmmakers make crucial connections and potentially career-altering deals.
Two Manitoba feature films edged their way into TIFF's loaded 2014 roster of films. And for the filmmakers, TIFF is a forum that holds the promise of success, or at the very least, respect.
Kyle Bornais of Winnipeg's Farpoint Films is the executive producer of Teen Lust, a dark genre comedy that follows in the template of any number of teen sex comedies -- its hero is on a quest to lose his virginity -- with a twist: His parents are Satanists who intend to use him for a virgin sacrifice unless he can change his sexual status.
This is the first Farpoint feature to win a berth at TIFF, but Bornais has been attending the event for years. It is too important a festival not to be here, he says.
"The whole feature industry is there in one place at one time," Bornais says, recalling a 2013 distributor soirée where he saw Metallica strolling through the party.
"It's a great market to get into even if you already work in the Canadian feature world," he says of the fest's wealth of deal-making opportunities. "Most of the Canadian producers and distributors are from Toronto anyways, but every other one from Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton flies in as well.
"I find you don't even have to set up meetings and you still can have 10 to 20 meetings a day."
For Bornais, having a film actually play at TIFF "has been one of my lifetime goals."
"It's the most pre-eminent festival in Canada and one of the top three or four in the world. So I've always wanted that on my resumé for sure," he says. "The opportunity to go when one of your films is screening there, it adds that level of legitimacy to your trip and that level of legitimacy to your company and to yourself as a producer."
The beauty of TIFF is that it can be a delightfully inclusive festival, showing equal respect to the art film and more commercial works like Teen Lust.
"I'm not out there to make art films," Bornais says. "For me, I underline the word 'business' when I say 'film business.'
"I have a company with a fairly large number of employees and it costs a chunk of money every month to keep the doors open. And I'm here to make movies that are going to get eyeballs.
"And the fact that we can make one of those films and get it into the Toronto film festival, it gets more eyeballs and I'm excited because all of a sudden, people are going to say: 'Hey, I read about that movie!' And you get to put 'Official selection of the Toronto film festival' on the poster and people say: 'Hey, I'm going to go check that out.'"
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Inclusiveness was a big factor for a little Winnipeg movie titled The Editor.
A nod to the lurid Italian giallo genre -- a mix of horror and eroticism -- this low-budget wonder is a production of the ingenious local film collective Astron-6, the quintet who gave us comic throwback thrillers Father's Day and Manborg.
Duplicating the brutal but technically accomplished giallo masters such as Dario Argento, The Editor is the first Astron-6 film to boast actual stars -- albeit wallet-friendly actors such as Udo Kier, Paz de la Huerta (Boardwalk Empire) and Laurence R. Harvey (The Human Centipede II), hired with a combination of Telefilm funding and a crowdfunding campaign.
Naturally, the film wound up in TIFF's genre-friendly Midnight Madness program (a berth occupied by Argento himself on occasion). TIFF will also fly in the film's co-directors, Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy, for the screening on Thursday.
Brooks, for his part, is somewhat awed by the film's inclusion at a venue that qualifies as, at least, one of the four top film festivals in the world.
"I seem to be learning every day how big the festival is," Brooks says. "I didn't realize. I knew it was big but once we got in..."
Unlike Teen Lust, The Editor is going into the fest without a distributor. That means the film is essentially smack in the middle of a big movie marketplace, where Brooks and his fellow Astron members stand an unprecedented chance to actually make money by selling the film to the right bidders.
After three feature films and countless shorts, "I still have yet to make a dollar in this business," Brooks says with a laugh. "I'm $20,000 in debt and I can't wait to make the money, because I keep getting new expenses."
In preparation earlier this summer, Brooks and Kennedy flew to Toronto to attend a TIFF "boot camp" for festival newbies.
"It was just a day of talking, a day of lectures by filmmakers that had been at TIFF, by industry people and by people who run TIFF, and all they kept driving home was the idea: 'Don't blow this! This is important and it's a big deal and there are a lot of ways to screw it up.'"
"I wasn't scared yet," Brooks says, "but that made it really scary."
On the plus side, Brooks finds himself now being courted by reps and agents contemplating getting into the Astron-6 business.
"Because TIFF announced it, everyone's interested," says Brooks.
"Don't get me wrong. We're not getting outrageous offers or anything. These agents aren't saying, 'We want you as a client.' But they are saying, 'We want a relationship with you, in case... If the movie plays well or does well, we want to be sure we have our foot in the door with you.'"
"It's crazy," Brooks says of the attention and the promise it brings.
"It would be nice to make a dollar," he says.
TIFF runs to Sept. 14.