By Kathleen Newman-Bremang
It’s the second night of the Toronto International Film Festival and gala screenings of “Rendition” and “Michael Clayton” are on deck at Roy Thompson Hall. That means Reese Witherspoon and rumoured beau Jake Gyllenhaal will soon pull up in tinted black sedans (separately). George Clooney will charm his way up and down the street full of legions of fans for almost an hour before heading inside the theatre.
As a film festival volunteer I’m not expected to respond with anything other than frequent downpours of politeness. No pictures. No self-promotion. No screaming for Brad and Angelina to adopt me. If you want to see celebs, they say, go crowd outside with the rest of the crazy people.
I stand, observe and clench my fists in anticipation. I remember there is a job to do despite the excitement brewing before me: the speck of orange calm admist the chaos.
I’m just one of thousands offilm-loving Torontonians who catch film-fest fever for ten days each September. This year I opted to become a volunteer and do something productive with my obsession.
Oscar winners strolled the city’s streets like locals. Yorkville’s sidewalks were overrun with hordes of Hollywood heavyweights, upper-crust urbanites, and dedicated film freaks. I ushered them to their seats.
If you want to volunteer (and if you’re keen enough to apply early and attend recruitment sessions in July and August), choose Roy Thompson Hall. It’s the venue that draws the most gala screenings, the biggest crowds and the loudest cries of teenage girls.
I show up for my first six-hour shift on time, wait in line with other volunteers before being led into a back room of the Roy Thompson. We await the arrival of our volunteer supervisors—the hardest-working people at TIFF.
There are six different areas we can be positioned each with their own advantage. Cheryl, a fierce little woman with white hair mans all the action on the red carpet. As a newbie to the volunteer circuit, I know I won’t end up basking in the glow of the carpet. The coveted spots mostly go to seasoned volunteers who have paid their dues or travelled from across the country to serve the festival.
The mezzanine and the balcony are also good for star-gazing. They’re way better than being stuck outside managing rush lines, far from all the razzle-dazzle, with not a celebrity in sight.
This shift I get picked to be inside the theatre with Grace and four other orange clad workers. While the glitz and glamour unfolds outside, dozens of wealthy industry types take their seats inside.
TIFF audiences are remarkable. They’re as knowledgeable as they are insane. They might be stockbrokers, waitresses or university professors, but come TIFF time each year, they transform into the most celeb-crazed film aficionados you’ll ever meet.
Women hound me with questions of where the stars will sit in the theatre, an elderly man lists off every movie he’s ever seen at the festival, and an impeccably dressed woman in her sixties is livid because she can’t find four seats together when she paid $8,000 for her tickets.
We hang around just long enough to see the lights dim and the first moments shine upon the screen before getting the boot back to the volunteer holding room.
The next night, after being bypassed for the red carpet once again, I find myself in position on the balcony giving out People’s Choice ballots and reminding patrons they could win a Cadillac. They’ll tell me they don’t need another luxury car. But before the audience comes pouring in, our supervisor Julie calls us over to the window. It’s the red carpet for hometown hotshot David Cronenberg’s film, Eastern Promises.
We spy on Viggo Mortensen making his way up and down the street, uber cool and super collected, like Clooney the night before, surrounded by nearly a dozen fridge-sized security guards in matching black suits. The air explodes in flash bulbs.
After the film, the balcony is overrun with a gridlock of gawkers. The producers, Cronenberg and his cast have convened on the mezzanine floor below us. They schmooze for a good half-hour before attempting to slip out quietly down the back staircase.
A small French woman weasels her way to the top of the stairs and calls out to Mortensen. He stops, poses and smiles up at the woman as industry heavyweights wait impatiently behind him. Her camera isn’t working. He waits, still smiling. Minutes later the woman gushes to security about the humble star and shows off her photo.
But, not all films draw crazed fans. After Eastern Promises, the next gala screening is a three and a half-hour long French film with subtitles. The red carpet is empty. We are ordered to ditch our volunteer shirts, post up on the sidelines and scream like 12 year-olds at a Justin Timberlake concert. Our supervisors call it a “mock red carpet”.
The film’s star, Monica Bellucci, oblivious to the farce, saunters passed the press line, delivers a half-hearted beauty queen-esque wave and a dazzling smile. We channel the crowds we’ve seen all night, waving frantically and yelling, “MONICAAAA” over and over.
Volunteering at TIFF is like watching a behind-the-scenes featurette on your favourite movie. And sometimes you’re actually a part of the action.
But now, we go back to our regularly scheduled programming where star sightings are significantly less frequent and committed movie lovers must settle for viewing blockbusters at their local Cineplex. If nothing else, at least we’re left with weeks worth of shameless name-dropping.
Did I tell you about that time I saw Susan Sarandon?