A Volunteer's Look Inside the 2005 TIFF

Day 1: Opening Night Gala, Roy Thompson Hall

Last year was my first year in the city, and my first experience with the Toronto International Film Festival. Fortunate Circumstances (friends in fun places) gave me the opportunity to experience the 2004 festival to the fullest. I saw movies every day. I bought a twenty dollar vintage suit jacket, and attended parties I had no place being. I worked in a hotel where it was not uncommon to walk on shift to find Johnny Knoxville, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Bosworth milling around the lobby. I thought I'd be cynical. I thought I'd take all of this Hollywood schmaltz in stride. But alas, I got a case of the Festival Fever. Got it bad. I was spoiled rotten that year. This year, I had to be a part of the machine, pay my dues, so I signed up to volunteer as a seat guard for each of the gala presentations at Roy Thompson Hall. Last night the fever returned, albeit a very different strand of the sickness.

6:30 pm inside the hall, preparing for the opening night screening, the premiere of Deepa Mehta's film, Water. The buzz is palpable. The festival organizers have been running on a steady diet of caffeine and adrenaline for a while up until now, but are holding it together wonderfully. In fact, they all look damn fantastic, dressed to the nines in their opening night garb. Us volunteers are another story. Gone is my twenty dollar suit jacket, enter the one pair of pants I own that are not jeans or have some sort of rip in them. These pants must make it through every day of this festival with me, and they don't even match my one pair of dress shoes. Nevertheless, volunteering is not about fashion, it is about serving this festival. We are cutting and pasting bits of velcro on reserved signs with reckless abandon. Running up and down the aisles making sure those signs are up in the appropriate places. Doing whatever someone without a glazed-over look on their face tells us to do, because it's close to show time now, and we've got to get it done.

So I'm just supposed to guard the aisle, make sure such and such a sponsor sits in my row. Should be easy. Then, the lines of people start streaming in, and it's apparent I need to be on my game. The aisles become an extention of the pre gala cocktail parties, and I have to tell people politely to take their seats. I leave my post with a question. I shouldn't have left my post. Eventually things start to take shape. My cohorts for the evening, my roomate and a woman named Sunny, have established a flow. The seats are soon filled. The cameramen and women enter, some of them yelling at each other. Then the lights start to dim, I get out the way, and that dizzying sensation, the first symptom of Festival Fever, returns.

We're gathered around the seats at the far right front of the stage, for the speeches, but sadly, as its opening night, not the movie itself. A few things are apparent: a lot of money has been raised in a year for the building of the downtown festival centre (which is good for them, the festival, and the city). Premiere Dalton McGuinty, whose father, by the way, was a professor of Romantic Poetry, seems to really dig the arts (backed up the funding the government is providing for the centre), although he ..........pauses..........a long time between making his points. Bang up speech. Movie producers talk. And talk. And talk. Finally, director Deepa Mehta is obviously a wonderful woman, Canadian, and talent. She made a point to mention how the organizers choosing a non-anglophone or francophone film to open the festival was a statement that broadened, rightly, given our diverse culture, the idea of what a Canadian film actually is. A poignant opening.

The staff and volunteers disperse shortly after the film begins. If I can't see the movie, I will go to a party, where Absolut Vodka will have to suffice in lieu of Deepa Mehta's Water.

More on the volunteer experience, the films themselves, and the general condition of Festival Fever, as the week goes on.

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