Adrian Grenier's magical media tour hits Toronto
On Thursday, Entourage star Adrian Grenier brought his latest documentary film to the Hoxton as TIFF kicked off its latest season. In an event he called The Teenage Paparazzo Experience, (and believe me, it was an experience,) Grenier combined a film screening with an art exhibit featuring works by Banksy and Shepard Fairey and musical performances by Dr. Draw, Najjah Calibur, and Wendy Starland. Despite a distinct lack of teenagers and paparazzi, it was quite an experience.
The documentary itself followed 13-year-old paparazzo Austin Visschedyk, who was first discovered zipping past Grenier on a skateboard to snap his photo. "I thought he was just a fan at first," Grenier recalled. "But then I saw his camera flash about 75 times in three seconds."
Grenier followed the young prodigy into the highly secretive universe of tabloid photographers until Visschedyk started generating a media frenzy of his own. After a few months, producers could barely get the kid to return their calls.
Grenier also filmed interviews with fellow celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, Paris Hilton, and Matt Damon to get their take on the paparazzi. Perhaps Alec Baldwin delicately summed it up best, explaining that "the paparazzi are there to shove the Empire State Building up your ass, one brick at a time."
I asked Colin Mochrie and his wife Debra McGrath, who were sitting behind me, whether they found the media hard to manage in Toronto. "We don't really have paparazzi here," Mochrie told me. "Aside from maybe the occasional red carpet, there's really nothing like it." Gerald Eaton, best known as Jarvis Church from The Philosopher Kings, wasn't sure Toronto even had celebrities.
Much to my relief, Teenage Paparazzo wasn't excessively Moore-ish or preachy, save for the occasional reference to "today's capitalist consumerist culture" that came out in the post-film discussion. Grenier's approach was more research-driven, as he interviewed historians and media experts about the role of celebrities in the lives of increasingly isolated communities. As for the paparazzi themselves, Grenier explained that while he wouldn't say they're "not nice," he did find them "opportunistic and selfish."
"The irony is you can say whatever you want about me in the media because it's 'news,'" Grenier said. "But if you made fun of Mickey Mouse, Disney would slap you with a huge lawsuit. He has rights to his image. I'm a human being- how does Mickey have more rights than me?"
After the film, Grenier and cousin Evan Ferrante asked the audience to take self-portraits and send them in for a digital collage. "I wanted to make this a collaborative experience, a two-way communication, not a dictatorship of media and passive consumers," he said. Grenier was followed by a panel on social media and the film industry by Mobovivo and Engageia, though a good two thirds of the audience were enjoying cocktails at the bar by that point.
Just to the right of the stage, a small art exhibit complemented the film with works by Banksy, Shepard Fairey (the guy who created the original Obama poster), and even Grenier himself. Most popular was a painting by Tim Kent, featuring a Grenier-esque Narcissus gazing at his reflection in the lenses of a dozen paparazzi cameras. Literal, maybe, but nonetheless a crowd-pleaser.
I got a quick interview with Adrian as he passed through the Hoxton, and I asked him what he wanted people to take home from the whole experience. "The main message," he said, "is that we have to recognize the power we have with our tools of communication, and take responsibility for what we put out there. It has to have some sort of value."
Photo by Lu Chau/Photagonist.ca
A big thanks to Warrior, an Alliance film in theatres September 9th, for sponsoring our coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.
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