Story by Linda Barnard
TORONTO — The elevator in the downtown Toronto luxury hotel was crowded. At last, the doors started to close. Then one more guy stepped in.
He began scrolling through his phone. People stopped talking.
Being polite Canadians, everyone in the small space moved in comic unison to look down at their shoes and considerately ignore the superstar.
Just another day at the Toronto International Film Festival, about to mark its 43rd run (September 6 to 16).
The festival brings a slew of the famous to Toronto each fall to promote films bound in the coming months for multiplexes and Oscar nods. Clooney was at TIFF 2015 promoting Our Brand is Crisis. I strained to get a side-eye glance at his screen saver. Lake Como? His wife, human rights lawyer Amal Almuddin? Their basset hound, Millie? I couldn’t tell.
As a movie writer about to cover my 13th TIFF, I’m often in the company of stars, at least for the average 10-minute duration of an interview, or in passing in a hotel hallway as they head to their next TIFF event, bracketed by publicists and staff.
These meetings are in areas of hotels the public can’t access during TIFF. Security, photo ID press badges and sign-in stations ensure gawkers are kept at bay.
But if your Toronto vacation plans include catching the energy and excitement of TIFF — and they should — your best bet for spotting stars is to immerse yourself in the real reason for this top global film festival. See some movies.
TIFF18 has an outstanding film lineup. And where Toronto departs from film fests in Cannes, Venice and tiny Telluride, Colorado is that this is a festival for movie lovers, not just studio executives, buyers, marketers and insiders.
“Every September we invite the whole film world to Toronto, one of the most diverse, movie-mad cities in the world,” said CEO and TIFF director Piers Handling at a recent media conference.
The cast and director usually appear onstage at screenings for a question-and-answer session with the audience, or to say a few words about the film. You could be the one to ask Lady Gaga how she prepared for A Star is Born, or query Canadian actor Ryan Gosling about playing astronaut Neil Armstrong in First Man.
Don’t fret if you couldn’t get tickets to the premiere. In most cases, the cast stays in Toronto to do interviews the next day and they usually show up for the second screening Q&A.
The cast usually takes the stage before the lights dim for gala presentations at Roy Thomson Hall but there’s no Q&A afterwards.
The bonus for stargazers who don’t feel like waiting for hours to get a good view along the red carpet in David Pecaut Square is that the action is streamed onto the theatre’s big screen as the cast and crew arrive.
Yes, you can get tickets, even if a movie is marked as “off sale” on the website. Keep checking back at tiff.net as more seats are often released, especially that day. (Go to tiff.net for single tickets and packages.)
You can also join the rush line outside the theatre for last-minute tickets, which go on sale about 10 minutes before the screening starts. I’ve used the rush line to see sold-out films. It works.
Where else can you spot stars? Although they often take back doors and hidden entrances into parties, they are always on the red carpet outside theatres. Fans will stake out places for hours but you can catch a glimpse if you time it right. No matter how deep the crowd, you’ll know the celebrities have arrived by the barrelling freight train-like roar that follows the arrival of the luxury SUVs that shuttle them to the theatres.
Here are some other great places to stargaze at TIFF18:
- InterContinental Hotel Toronto Centre (225 Front Street West): This is base camp for media interviews and video and photo shoots. Most of the stars are there at some point during the festival. Have lunch or a drink in the lobby-facing Azure Bar & Lounge and keep your eyes peeled.
- Bars at downtown luxury hotels: Shangri-La Hotel Toronto, Four Seasons Hotel Yorkville, The Hazelton Hotel or the Ritz-Carlton.
- Montecito Restaurant (299 Adelaide Street West): Owned by Canadian director Ivan Reitman, this restaurant hosted the after-party for I, Tonya last year as well as the swanky soiree for Hugo Boss.
- The west-side Windmere Street entrance to the TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West): This is the entrance stars use for the several daily media conferences at the Lightbox.
- Soho House (192 Adelaide Street West): TIFF party central, especially for casual late-night drinks.
- Storys Building (11 Duncan Street): Also a daytime media junket site and often used for celebrity panels. I interviewed Scarlett Johansson there.
There are many movies I’m excited to see at TIFF18. Here are a few:
Her Smell: Elisabeth Moss plays a self-destructive punk rocker. Directed by Alex Ross
First Man: La La Land director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling reunite for this space race drama.
If Beale Street Could Talk: Moonlight director Barry Jenkins returns with this drama based on James Baldwin’s book and starring Toronto actor Stephan James. (Check the Vacay.ca article featuring James talking about his travels.)
Roma: Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white film is set in 1970’s Mexico City, examining a year in the lives of members of a middle-class family.
Beautiful Boy: Starring Timothée Chalamet as a young man struggling with addiction. Steve Carrell plays his father. Based on real-life father-son memoirs.
A Star is Born: Bradley Cooper directs this remake of the Hollywood price-of-fame chestnut with Lady Gaga as the insecure singer.
The Death and Life of John F. Donovan: Quebec filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s English-language debut looks at fame and the price of letters from the past and stars Kit Harington, Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Thandie Newton and Jacob Tremblay.