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TIFF 2011 Wrap - Toronto Film Festival 2011: Welcome to Cinema’s Pleasuredome

 Comment on TIFF 2011 Wrap - Toronto Film Festival 2011: Welcome to Cinema’s Pleasuredome

Photos Courtesy Mike O'Bryant.'s Wrap of Toronto 2011.

On the rooftop of a Mercer Street nightclub, with a bird’s eye view of the shiny Bell Lightbox (TBLB), the one-year-old headquarters to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), French actress Isabelle Huppert sits in the sun and discusses her impressive career, offshoot art projects as well as her reason for coming to Toronto this year, her latest and arguably most commercial movie to date, the romantic comedy My Worst Nightmare (Mon pire cauchemar).

Maintaining her celebrity allure behind wide sunglasses, with her trademark freckles and red hair glistening in the bright afternoon sunlight, Huppert acts surprised when told that director Anne Fontaine was nervous about casting her as a snooty gallery owner (think Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada) who falls for a working-class handyman (Benoît Poelvoorde).

“I have no idea why she would be nervous,” Huppert says, flashing a sly grin that makes one’s knees buckle. “I wanted the part.”

Huppert is a frequent guest to Toronto so it’s no surprise we’ve met before on a different rooftop bar to discuss a different French movie.

Once our time is up, or rather when Huppert grows tired of the questions, she ends the interview with a curt “bye-bye” and waits for the next journalist to climb the steps to her rooftop perch.

Before leaving, I stare at the TBLB and its six floors of glass and polished steel housing cinemas, cafes and conference rooms on a busy stretch of Toronto’s theatre district alongside an adjoining residential high rise.

Think of it as a post-modern temple to movies and the worldwide industry that surrounds it; a cinematic pleasuredome that represents just how massive TIFF has become.

The 36th edition of the TIFF with its program of more than 300 movies from 60 countries is winding down and it’s impressive how well art and commerce mingle well at Toronto, a festival that weds the indie spirit of Sundance with the glamour of Venice and Cannes.

Once on par with Montreal’s modest film festival, TIFF continues to grow in major ways and TBLB is symbol of just how far it has risen on the festival circuit.

There is no watershed moment for TIFF the way Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies and videotape became a watershed moment for Sundance. Instead, slowly, steadily, TIFF emerges as the prime launching pad for the pivotal U.A. awards season and a key factor in the critical and commercial success for films from last year’s The King’s Speech and Black Swan to recent hits like American Beauty.

Business discussions begin on the towering escalators inside the TBLB or alongside the gourmet popcorn stand inside the nearby Scotiabank multiplex, the next popular of the fest’s many venues.

With the TBLB ready on time for this year’s guests, the festival relocates from the trendy Yorkville neighborhood north of downtown to the more touristy theatre district just blocks away from the CN Tower, Rogers Dome stadium and convention center.

Nightclubs in the surrounding neighborhood host festival parties late into the morning hours.

What the festival loses in a sense of community — the joy of standing in the courtyard patio of the Yorkville Inter-Continental Hotel and seeing just about everyone you know in one glance – it makes up for in efficiency and scale.

There is room for everything: avant-garde cinema showings take place a few blocks north of the TBLB at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The largest crowds gather at the historic Elgin Theatre and its companion Winter Garden auditorium located on the building’s upper floors.

It’s there that Polish native Pawel Pawlikowski teams up with Ethan Hawke for their riveting, Paris-set psychological drama The Woman in the Fifth and veteran Whit Stillman returns for his first movie in thirteen years, te comedy Damsels in Distress.

Office workers join the morning lines at Tim Hortons and Second Cup and once you step onto the subway to head to another festival venue, you quickly fade away into the workaday fabric of the Canadian metropolis known as New York City on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Clogged traffic has more to do with city gridlock than anything to do with the festival. Photographer Mike OBryant and I sit in a cab for thirty minutes just to go a handful of downtown blocks to speak with Sleeping Beauty director Julia Leigh.

There are countless stories of heartache and success and not every film leaves Toronto with their mission accomplished.

Music superstars Pearl Jam, Bono, Madonna and Johnny Lydon AKA Johnny Rotten, in town to support the drama Son of Norway, come to support their individual movies.

Angelina Jolie accompanies Brad Pitt on the occasion of his baseball drama Moneyball.  

Inside the worn Ryerson Auditorium, tucked away on the campus of Ryerson University, director Adam Wingard, screenwriter Simon Barrett and star Sharni Vinson, bask in the enthusiasm of the rapturous Midnight Madness crowd for the fast-paced and rollicking slasher movie You’re Next. (seen below)

You're Next (L-r) writer Simon Barrett, star Sharni Vinson and director Adam Wingard

You're Next (L-r) writer Simon Barrett, star Sharni Vinson and director Adam Wingard

Speaking the following day, Wingard admits he set out to make a slasher movie tailor made for the fans.

“I’ve been to Midnight Madness before and I said to Simon (Barrett) I want to make a movie these horror fans will love and I can’t begin to say how happy I am right now.”

Audiences at Toronto are known for their enthusiasm for new talent but Lebanese-Canadian filmmaker Nadine Labaki is the unlikeliest winner of the Audience Award for her comedy Where Do We Go Now?

Labaki also stars in the film, about Lebanese women trying to keep their men from joining a religious war.

“I’m thrilled, I’m happy, I’m ecstatic,” Labaki said in a statement. “I’m excited that my day that started on the wrong foot because of a flight cancellation has just been turned upside down.”

TIFF is a celebration of difference and variety in addition to its role as the launching pad to the pivotal awards season.

Perhaps that is its key to success and continuing growth. It’s the rare space where the risk-taking, avant-garde artist and the industry veteran feel comfortable rubbing elbows. There’s enough room for everyone at shiny pleasuredome of cinema on King Street West.

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