11/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Live from the Toronto Film Festival: Day 1

If it's the Thursday after Labor Day, then I must be in Toronto, queuing up with hordes of Canadian (and American) press for press screenings at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival (hereafter: TIFF), an event I've been attending on-and-off (off years being due mostly to the whims of idiot editors I've worked for in the past) since 1984.

Like all things, TIFF suffers from its own success and, of course, entropy. It has become a massive, sprawling showcase -- the launchpad for the fall Oscar season (and the place where the best of what will be at the New York Film Festival gets seen first).

I only took in a couple of screenings Thursday -- more on those in a minute -- but a pet peeve already has presented itself.

Specifically: too many damned commercials before the start of each film, placed there obviously because they advertise sponsors of the festival. Yes, I know, no sponsors, no festival -- that's the way of the world. But get a grip: I counted six of them at one point before one of the films I saw today -- for Bell, Cadillac, Blackberry, Cineplex, some bank and the ever-present back-patting for volunteers. And of course, at least one for the festival itself.

Sure, each one is only 15 seconds or so. But at least when I'm watching TV, I can use the DVR to skip them. Here, you're a captive audience -- and if you're seeing four or five movies a day, well, I have a feeling I'll be able to recite them by heart by Saturday.

Allow me a moment of in-my-day musing: I remember the glorious '80s, when a press badge got you into any film, anytime. You could walk into any public screening, even before the people with tickets were allowed in. Of course, almost all of the theaters where those public showings were held have vanished behind waves of urban renewal. The biggest of them is now a massive Pottery Barn on Bloor Street. And the venues, rather than being concentrated in the Yonge & Bloor neighborhood, are scattered all over downtown, making quick egress from one show to the next virtually impossible.

Ahh, the good old days, when being a critic was actually a big deal. Now a press badge doesn't even get you into a press screening -- at least not the dreaded "priority press" screenings, where we mere "regular" press have to line up so that priority press - whoever they may be; no one seems able (or willing) to answer that question -- can be sure to get seats first. Then the rest of us ink-stained wretches (there's a phrase that dates me) are allowed in. It's a little too much like high school for my taste, with the masses waiting until the cool kids get their pick of seats.

On the bright side, in acknowledgment of just how far it can be from screening to screening, this year for the first time the festival has provided us in the press with a free transit pass, which allows us to hop the ultra-clean, quiet and upholstered subways to those far-flung venues. That's a real boon and one that I'm thankful for.

So, on to the movies.

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