Ben Stiller, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Clint Eastwood and countless other stars attended The Toronto International Film Festival, but I didn't cross paths with any of them. I did, however, share a plane with Aaron Eckhart, and even though he's not exactly a superstar (at least not yet), the hard-working actor proved a fitting prefiguration to my trip.
The King's Speech, starring Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth, won the Festival's overall audience award and The First Grader was the runner-up. Incendies won for best Canadian feature and the International Critics gave prizes to Yves Saint Laurent - Pierre Bergé, l'amour fou and Beautiful Boy. Midnight Madness audiences voted for Stake Land, which is about vampire hunting, and the documentary that received the most votes was Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie. Of course, I didn't see any of those films. Instead, I watched Date Night on the plane.
I heard about a party where the crowd surprised Colin Firth by singing Happy Birthday. At another shindig, Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am worked the turntables. And if your Black Eye Pea appetite was not yet satiated, you could find apl.de.ap spinning music at another party. As you can probably gather, I didn't attend any of them. Rather, I arrived in Toronto at 5:30 pm with Aaron, hopped in a cab, dropped my bags at my hotel and went to a dinner meeting. I had to leave that dinner meeting to go to another dinner meeting which so happened to be at the same restaurant. Awkward, sure, but convenient. After dinner, I took some enthusiastic filmmakers from Croatia to a lively party hosted by the Manitoba Film Commission. I got back to the hotel at three in the morning, unpacked and answered emails. Meetings began the next day at 9 am with one every hour and sometimes every half hour. Every day for the next five days was pretty much the same schedule. I hope the DJs will accordingly forgive my absence.
I didn't go to many movies, I didn't see many stars and I didn't attend many parties but I did meet some wonderful people and I learned a thing or two from some Canadian filmmakers. With the credit crunch, the DVD market slowdown and the shuttering of several US mini-major studios, less US independent films are being made and those that are being made are being produced for less money. Such trouble isn't hampering our friends up north one bit, though. If you qualify as a Canadian film, Telefilm (i.e., the government) can put up to 49% of the budget. You can get tax credits worth about 30% of the budget and you can find other funds such as The Harold Greenberg Fund and the Ontario Media Development Corporation to put up even more money. Before you know it, your film is 80-100% financed. While you can get some decent tax credits across the US, most true US indies still struggle to raise over a million dollars. A lot of Canadian films are being made for far more. Canadian films at the Festival this year include The Bang Bang Club with Ryan Phillippe, Barney's Version with Paul Giamatti and Casino Jack with Kevin Spacey. It's no wonder. Right now it is good to be Canadian. Not only can you offer actors more money but there is a built-in comfort for everyone when you have a bit more money to make the movie.
And just so you don't think I'm one of those people who only go to film festivals to do business, I did go out of my way to see one film during the festival -- The High Cost of Living -- a terrific film that looked like it didn't cost much but it does star American actor Zach Braff. And wouldn't you know, it's Canadian.