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TIFF 2016 Day One: Opening Night, the Dreaded Rush Queue and Free Fall

September 11, 2016

tiff 2016 Day one

It’s finally here – TIFF opening night!

I’ve worked five shifts for the festival in pre-sales so far, a chaotic time of ticket sales and network fails adorned with the confetti of a million freshly ripped tickets. And now it’s here – opening night – and none of that matters because I’m starting a new position at the Scotiabank Theatre, the largest and busiest venue of the festival. Have you ever heard of this thing called rush where you can get into an off-sale show ten minutes before? Me neither, so who knows how tonight is going to go.

I’m very excited. I spent a whole fifteen minutes on my make up today, ten minutes more than usual and I’m wearing a leather skirt I bought at the thrift store last week for $7. This skirt may be the best investment I’ve ever made in my life. That said, the wrap-over situation feels precarious and all it will take is slight wardrobe malfunction and I’ll be left standing my knickers.

See how easy it is to slip into catastrophic thinking when you’re under pressure? I need to remember that I am merely a lowly ticket agent and there’s only so much I can do make things run smoothly. And in any case it’s a film festival, what’s the worst that can happen…?

So today is Friday and I am recovering from the wonderful hot mess that was Thursday night. Overall, save a few technical hitches, it all went well. Everyone at my venue got to see the film they wanted to see, received their tickets in good time, were charged the correct amount and a number of them even got to ask me the fundamental question – where on earth are you from? What more could you ask for.

My fun but fairly gruelling shift ended at 10.30pm at which point I met Shaun at his venue where he had just finished work two hours later than he should have and we stood out on Festival Street, sweating in the crazy humidity that has taken over Toronto this week, and tried to decide what to do with what remained of our night.

Festival street before the madness.

Festival street before the madness.

There had been whisperings of a super exclusive opening night party ever since I began my job with TIFF but it was unclear who would and would not be important enough to make it onto the guest list. If TIFF is an army I am very much a foot soldier so there was no chance of me making through the doors but on the arm of a manager? Who knows, worth a shot. And yet when it came down to it I just couldn’t bear the thought of being turned away at the door so we turned our attention to the whole reason this festival exists in the first place – the films.

All of the premiere screenings, all of the red carpet glitz and glamour had already unfolded while we were behind our respective desks at the festival box office and the multiplex and so the only event we could now attend was the midnight madness screening of Ben Wheatley’s new film, Free Fire. There was just one problem, we didn’t have tickets.

Turning up to a festival screening with no tickets means that you are going to become very well acquainted with the long, motionless line of bodies that is the rush queue. When we arrived at the Ryerson Theatre there were two giant queues stretching both ways up the street, one for those with tickets and one for those poor souls without.

I made a major error during my shift at the multiplex. Upon realising that I could get free pop at the concession stand I proceeded to drink two fairly sizeable cherry and vanilla cokes, an act that tricked my body into thinking it was hydrated when in fact it was just full of sugar. I worked for seven hours and drank no water whatsoever so by the time I got to Ryerson I felt all sticky and faint and couldn’t see how I could get through the queue and the film without hydration. A kebab and a bottle of water later we joined the rush queue that was by this point almost double what it was when we arrived. There must have been about a hundred people in the queue anyway so we milled around at the front for a bit, watching the red carpet craziness before schlepping all the way to the end.

The best pap snap I got. Best to leave it to the professionals, I think.

The best pap snap I got. Best to leave it to the professionals, I think.

I’m pretty sure I saw Armie Hammer getting his red carpet flash attack. I’m pretty sure it was him because he was really tall and after having his photo taken a million times he started chatting with some TV host with bulging coke eyes, and not the cherry and vanilla kind, before disappearing off, back to his hotel or wherever. Apparently the stars very rarely watch their films after they attend the red carpet. How weird is that.

If none of the stars did stay for the screening they really missed out because the atmosphere in the Ryerson was magic. It’s a cavernous venue and it was packed to the rafters with hard core film fans happy to stand in line in the middle of the night to be amongst the first to see this film. Free Fire didn’t disappoint. Something like Reservoir Dogs mixed with the last third of the Hateful 8 but done without the Tarantino try-hard sheen and with a pitch perfect script that is funny as hell and just as dark. My ears were ringing by the time the film was over thanks to a sound mix that purposefully made every one of the ten thousand gun shots sound like they were happening within a foot of the side of your head.

Standing at the bus stop close to 3am we got talking to someone who had watched the film too and he described it as the most ‘honest shoot out’ he had seen which I thought was pretty funny and sort of true. Lots of crawling on the floor and shooting wildly, hoping to catch your enemy in the torso or head rather than putting yet another hole in their arm or leg might well be how these things play out in real life but honest seemed a strange way to describe it. One character comes back to life with his brain exposed from a gunshot wound to the head to deliver some of the funniest lines in the film.

We talked about the Free Fire all the way home and at some point I realised that between standing in the rush queue outside before the midnight madness screening and being guided to an empty seat just as the film was starting my birthday happened and I turned thirty one. I found out the next morning that the entire cast minus Cillian Murphy and director Ben Wheatey had turned up after the credits rolled for a Q and A and we had missed it by rushing off to catch a bus. Well, you can’t win them all.

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