Landon Roberts, Contributing Writer
The first thing I was greeted with when arriving at the Toronto International Film Festival was a piece of graffiti that read “We share our city.” Little did I know this one piece of art would ring true during my entire experience at TIFF.
Being granted press accreditation to the festival was a moment filled with rapturous joy, but also a looming feeling of anxiety. Why did I, a student journalist, deserve this right to sit among great critics such as David Ehrlich from IndieWire and Stephanie Goodman from The New York Times?
After my first screening of “A Hidden Life,” directed by Terrence Malik, this feeling soon disappeared, and I realized it didn’t matter what publication my press pass referenced. We were all here to experience films the way they were supposed to be experienced, with a crowd that appreciated every aspect of the filmmaking process.
After every screening, I heard the question, “What did you think?” arise from the person I sat next to. Whether it was Michael from the TIFF programming board or YouTuber Karsten Runquist, this question always had genuine intrigue behind it.
Some of my best memories from the festival included waiting in line for any press and industry screening while chatters about prior films filled the room. I felt as if I belonged — it was no longer discussing the ending of an ambiguous film with my closest friends. Everyone who occupied that room shared a collective love of cinema and heard out any interpretation I pondered within my head.
I could go from one conversation regarding the soft intimacy of the female gaze in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” to the uncomfortable portrayal of anxiety in “Anne at 13,000 ft.” and every person I spoke with heard me out with a sense of intrigue that made me feel accepted by my peers.
I wasn’t standing on my soapbox shouting about how film affects me to uninterested friends as I have in the past; I was having an open dialogue about the impact of movies on the mind and soul with people who have experienced that same feeling.
These dialogues even spilled onto the streets and bars of Toronto where people asked me, “How is the festival treating you?” and “Have you seen anything good?” These people heard me out like a giddy child on Christmas waiting to hear if their most anticipated movie was worth a watch.
It was truly a wonderland occupied by die-hard cinema fans. It makes me look back at the anxiety I had when I received the letter of acceptance with a bit of humor. Why was I so worried about if I belonged or not? The answer is simple, I had no confidence in my opinions, but through my conversations and the welcoming arms of Toronto, I gained a new sense of confidence and belonging through the simplicity of an open dialogue regarding the interpretation of art.
Almost everyone I talked to about the festival had their own personal story of how TIFF has impacted their lives, whether through networking that got them jobs in programming for the festival or how businesses see an increase in sales during the festival. Now I can add to these stories because TIFF made me feel comfortable in my skin and opinions.
Hearing these stories gave an entirely new meaning to the “TIFF is…” clip they played before every screening.
It is a celebration of cinema, it is a conversation about the impact a film can have, and most importantly it is a community that welcomes anyone who shares the same passion.
Check out Landon’s run-down of his favorite films he saw at TIFF.