FIPRESCI Diary: Toronto International Film Festival

September 8, 2014

Thom Ernst is on the FIPRESCI jury at TIFF this year.


I might hang onto my TIFF ‘14 media pass once this festival’s over. I’m pretty happy about the word jury and how it stands out against a hunter-green strip running beneath an outdated publicity shot taken prior to my hair turning a solid grey.

I’ve been covering the festival in one capacity or another for over 25 years, but this is the year I feel most connected. Perhaps I’m more effusive about being a FIPRESCI member than need be; others might take this in stride as a natural extension of their duties as a film critic. Not me. I’m still reeling from the good fortune of piecing together a film-related career at all to be unaffected by the prospect of joining an international jury at an international festival.

We’re a jury of six with representatives from Italy, Warsaw, the Netherlands and Cameroun. Two of us are Canadian and only one comes from Toronto (me). There’s a great responsibility in being the only Toronto representative. I carry, or so I believe, the weight of my colleagues’ reputation each time I engage in a debate over the merits or failings of each individual film. But all reluctance fades when the TIFF ‘14 FIPRESCI jury first meets. It’s the morning of September 4th, hours prior to the official opening. We gather at a make-shift press desk in the Bell Lightbox where we’re greeted by our TIFF guardian, Angel Cheng. Apprehensions we may have about being jury members quickly evaporate in the company of Cheng. Her enthusiasm and confidence in our involvement is a welcome reprieve from the weeks of not knowing what to expect.

We follow Cheng like fifth graders on the first day of school. And like the first day of school, new relationships begin to form almost immediately so that by the time we ride the elevator and step off on the designated floor, we’re chatting like old school chums. Waiting for us is TIFF senior communications manager, Geneviève Parent.Like Chen, Parent also has the calming grace of aseasoned mentor. The sole veteran of our group – both a previous FIPRESCI member and TIFF attendee – envelopes Parent in vivacious greeting that would rival the return of long-separated siblings.

We are escorted into a corner lounge. The furniture, all chrome and white reminds me of the waiting room scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The windows offer a panoramic few of the festival below as it spills onto the street with banners, and canvas covered barriers, and an array of eye-catching displays from festival associates and sponsors. The city is alive.

Cannes may have the Riviera, but Toronto has King Street.

Dana Linssen, president of FIPRESCI, begins the meeting by dividing the jury into two sub-groups. Half cover the Special Presentations programme; the other half—my half—the Discovery Program. There are 16 films in the Discovery program, which in festival terms means about a weekend of movies. 16 films from first-time filmmakers from the U.S. to Kurdistan; films that in other years might not have been in my radar. One of the benefits of sitting on the jury is being pushed out of my norm and forced to entertain something new. It’s giving me the most authentic festival experience I’ve had in years. We are reminded of the important role we will play as jury members. By the end of this festival, one new filmmaker will be taking home a jury prize from one of the biggest international film festivals in the world. I find this information more exhilarating than daunting. I enter each film with a renewed enthusiasm that “this” could be the one that canges everything. Perhaps for the filmmaker, and certainly for me.