Movies have always had a special place in my heart, and in many people’s hearts; they offer an escape into a different world, or conversely, a chance to look at your own society from a new point of view. Take that emotional whirlwind of a theatre-going experience, throw in 121 stunning films, hundreds of celebrities, a throng of moviegoers trying to act cool in case ‘the important people’ are in the room, and you have TIFF 2018.

Holding the press and industry screening passes in my hand, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in my own little movie weaving through the festival village in Downtown Toronto. Ryan Gosling strolled out of his press conference for First Man on my left. Super casual (I’m still shaking). Around the corner curious pedestrians approach the mob of fans waiting outside a restaurant on King, trying to figure out which famous person is coming out next. As I weaved through the Scotiabank Theatre, well-dressed movie critics with lanyards donning the ‘fancy’ laminated press passes discussed the 18th movie they just saw. As a busy student who missed her first seminar to hit the festival (oops), I got to see three.

         The first was Free Solo, a documentary about famous rock climber Alex Honnold and his attempt at being the first climber to free solo (no ropes people) the 3,000 foot cliff, El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Apart from the amazing cinematography caught by a team of professional climbers/cameramen, Alex’s journey to conquer this mosterous goal was an amazing crafted story that captured the whole audience (and, won the Grolsch People’s Choice Documentary Award). The movie explored his deeper desires to prove himself as the best climber, Alex’s personal life, and the process of attempting a feat that is almost sure to kill you. 

         Next up was Vox Lux, a star studded from Brady Corbet featuring Natalie Portman as a pop star who rose to fame as a child survivor of a school shooting. The film was a dark commentary on our cultures consumption of mass violence and popstars, the opening scene itself featured a graphic school shooting with casual narration carrying the audience through the rest of the film. The film was extremely hyped pre-festival, but in all honestly it fell flat for me. The first half of the film, featured Celeste’s (young Natalie Portman) rise to fame. This part had a very artistic and innovative filmmaking techniques, and a stellar performance by Raffey Cassidy as young Celeste. The second half included another terrorist shooting, a concert video ending with too much glitter, and a seemingly disconnected message from the first half of the film. Reflecting on the film with a colleague from work, we both understood the cultural message the film was striving for, but it ultimately got lost in the rushed, dark, and ambiguous nature of the film. 

         The last on the roster was Wild Rose; and it may have been the fact that I couldn’t get into fan favourite ROMA, but the film was too felt too predictable. The film follows Glasgow native, Rose, and ex-con/single mother who dreams of being a country star. TIFF 2017 Rising Star Jessie Buckley played Rose, who everyone instantly fell in love with for her spunky ambition and hilarious character, but with aside from the fact that Rose was a girl from glasgow who wanted to be a country star, every other plot line in the movie presented little conflict or intrigue. 

One of the main winners at TIFF though? The continuation of a movement that goes far beyond the movies, women’s representation (or lack thereof) in the filmmaking industry. Share Her Journey was at the forefront of the festival this year; TIFF’s five-year commitment to increase participation skills and opportunity for women behind and in front of the camera. Unsurprisingly, in our ever so patriarchal society, of the top 250 films of 2017, only 18% employed women directors, writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers. At this year’s festival, 121 films were directed or co-directed by women, an increase from 2017by 33.6%.

While the increase in gender representation is a win, it’s only a small step forwards in terms of true equality. Intersectionality was a theme this year with many reporters criticizing not only the people telling the stories, but those watching them. NOW Toronto released an article highlighting the industries need for more diverse film critics – 82% of film critics are white and 78% are male according to a study by USC Annenberg. An accreditation initiative between TIFF, Sundance, and USC Annenberg made a step towards this equality this year, with 200 film critics from underrepresented backgrounds finally getting access to the films at these festivals. But looking around at the crowd of white males that were watching the movies with me, and writing this as a white, privileged, cis-gendered female, it’s clear we still have a long way to go. Because to get a true review of any film we have to look not only at who’s making the film, but who’s watching it.

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