The Struggle to Provide Fair Opinions When Attending a Film Festival


Actress poses for photographers during the movie "Machete" red carpet at the 67th Venice Film Festival


The 38th annual Toronto International Film Festival is currently entering its final homestretch and I’ve had the privilege to catch no less than fifteen movies in the short span of a single week. They are: The Fifth Estate, 12 Years a Slave, Prisoners, Labor Day, The Green Inferno, Dallas Buyers Club, Horns, Gravity, August: Osage County, Under The Skin, Afflicted, Don Jon, Man of Tai Chi, The Wind Rises, and Rigor Mortis. The number of movies I see are always the same and the days/times never differ from one year to another. Opening night movie on Thursday, two on Friday, three on Saturday, three on Sunday, three on Monday, two on Tuesday, and the final two on Wednesday. Every screening happens in a different theatre downtown, some of which might require a quick cab ride or a 15 minute sprint run and some deodorant body spray. The experience is special because it’s a Mandarin buffet of silver screen staring and I am allowed to binge on as many movies as I can possibly gobble up.

The binge eating behavior of catching so many films in so little time is only half the experience. Turns out that I am mostly shoving masterpieces down my throat as well – or rather movies that need a positive reaction out of the screening I am attending in order to launch an awards campaign. It’s like a hot wings eating contest but I have to devour 15 pieces of filet mignon and the chefs are standing right there in front of me. “Everyone has had filet mignon before so it’s not that special, just fancier”, you might say. Well, that’s the funny thing about TIFF: all these movies have been largely unseen and film fans from around the globe wish they could get a taste.

So let’s recap the metaphor here. Fifteen pieces of filet mignon, cooked by the greatest chefs in the world, barely anyone but you will have the privilege to taste these, and you need to shove them all in your mouth at a record speed. How absurd is the whole concept overall when you put it in perspective? Extremely.

What would you do if you were in that situation? Where you tweet about the movie you just watched and everyone gets their hopes up or down because they don’t have the chance you have to see it. Even the companies and the people who made the film are looking forward to retweet what you say as long as it’s positive so they can (God forbid!) find a distributor or at least get some positive word-of-mouth out there. And worst of all, there are plenty of other festival attendees who wanted precious tickets to that screening you just attended but they were OFF SALE even before single tickets day. Their idea of attending the festival was to enjoy this film before everyone else and they were denied that privilege that you are enjoying. Feeling the pressure yet?

The introductions for each film – mostly conducted by TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey who clearly found a way to clone himself because everyone bumps into him a dozen times – often emphasize that privilege as he often recalls the hundreds of film enthusiasts who had to be turned down at the Rush Line and goes on to bring legendary Hollywood actors and directors to introduce their own work. The same talent comes back after the film and performs a Q&A session where members of the audience stop hindering their inhibitions and start complimenting them on their careers, their dresses, and anything on display! “Oh, Mister A. You were so fantastic in that role, I am sure you will win all the awards this year!” or “Oh, Miss B. This is the most brilliant film you’ve ever directed, I will never wash that hand again if you shake it!”

This entire spectacle… fifteen times in a row… in a single week. How could I possibly not feel grateful when everyone around me either A) are also at the screening and clearly extremely grateful to be there, or B) wish they were at the screening and will keep me in check if I am not grateful. I am overwhelmed with honor! I am humbled beyond belief! Is that Benedict Cumberbatch over there? Let’s ask him about Sherlock Season 3! Are these hors d’oeuvres made with alsatian choucroute? They are delightful! Joseph Gordon-Levitt never directed a movie before? What a genius he must be! The whole thing is a blast, and with so many movies to see, there is absolutely no time to make one’s opinion about a film because you’re too preoccupied with getting in line for the next one across town. By the time your seventh screening is about to begin, your brain only has memories of what the second screening was about. If you’re not lucky enough to grab a large coffee before your third screening of the day, chances are you will nap your way through it and will feel too embarrassed to admit it.

How does that leave room for disliking a film? Let me rephrase that actually: Are you so unappreciative that you would go through that amazing experience, standing right next to Hollywood’s A-List, and start spreading that you didn’t like the movie? Are you going to pick on the works of a respected director? Right in front of him too? And school us on why it sucks and we shouldn’t waste our time with it?


Let’s be upfront and honest. Perhaps the impressions you get out of a movie you see at a Film Festival lack the necessary perspective you normally get by attending your regular trip to the multiplex on a Friday night. Not only are the circumstances of privilege surrounding each screening making it difficult not to raise your thumbs up even if you admittedly felt half-engaged or even flat out indifferent in some parts. Most importantly, you are watching over a dozen movies in a very insignificant amount of time and it’s practically impossible to fully reflect on each of them when your energy and attention is constantly redirected towards the next picture in line.

Film festivals are an incredible privilege, and a whole lot of fun, but too many factors make it difficult for people to properly sustain an opinion that they won’t later feel compelled to revise. Think of movies you saw at festivals and caught again a year later. You might be surprised about how underwhelming or refreshing your second take will feel now that you’re watching it on Netflix like everyone else.

My mom’s advice at the dinner table was always to avoid eating too quickly because “I wouldn’t get to enjoy the taste and my stomach would hurt.” She was obviously right. Don’t believe a word I said about the movies I saw at TIFF. Just wait until they come out and properly offer them the attention they deserve while no attention being directed to you. Digest them slowly, and enjoy every single bite.

– The Sleepy Skunk