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TIFF ’18 Recap

by Raquel Stecher

And just like that TIFF was over.

During my 5 days at TIFF, I watched 12 movies and one television mini-series, attended the Share Her Journey rally and went to two press conferences. I spent hours fine-tuning a very carefully arranged itinerary that included screenings and events with plenty of back-ups and a few breaks for writing, eating and sleeping. I was lucky enough to have gotten into every event I wanted to. Thanks to my extensive training at six different TCM Classic Film Festivals, I learned that if you want to get into a highly sought after event, you need to be willing to show up early and wait for a long time. This helped immensely!



As a member of the press, I received a badge that had my photo, name, my outlets, an indicator noting general access to press events and a QR code for scanning. My pass was scanned for any press and industry events and screenings I attend. If I attended a public screening then my ticket was scanned instead (although for some reason none of my tickets scanned and had to be manually entered). When I checked in I was given a 2018 TIFF tote, a full schedule, some other printed materials and an external battery courtesy of Showtime. Press has access to an all day press lounge where there is Wi-Fi, computers and a seating area for working. They also supply free coffee and tea, breakfast and lunch items like banana bread, fruit, sandwiches, salad, etc. There are also TIFF staff members on hand to field any questions and set up interviews.

Over the 11 days of TIFF, there are hundreds of screenings and special events. 245 feature films plus over 50 shorts made the roster. Each film got anywhere from 2-5 different screenings but the average was 3.

Press and Industry Screening: These screenings are first come, first serve for anyone who has a press or industry badge. For members of the press, the badges were marked A for general access and P for priority access. I just had an A which meant I had to line-up. Priority press can skip the line. These are just regular screenings. There is no introduction and no special guests. If a movie is for sale, the audience might be made up primarily of buyers looking to see if they want to purchase the movie for distribution. For press, these screenings are useful especially if you plan on interviewing the director/cast during a junket, 1:1 sit down, on the red carpet or if you plan on attending a press conference. P&I screenings are usually in the morning and afternoon which is convenient because it opens up the evening for other events. Unfortunately, these screenings tend to have a lot walk-outs. I experienced this on two different occasions. In one almost half the patrons left. In another I estimated about 30 peopled walked out. If the buyers are not interested in the movie after watching it for 20-30 minutes they leave to go to something else. And if press doesn’t think they want to review, they might do the same. I only left to use the washroom.

Public Screening: As a member of the press I was allowed up to 10 public screening tickets. A couple days before the festival starts, TIFF opens up booking to accredited press. I picked my public screenings in advance (I chose 4) and then booked my tickets through Ticketmaster. Public screenings are a mix of gala presentations (with red carpet), special presentations and regular screenings. There is usually an introduction before and a panel interview or audience Q&A, or sometimes a mix of both, after the screening.  I regret not booking all 10 of my available tickets for public screenings because these proved to be a much better movie going experience than the P&I screenings. One downside to public screenings is that they’re usually in the evening, especially if a red carpet event is involved.

Private Screening:  Film publicists will invite members of the press and potential buyers to exclusive private screenings. These are not accessible on the TIFF main schedule and you have to be invited to attend. I was invited to one for Colette but decided to attend a P&I screening as well. Since I’ve never been to one of these I don’t know if they differ from a regular P&I screening or not.

Over the 5 days I attended the following:

Press & Industry screenings:

Assassination Nation
The Quietude
Prosecuting Evil
A Star is Born
Red Joan
Tell it to the Bees

Public Screenings

The Wedding Guest
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
The Good Girls
The Old Man & the Gun

Other events

A Star is Born Press Conference
Colette Press Conference
Share Her Journey rally

Key takeaways:

  • At public screenings, the announcer giving the introduction always makes a point to thank the indigenous tribes whose land that particular theater stands on.
  • Show up early! I got into every event I wanted to get into, especially the highly coveted A Star is Born Press Conference and P&I screening because I showed up really early and was willing to stand in line.
  • With that said, I felt like there was no real rush to get from one screening to another.
  • Volunteers are super helpful and friendly and can direct you to where you need to be. Most lines were handled very well, with only a couple exceptions. In one case I stepped in and even helped the volunteer organize the line. These volunteers work year round and are given special benefits like free tickets to screenings.
  • TIFF attendees are serious film lovers and not necessarily celebrity hunters.
  • The TIFF Bell Lightbox came in very handy for bathroom access, charging my iPhone and for use of the press lounge.
  • E-mails! So many e-mails! I estimated that I received 350 TIFF related emails from publicists, TIFF press office, etc. And I’m sure priority press got flooded with many more.

If you want to learn more about TIFF, I encourage you to check out my Ask Me Anything: TIFF Edition post for even more details.

I still have several TIFF movie reviews left so stay tuned!

TIFF Review: The Man Who Feels No Pain


by Raquel Stecher

The Man Who Feels No Pain (Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota)

dir. Vasan Bala
starring: Abhimanyu Dassani, Radhika Madan

Congenital Insensitivity to Pain. Google it.

Surya feels no pain. Born with a rare condition, newborn Surya survives a chain-snatcher attack that leaves his mother dead and his father and grandfather injured. It’s up to the patriarchs in the family to protect Surya. Because he can’t feel pain, he has to wear goggles to protect his eyes (he won’t notice a foreign object scratching his cornea) and other safety gear. Obsessed with action movies, Surya uses what he’s learned to take on the bullies in school. He teams up with his best friend, Supri, a school girl raised by an abusive and alcoholic father. His biggest advantage in these fights is not being able to feel pain. However his greatest downfall is rapid dehydration which will make him “fall like a log.” Behind the back of his overprotective father, Surya’s grandfather teaches him how to stay hydrated and encourages him to train. Surya’s hero, Karate Man who famously defeats 100 opponents and is not hindered by having only one leg, drives Surya’s desire to fight the chain-snatcher gangs who took his mothers life. Years later Surya reunites with his childhood friend Supri who is now a highly skilled fighter. When Karate Man’s evil brother and his gang of street fighters threatens the community, Karate Man, Surya and Supri come together to take on these foes.

The Man Who Feels No Pain Still 4

“I feel like Rocky Balboa”

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 2.39.44 PM

The Man Who Feels No Pain is a hip action movie with kick-ass slow motion sequences, infectious music, and a lead actor who is posed for stardom. I appreciated the classic storytelling with the hero’s origin story, unusual birth, a strength that makes him stand out from the rest (his insensitivity to pain) and a weakness that threatens to bring him down (the danger of dehydration). It pays homage to 1960s-1970s action movies especially those starring Bruce Lee. The movie is filled with pop culture references and fun retro-style typography.

 “Since childhood Martial Arts movies have been great escape, I guess it’s similar all around the world. Everyone knows Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, not all have to love them but you know them. They have been our legends and the greatest stories wrapped in miles and miles of VHS tape. The quality of the image didn’t matter, the sound didn’t matter, the moment the Golden Harvest or the Shaw Brothers logo came on, we knew we were in for a spectacular ride.” – director Vasan Bala

This is star Abhimanyu Dassani’s screen debut and boy does this man have charisma. Actress Radhika Madan has great screen presence and is such a bad ass in this film. I would love to see more from her. In a film with a predominantly male cast, I appreciate that the female characters we do get to see are tough and hold their own, from Supri’s fearless mother to Surya’s street fighter.

I was really looking forward to watching The Man Who Feels No Pain and it did not disappoint. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I’m dying for a copy of that amazing soundtrack. The cinematography is stunning. Visually and stylistically this film is pure eye candy. There is much to enjoy with this movie and I hope people who love classic action movies will check this one out.

The Man Who Feels No Pain was part of the Midnight Madness series at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. It won the Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award voted by TIFF attendees.

TIFF Review: Red Joan


by Raquel Stecher

Red Joan
dir. Trevor Nunn
Starring Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson, Tom Hughes


Trevor Nunn’s latest film Red Joan is a mishmash of history and fiction. Inspired by the true story of British KGB agent Melita Norwood but mostly fictionalized, the story follows Joan Stanley, a chemist whose smarts land her a spot on the scientific team developing the technology for a nuclear bomb. On that journey she meets Sonya (Tereza Srbova) whose brother Leo (Tom Hughes) is an outspoken Communist activist. With Sonya’s alluring worldly charm and Leo’s handsome bravado, Joan gets caught up in their world. She meets scientist Max (Stephen Campbell Moore), head of the aforementioned scientific team. Joan is torn between her steamy yet dangerous romance with Leo and her blossoming feelings for the still married Max. She also faces a great dilemma. With England completely enveloped in WWII, Joan decides that only an even playing field between England and Russia can set things right. The movie darts back and forth from 1938 to the story’s present day, circa 2000 when Joan (Judi Dench) is being interrogated for her “crimes” and her lawyer son (Ben Miles) must come to terms with his mother’s legacy and the secrets she’s been harboring all these years.

Most critics agree that Red Joan lacks from having too little Judi Dench in it. I for the most part agree. However, I don’t see how this would have worked because, for the purposes of the movie, viewers needed the full backstory of Joan circa late 1930s and early 1940s for us to fully grasp what’s happening to her in 2000.

Red Joan felt like a 1990s period piece and that made me nostalgic for that decade’s historical offerings. A feminist message is inserted, almost haphazardly, to make it more up-to-date. But overall the movie felt old-fashioned in a bad way. The story dragged on and the film felt overly long.

With that said, there is a lot to enjoy in Red Joan for those who love a good period piece with a strong female lead. Sophie Cookson and Judi Dench deliver superb performances. Cookson’s Joan is bright-eyed and cautious. Judi’s Joan is world weary. For anyone who relishes period detail, this film has a lot to offer especially with the elegant 1940s era apparel.

Red Joan is a throwback to a golden era of period pieces but it lacks some modern flair needed for contemporary viewers.

I attended a press and industry screening of Red Joan at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.



TIFF Review: The Old Man & the Gun


by Raquel Stecher

The Old Man & the Gun
dir. David Lowery
starring Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Casey Affleck, Elisabeth Moss


Say it isn’t so Robert Redford? This can’t be your last film! And if it is, what a way to go. Not with a whimper but with a bang!

With a nod to classic Hollywood filmmaking, The Old Man & the Gun is a superb final entry in Robert Redford’s legendary career and thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end. Redford stars as Forrest Tucker, if that’s his real name, a gentleman bank robber who charms tellers out of their money. Tucker has modus operandi has always been to show his target the gun but to never resort to using it. Over his many decades as a bank robber, Tucker has been arrested and released and arrested again. He’s even escaped from prison several times. For the bigger jobs, he employs two friends as his sidekicks Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits) whom the media refers to collectively as ‘The Over-the-Hill Gang”.

After one solo heist, Tucker meets Jewel (Sissy Spacek). She lives a quiet life on her sprawling ranch. Tucker is constantly on the move from one town to the next looking for his next target. He starts to entertain settling down but when police detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) sets his eyes on catching Tucker after being present and oblivious to one of his heists, Tucker finds himself on the run.

The Old Man & the Gun is like a tall glass of your favorite drink. Goes down easy and once you’re done you’re ready for round two. Set in the early 1980s, this film feels old school but is palatable for contemporary audiences. In an interview at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, director Lowery says he wanted the film to be of the era using the technology of its day. Robert Redford, who received a standing ovation at the international premiere, said he was drawn to the predator vs. prey element of the film.

Unlike your typical heist films, this one features little to no violence. The focus is on the characters, their relationships and the chase. It even features a homage to Redford with a look at Tucker’s storied career as a bank robber and inserts some footage from Redford’s previous movies into that retrospective. My only criticism of the film is that the Elisabeth Moss story line, she’s the daughter Tucker didn’t know he had, felt shoe-horned into the plot and didn’t seem necessary. I would recommend this film to anyone who loves Robert Redford and enjoys classic movies. Especially those viewers, like me, who are tired of excessive violence and want plain old good storytelling.

I attended the international premiere at the Elgin Theatre for The Old Man & the Gun during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.



TIFF Review: Prosecuting Evil


by Raquel Stecher

Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz
dir. Barry Avrich


99-year-old Ben Ferencz is the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor. At the tender age of 27 and at the very beginning of his career as a lawyer, Ferencz went head-to head with some of the most notorious Nazi criminals of WWII. Born in Romania to Hungarian Jews, Ferencz and his family fled Transylvania for asylum in the United States. Raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, teachers quickly took noticed of the gifted young Ferencz. He went on to study in the City College of New York and Harvard Law School and during WWII where he served abroad in an anti-aircraft artillery unit before he was transferred to Gen. Patton’s Third Army where he investigated war crimes and visited concentration camps to collect evidence. Horrified by what he saw, he made it his lifelong mission to give back to humanity by prosecuting international crimes.

Director Barry Avrich’s newest documentary Prosecuting Evil, covers the whole scope of Ferencz’s life and career through interviews with colleagues, Ferencz’s son and Ferencz himself. It also includes archival footage from the Nuremberg trials and disturbing images from the Holocaust. Ferencz has been a tireless champion for humankind and even at the age of 98, when this doc was filmed, there were no signs of stopping. Ferencz has an important message from the past to deliver to the future. This can and is happening again. We must fight for humanity.

Prosecuting Evil is a beautiful and poignant documentary about one of the most important living figures from WWII. My heart swelled with emotion and I left the theater very moved. Ferencz is fierce and fearless. He’s a sweet man but not someone you want to mess with. If you have any interest in the history of WWII or humanitarian efforts of if you’ve heard of Ferencz and want to learn more about him, this documentary is essential viewing.

I attended a press and industry screening of Prosecuting Evil at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.


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