Film Festivals and the Heidi Effect

I have seen the paparazzi and heard the screams of fans.

It was my annual TIFF treat with my friend Heidi. Years ago, she introduced me to the delights of the Toronto International Film Festival and while I can ever only manage to join her for one movie each year, it has always been a true experience. I’ve laughed. Cried. Puzzled. And generally been immersed in the fabulous result of artists from around the world collaborating in their craft. It always leaves me with so much to think about.tiff_logo

And, of course, there is Heidi. Funny, direct and with a sense of adventure that is put into overdrive during the festival. Together, we are two “mature women” out to be moved by the films we see. But I am also always waiting for the Heidi moments.

This year was no different. The film we saw, Violette, is a French film directed by Martin Provost and starring Emmanuelle Devos as Violette Leduc, the post-WWII French writer who was championed by Simone de Beauvoir. Great movie — a slow, sensuous tease that peels away the layers of a fierce and bold writer who discovers her author’s voice through life’s disappointments and dead ends.


It reminded me of screenwriter and story editor Sherry Coman‘s words at a recent writers’ workshop “allow for the slow moments, give them time to experience the emotion of a scene.” Provost must be a director of infinite patience and Devos, an actor who could dwell in those moments with just right amount of emotional weight. Bravo. Brava. It was a world premiere and once more, Heidi picked a film followed by an illuminating Q & A. To add to the pleasure, Piers Handling was our charming host.

But it was after the movie that the true Adventures with Heidi took flight.

We made our usual pit stop in the women’s washroom before the drive back from the lovely Elgin Theatre downtown to Whitby in the east. At our age, you don’t take a chance and hope the Parkway isn’t a parking lot again (it was, from Bloor to Lawrence.) In fact, it was almost as slow-moving as the long line at the washroom. As always, no line at the men’s. Clearly, a topic for later.

Anyway, we were among the last to leave the balcony area and were ushered toward the rear stairs. Heidi stopped the usher. “Is this the exit to the front of the building?” she asked.

“No, madam,” he replied.

“Oh. I need to go out the front. My husband is waiting for me there.” Her voice held concern and just the tiniest hint of panic waiting to rise. She had made arrangements with her husband and something serious – perhaps even fatal – might happen if we were sent off course.

A moment’s pause. Just enough time for the Heidi Effect to take hold. I’ve seen this before. Anyone else, and that usher would have said, ‘I’m sorry but that exit is blocked for the next show. You’ll have to leave by these stairs.’ Instead, three beats later and we are heading down the other stairs, the ones to the front lobby. The doors were closed at the foot of the stairs and guarded by two other ushers.

“Oh. I need to go out the front, my husband is waiting for me there.”

Before the ushers could shield themselves, the Heidi Effect did its magic and we were through the doors and smack dab into the midst of a red carpet set up. Clusters of sequins, clutch purses, silk suits, video cameras and bright lights. Velvet ropes defined where big money could tread and held a narrow aisle for lesser mortals. All I could think was Please God, don’t let me get caught on anyone’s TV camera and let’s get back out to Yonge Street to find Ross, Heidi’s husband.

We got some curious glances as we swam, salmon-like, against the trickle of suits and nice dresses strolling into the theatre. I wondered why so few were coming in, grateful we were making a quick getaway and I followed the determined steps of Heidi, the sidewalk and our ride waiting just beyond those outer doors.

I should have known.

You know those scenes from the Oscars, where limos pull up and fans scream every time they see Brad Pitt’s armpit or Angelina’s umbrella? The only thing missing were the limos. And we were trapped in the thick of it. Across the street, temporary barriers held back a massive crowd of camera flashes and craning necks. To our right, a similar barrier contained a slightly smaller crowd of fans but behind them and hugging the buildings, four people deep, were the TIFF ticket holders.

And Heidi and me, out in front of the lobby doors along with security guards, police officers, PR staffers, a corralled gaggle of official photographers, TV cameras, a smattering of very well dressed lucky ones and Jake Gyllenhaal.  Eventually, Hugh Jackman came and joined us but at this point, he was still out thrilling the block-long line up of fans. He took his time, signing occasional autographs.  He really was charming, by the way, stopping and twisting himself back into the crowd to accommodate group selfies. And what a smile. Jake’s smile was very nice too, but he probably had already done his walkabout and was engaged in some small talk with various thrilled VIP-types.514px-Jake_Gyllenhaal_2012 Hugh_Jackman_4,_2012

Heidi and me. Out front. Clutching our practical but large purse bags. Dressed in our office finery. There was no escaping until Jake had finished his one-on-ones and Hugh was done thrilling the throng. Yes. By then, they were Jake and Hugh. We’d spent so much time less than 10 feet away, how could they be anything else?

Ah me. The Visa Concierge – Visa being the official sponsor – official-looking with her headset and brass-like name badge, had eyed us a few times. Jake and Hugh had finally started their long trek up the lobby red carpet to give necessary sound bites to the waiting TV cameras. And there was nobody really famous to excite the crowd. Time for us to ease ourselves along the barrier and past the stalwart line of TIFF volunteers (yay! TIFF volunteers!!) and make our way to Queen Street and our eventual ride home.

But not before another roar and squeals of delight echoed off the surrounding buildings. We’d barely made our escape when the barrier at  Queen Street was opened to allow in a shiny black SUV followed by a white extended van, just as shiny. Who knows who was inside but I don’t think we’d be allowed back in to see.

Not a limo in sight. But it was as close to the Oscars as I’m going to get. And frankly, much closer to Jake and Hugh than I will ever get in future.

Thanks TIFF for a fantastic experience. And Heidi, I can hardly wait for next year. Do you think we can get a couple of selfies with Brad? Next time, I’m bringing something with sequins. Camouflage is always a good thing at these events.