Jake Cole flew into Toronto from Atlanta last Wednesday and has hardly slowed since he arrived. He’s seen nearly 30 feature films over the course of the last nine days: three per day, some interminable.
Cole is at TIFF as a film critic, which means he must not only watch a lot of movies but remain alert, thoughtful and, where possible, sober while watching — easier said than done after the sustained assault of a week and a half. He has editors and publicists with which to coordinate and press lines to stand in for hours. He has colleagues to see and important people to meet. And somewhere in all this — between free sandwiches in the press lounge and complimentary cocktails at after-parties among the stars — he has to find time to write.
No one wants to hear a film critic complain about his lot in life: there are worse demands on anyone’s time than having to sit through a bunch of movies. But covering a major international film festival, as Cole can well attest, does tend to get intense. “The other morning I woke up at 7:00 a.m. after a late night to stand in line for an hour to see a terrible biopic about Mary Shelley,” he reflects mid-fest. “Then I lined up for another hour to see Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, which I liked but which opens in about a month, and then I lined up again to see the terrible new Wim Wenders movie. Somewhere in there I wrote and filed a review of the first movie and my day didn’t wrap until nine.”
There is a certain irony, to be sure, in travelling more than 1,500 kilometres to another city so you can sit inside a dark room for six or seven hours a day. “It’s the strangest thing, being in the dark so much,” Cole says. “Especially when you get out and try to talk to people.” Indeed, socializing is another odd ritual of the festival experience: it’s like an annual summit that brings together friends and colleagues from around the world only to isolate them from one another for most of it.
“I know a bunch of critics who travel to the festival every year,” Cole says. “We all know each other on Twitter and obviously we all talk shit about movies on there — but it’s nice to have an actual conversation with them, to actually catch up with them face-to-face, and, if at all possible, to talk about anything other than movies.”