Festival Daily

By Neil Karassik

Who: Cameron Bailey, Co-Director, Toronto International Film Festival, and Raymond Phathanavirangoon, International Programmer
Where: Urban, 303 King Street West
When: August 25, 8:30pm
What: Australian shiraz; virgin fruit juice cocktail; vodka martini

After another 12-plus-hour day at the office, I meet up with Raymond Phathanavirangoon, the Festival’s Southeast Asian Programmer, and Festival Co-Director Cameron Bailey. We hop into Bailey’s immaculate, jet-black car and make our way to Urban, a posh yet inviting restaurant on the trendy King West strip. En route, Bailey and Phathanavirangoon converse like old friends, chatting about their anticipation of this year’s Festival and mutually frantic work schedules. Once inside Urban, we’re lead to a moody, gangster film-like back room, where we toast the Festival’s success and spend hours discussing all things film.

Q: It is both of your first years in your respective positions. What kinds of radical changes have you experienced since your previous jobs?

CB: Being Co-Director is like being in a completely different world. Although I started programming for the Festival in 1990, this is totally new. I didn’t realize how complicated scheduling would be. Everyone’s got a point of view and there’s a lot at stake. Exactly what day, time and venue a film screens makes a huge difference. In many ways it’s a really complicated, high-pressure job.

Q: Can you elaborate on what goes into putting together a programme list?

RP: At times it can be a bit of a minefield. My personal taste is kind of indie or artsy, but because I’ve also worked as a sales agent, I understand that I need to balance my preferences with more commercial elements. Because I watch hundreds of films and want to represent as many countries as possible, narrowing down the list becomes quite daunting.

Q: What cinematic trends or innovations have impressed you most this year?

CB: What I’m responding to now are character studies. Take Hunger, for instance. As artful as that film is and as sophisticated as it is aesthetically, one of the things I like most about it is that it brings us closer into the character of Bobby Sands. It’s an extreme revelation of character and it contains an extreme performance, physically and emotionally. Same thing goes for Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. The director and the actor are pushing so far beyond the usual limits – they kind of just free themselves. I’m interested in these types of films because they feel like they are more real. They don’t have to take place in the real world, but they’re pushing toward some understanding of human character that is real. That’s when you know good acting in cinema is still alive.

Q: What do you think sets this Festival apart from others? Is there a distinct vibe that is exclusive to the Festival and the city of Toronto?

CB: The number one thing is the audience. Every festival has an audience, but because we’re a public festival, the audience plays a different role here. Sellers and producers bring their films here to show them in front of an audience, which can actually generate sales in a lot of cases because they see how North American viewers respond. Toronto has this incredible wealth of diversity. So when we show The Good, the Bad, the Weird, I already know that there’s going to be enormous excitement among the large population of Koreans in the city. You can pick just about any film from around the world and you will not only see cinephiles in attendance, but also groups of people who actually come from these places.

Q: Once the Festival begins, how do you balance exhaustion and the pressure to look and act your best under stressful circumstances?

RP: It’s important to have a personal connection with the filmmakers, and luckily I do on a certain level. In some ways I view the Festival as a way of seeing old friends. At the same time there is the constant pressure of wanting everything to go right. But for the overall functionality of things, sometimes you just have to hope for the best. Sometimes it’s a little bit out of your control.

Q: What are you most looking forward to this year?
CB: For me, the premieres are really special. There are many times where you’re the first to see an unfinished film. You have faith in it and invite it. And then weeks go by and the premiere finally comes and hundreds of people buy tickets. When the lights go down and the audience is watching the film for the first time, it’s very exciting. If you get a response that is somewhat similar to how you felt when you first saw the film, it’s really a thrill.