TIFF gridlock and Norman Jewison’s next act

As Jewison contemplates ‘The Iranians Are Coming’, there’s as much buzz about the traffic as about the films

I ran into Norman Jewison at a rooftop cocktail atop the TIFF Bell Lightbox Friday evening. The 85-year-old Canadian director, looking nowhere near his age, showed up along with such luminaries as Robert Lantos, Atom Egoyan and Sony CEO Howard Stringer to pay tribute to Tom Bernard and Michael Barker, the exemplary indie distributors who being feted on their 20th anniversary at the helm of Sony Pictures Classics. Eventually I got around to asking Norman what he was up to these days, and he said he had a couple of movies in development—one with Moonstruck writer John Patrick Shanley and another pitched to him by a pair of Saturday Night Live writers—a farce called The Iranians Are Coming, which would update Jewison’s satirical hit, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966). That Norman would even consider making more movies at 85 is inspiring, but hey, Tony Bennett is the same age and he’s still performing. And last time I checked, Jewison was still taking ski vacations. He’s fond of quoting William Wyler, who once told him he’d direct “until the legs give out.”

But before I steered Jewison onto the subject of film, all he wanted to talk about was the insane downtown traffic, the city’s crumbling infrastructure, and his nightmarish ordeal in trying to get to the Lightbox. He’s not alone. Everyone at TIFF is apoplectic about the traffic, both inside and outside the building. (If you don’t frequent downtown Toronto, or live in a less stupid part of the country, you may want to tune out at this point.) Swollen by unchecked growth of condos, the downtown gridlock is bad at the best of times— Mayor Rob Ford can forget about defending drivers from the alleged “war against the car”; the car is at war with itself. But during the 11 days of  TIFF, a bad situation becomes untenable. This year the festival has fully moved from midtown to downtown, funnelling thousands of people into tight grid of hotels and cinemas. Festival-goers give pedestrians a bad name: folks with badges around the necks and blackberries in their hands (I’m one of them) who are in a desperate hurry to get to an important movie or meeting, because the world might end if they don’t make it. The narrow streets and sidewalks just can’t accommodate them. It’s an absurd crush. At this point you can’t pretend the festival doesn’t exist. It’s so successful it’s eating Toronto alive. So next year the city should close off key streets to regular traffic, creating special lanes for taxis, limos and service vehicles.

Meanwhile, there’s also gridlock within the Lightbox. Don’t get me wrong. We love this building and it’s still hard to believe such a palatial, and functional, monument to cinema has sprouted from the Toronto’s urban core. But this year’s festival revealed a major design flaw in the Lightbox. The only way to get to the top floor is via two tiny elevators—which is where TIFF has been holding its press conferences. Journalists were reporting delays of 20 minutes in trying to get upstairs to get an audience with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and other deities. What’s worse, to usher the Brads, the Georges and their entourages to and from the press conferences, those precious elevators have to be commandeered and closed off to mere mortals. I shudder to think what bedlam will erupt on Monday at noon when Madonna holds court.

Memo to TIFF for next year: try to persuade the city to create some space in the streets for the festival, and move the celebrity feeding frenzy to a nearby hotel ballroom. For those of you in the Rest of Canada, if all this media madness around our little world class extravaganza has given you a case of TIFF envy, believe me, it’s not all fun and games.



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