The swag-lounge adventures

The ins and outs of getting "the goods" at the Toronto International Film Festival

My colleague Brian Johnson, the Maclean’s film buff who’s covered TIFF from its infancy, had warned me: the film world, he said, is something else. In my first TIFF assignment, covering the lounge scene—full of food, swag and competitive salesmanship—I can safely say he was absolutely right.

In the past two days I’ve biked to four lounges in the TIFF quadrant which stretches from Yorkville to King West. The first on my list was the Tastemakers Lounge. Located at the Intercontinental Hotel in Yorkville, it was in a modest sized room with clean light streaming through the windows. Walking into the room I passed by trays of scrumptious looking grub and then big red tote bags loaded with stuff. This is normal in lounges. If you’re the right person, stuff is plentiful. But more on that later.

Going through a lounge is a bit like doing circuits in a gym. You go from one station to the next and if you’re lucky you’ll pass through one in under a minute. But unlike doing circuits in the gym, which is hard, sweaty, work, it’s not hard to collect stuff. The people just heap it on you. In Tastemakers the publicists proudly said that they featured all Canadian products—except one. I’m pretty sure that defeats the point, but oh well. There was clothing made with bamboo materials, miracle face cream, board games, necklaces, glasses, makeup and raw vegan food. Apparently celebrities come through, and they don’t even have to book ahead, according to Michelle Easton, a publicist at Rockit Promotions. Tastemakers has seen the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Paris Hilton who have passed through for a quick make-up touch-up.

The second lounge on the docket was George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight’s “Made in Canada” Lounge in the CBC building. Again, the title is misleading because, not all the merchandise is Canadian. But to be fair, of their 20-odd products, the majority are Canuck-made. I was shown around by Lexi, a stunning blond who proudly displayed the lounge and the merchandise. Turns out she was the one that designed the room. Kudos her, it looked swanky, but in a relaxed way. Some sculptured maple sugar candies caught my eye. But what I really noticed was the huge bags of extra merchandise that were sitting ready for the talent to come through. If something catches a celeb’s eye, they just pick it up and walk out with it. It could be a pair of shoes, a dress, or a whole section of merchandise from the lounge. They like it? It’s theirs.

Day two of lounge hunting began with the IT lounge on Adelaide Street West. I was ushered in by chipper young women all with beautiful straight hair, too much makeup and lovely smiles. Then, a bronzed women with a bronze tan, black faux-leather tights and pink, fuzzy Energizer bunny slippers fell onto a couch in front me. She introduced herself as Natasha, the president of NKPR, the agency handling the lounge. She said her feet were killing her. I asked her if she plans on sleeping during the festival. “Let me give you an idea of my day,” she began. “Yesterday, I had dinner at 11:30 pm, then came back here to set up the lounge. I came home at one, and was up at 5:30 in the morning to be here by 6:30.” She says that during the festival, she will probably sleep an average of four hours a night. There’s no denying that these people work hard.

The IT lounge was the most glitzy and intense, a merchandise maze. At the Goody hair station there was a girl who calmly sat while a hairdresser demonstrated a hairstyle trick on her with a corkscrew-like device. Every time a new person came to the station, they did it again and again and again. It was all a bit medieval.

A celebrity was in there when I was. I didn’t know who she was, but she looked straight out of a US Weekly tabloid—skinny, long fake hair to the middle of her back, smooth, tight face and big pouty lips. Her fame was confirmed when I saw that she got to go to whatever station she wanted out of turn.

At the end of the IT lounge experience I was handed an apple pie. It didn’t sit well. What was I doing in here? Did I enjoy this? Is apple pie really apple pie if its handed to you in a plastic box with a ribbon?

These thoughts plagued me as I walked to yet another lounge, hosted by AMC/DPA—at the presidential suite in the InterContinental Toronto Centre—which featured a more low-key selection of jewelry and clothing designers.

But by that point, I was tired and uncomfortable. Maybe it was all the fake laughing I heard in the day. Or maybe it was that every lounge mentioned charity, which didn’t quite make sense, seeing that the talent received the majority of the perks in the lounges.

For those reasons and many others, I began to feel like Bilbo and his ring, simultaneously attracted and repulsed by the “goods.” Should I accept it? Would I share this bounty? How long will it be until I turned into Gollum?

I have two more lounges to check out tomorrow. But I think I need a different tactic. Maybe I’ll dress up as staff and serve guests coffee at the reception. Back at the office, I sat down at my desk hungry. I reached into my purse to grab a biscotti that was handed to me in one the lounges. The name on the package? Ridiculous by Jilli. You got it Jilli, ridiculous is right.