For six long days, our intrepid correspondent walked through the valley of the shadow of the Hollywood publicity machine. This is the tale she lived to tell . . .
11:55 a.m.: Armed with equipment – including a press pass, notebook and the world's last functioning analog tape recorder – I enter the steel and concrete canyon of downtown, home of TIFF. The weather is mild, my energy is high. Without warning, I slam into my first U.S. publicist. Suddenly, I find myself pinned under the TIFF promotional boulder, where I will remain trapped for the next five days, fighting for my sanity, subsisting only on hype, celluloid and 40,000 calories' worth of chocolate bars filched from distributors' suites.
12 p.m.: Looper press conference. As Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt answer questions about what advice they'd give their younger selves (their movie is about time travel), my recent past comes back to me in a swirl of images: Russian aristocrats having sex. An American president, crippled from polio, having sex. A poet, also crippled from polio, having sex. A French orca trainer having sex, after she's lost both legs below the knee in a freak accident. A Danish queen having sex with her doctor. Are these my memories? No, they are films I pre-screened for two weeks before TIFF started. (Respectively, Anna Karenina, Hyde Park on Hudson, The Sessions, Rust and Bone, A Royal Affair.) Did I see any films without sex in them?
1:25 p.m.: Bruce Willis interview. He delivers very short answers in a very soft voice. I struggle valiantly to engage him but fail, panting and exhausted.
6:30 p.m.: Cocktail party for Rust and Bone. I say to a French producer, "I want to talk about the sex scene in your movie." He replies, "Sex? I love it!" Then he whirls away. The film's star, Marion Cotillard, appears in a snug strapless dress; she's so beautiful it makes me gasp. I try to approach her dashing co-star, Matthias Schoenaerts, but I can't penetrate the ring of females who stand three metres away from him – the tacitly agreed-upon distance from which one can stand stock-still and gape at celebrities.
8:30 p.m.: Toronto Film Critics Association cocktail party. I must have blacked out, because I find myself surrounded by familiar faces and drink tickets. I feel a surge of hope.
10 a.m.: Emily Blunt interview. I must have blacked out again, because my head really hurts. Blunt has a great photograph of herself and Willis on location for Looper, both wearing blood-smeared costumes, sitting together under a pink parasol he found for her because he feared she was getting sunburned.
2 p.m.: Cloud Atlas screening. I travel through six lifetimes. It takes three hours.
9 p.m.: The Deep screening. I watch the true story of an Icelandic fisherman as he struggles to stay alive after his ship goes down in frigid waters. I can relate. At the Q&A afterward, an audience member asks its hunky director, Baltasar Kormakur (101 Reykjavik) how he sank the boat. "Basically, we sank the boat," he replies.
10:30 a.m.: Kormakur interview. Somehow the hunky director and I have made it to the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel. He wears jeans, boots, a suede jacket. His chin-length salt and pepper hair is slicked back. He looks like the Icelandic Colin Farrell. Suddenly I find I'm extremely interested in Icelandic cinema. He says he did many of the stunts in his movie, including being bashed by waves against a shoreline of razor-sharp lava rock, "because we don't have stuntmen in Iceland," he says. Then he adds, "But this is not hard for me." Mysteriously, every pampered American director in the canyon simultaneously experiences a moment of inadequacy.
4 p.m.: Ben Affleck interview. Affleck hated the seventies hair and beard that he grew for his role as a CIA agent in Argo, which he also directed. He calls the look, "This Davy Jones/Barry Gibb thing on my head." He also uses the word "exfiltrate," which I didn't know was a word.
4:30 p.m.: The Master press conference. Director Paul Thomas Anderson says that, though he was concerned for his star Joaquin Phoenix's safety when Phoenix, acting rage, smashed a "museum toilet" during a pivotal jail scene, frankly, he was more concerned about getting the shot.
9 p.m.: Thanks for Sharing screening. As I crest the hill behind the Ryerson Theatre, the sky lights up with a thousand flashes. Gwyneth Paltrow is walking the red carpet. When she takes her seat in the theatre, 100 people walk down to the front, turn around, and take cellphone videos of her. To me, sitting three rows behind her, it looks like their faces have been replaced by glowing blue squares. My mind grows weak, wondering who will want to watch 100 videos of Paltrow sitting in a chair.
11 p.m.: Various parties. There is Asian-spiced fish. There are signature tequila cocktails. Tim Robbins lopes by. I black out again.
9 a.m. to 4:25 p.m.: Interviews: Greg Kinnear is nice. Lily Collins is wearing eight-inch stilettos even though she has a foot injury. Dennis Quaid smokes an electronic cigarette. Robert Redford doesn't look young anymore, but he still has 40 pounds of hair. Ewan McGregor makes coffee from the single-serve machines that are now ubiquitous in posh hotel rooms. Hugh Laurie will always remember the orchids on the island where they filmed Mr. Pip. Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski needed 500 index cards to keep track of all the scenes in Cloud Atlas. Hugo Weaving has a beard.
5 p.m.: I stumble out of the elevator at the Shangri-La Hotel into the lobby. Waiters in exotic garb serve soigné customers, including Deepa Mehta, Salman Rushdie and friends, who are wearing brilliantly colored saris for the premiere of Midnight's Children, her film of his book. I marvel at the flawless flocking instincts of the hip: How do these people know to be here, when this hotel barely existed a week ago? Construction workers are still finishing the façade, for heaven's sake. Outside, the British actor Jim Sturgess sits alone having a smoke.
10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.: Interviews. John Hawkes's first acting role was Pigpen in a grade-school production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Helen Hunt is writing a screenplay. Winona Ryder utters a single sentence that lasts for 15 minutes. Michael Shannon pinches the skin of his forearms as he talks. Chris Evans, who lives in Boston, calls L.A. "the heartbeat of b.s., because of all the b.s. it pumps into the world."
3 p.m.: Ray Liotta interview. By this point I am so dehydrated that I have resorted to drinking from random water bottles left behind in interview rooms (seriously). But even in my weakened condition, I recognize that I have a rare moment of spontaneous, honest conversation with Liotta. We barely mention his movie, The Iceman. Instead, he talks about being adopted, and how he sought out his birth mother when he was 43; how, though he empathized with her completely, meeting her made him "so glad" he was adopted; and how, when he told that to a friend who'd just adopted a child, the friend burst into tears. It was not a conversation I'd ever imagined having with Liotta – or with anyone this week.
4:30 p.m.: I moderate the press conference for The Iceman. A journo asks a rude question about what happened to Winona Ryder's career. She answers with aplomb. He raises his hand to ask another question, and keeps it raised. Finally I have to call on him. He asks Ryder another rude question. "Let me take this one," Liotta growls menacingly. The crowd applauds.
9 p.m. to 1 a.m.: More parties. I eat a mini grilled-cheese sandwich. I eat a mini fish fritter. I am served a mini squash-and-phyllo square that has a mini fork stuck in it. My friend Teri takes a picture of the mini fork, then tweets it, #nowonderImhungry. Later, at a different party, a fresh-faced server hands me a piece of line-caught tuna and asks, "Do you support sustainable seafood?" Delirious, I reply, "I so do!" Later still, The Iceman cast walks the red carpet outside another club. Except for Liotta. He came in the back way, and is already on a sofa with a drink, surrounded by women with long hair and short skirts.
10:30 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.: Interviews. When Thomas Vinterberg, director of The Hunt, was growing up in 1970s Copenhagen, he lived in a commune with 13 other children and adults, all of whom frequently hung out naked. Marisa Tomei can't stop raking her hands through her hair. Joshua Jackson has an impressive grasp of the situation in Syria. Alexander Siddig's eyes are an ethereal hazel. Catherine Keener is now blond. Christopher Walken sits in a chair, and for the next 15 minutes, holds his body in the shape of that chair. His arms lie on its arms. His legs sit in front of its legs. He regards me calmly. I miss Ray Liotta.
7 p.m.: Just when I think I may have to saw off my head to free myself, the boulder simply … rolls away, back to New York and L.A. from whence it came. At midnight, Paul Dano, Jason Bateman, Abbie Cornish and others stroll through the In Style party looking glam, and TIFF will go on for five more days. But everyone can feel it: The promotional storm has dispersed. We are released.
Daylight: I walk into the canyon, call out, "Hello?" and hear only my echo. I smile, and go to a movie.