With more than 300 films at TIFF, how does a critic decide which films to see? Well, first off, I don't strictly choose - in many cases, I get assigned - but the big job perk is that, for a couple of weeks, I get to see as many films as I can fit between sleeps.
I think of a film festival like a story I'm jumping into in middle of. Some parts have already been told, others are yet to unfold. First, I look to other festivals that happened earlier in the year: Cannes, especially, but also Berlin and Sundance, to find out what films won prizes or had interesting critical reaction. To keep up with international cinema I try to read Cinema Scope, Film Comment, and online magazines such as Senses of Cinema and Bright Lights Film Journal, along with the useful GreenCine Daily, which surveys critical reaction to films.
Cannes remains my biggest guide to what's going to be best in Toronto. I typically count on at least five titles out of Cannes to be among the best films in the world that year. For example, I already know from advance reaction that such films as White Ribbon , Bright Star and The Prophet will likely be top choices at TIFF this year. As well, An Education , which was at Sundance, is bound to be of interest. When it comes to new films, I take some chances but catch them later in the festival, when I've heard some positive word of mouth.
I don't worry so much about catching Hollywood films because that's what I do the other 11 months of the year. Like any fan, I'm anxious to see the new Coen brothers film ( A Serious Man ) and the Steven Soderbergh offering ( The Informant! ), and I'm happy to watch Jennifer's Body , to see what Diablo " Juno " Cody's new script is like.
Following certain directors is still the heart of a film festival to me. For example, French filmmaker Bruno Dumont is a polarizing figure who intrigues me (because he polarizes me too). His new film Hadewijch gets its world premiere at TIFF and I'm delighted to discover it's a terrific film. I'm always interested in what Atom Egoyan's going to try next: This year it's Chloe , an erotic thriller. And when it comes to filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard, Manoel de Oliveira and Alain Resnais, it just seems amazing to share the planet with these historical figures, and seeing their films at a festival is a way of participating in their history.