If you're the kind of person who likes celebrities, in that misguided way where you like them because you somehow think that despite their personas being carefully calculated to seem likeable and amenable to your fondness for them, here's a tip: don't ask them what they think about things. Or at least real things.
If given the opportunity, it's probably okay to ask your favourite superstar hunk–or lady-hunk; it should be equal!–if, for example, they like the taste of pizza pie. But I would steer away from hotter-button topics like, "So what do you make of the Brexit?" Or, "How would you manage a workable two-state solution for the situation in the Gaza Strip?"
Case and point: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Now, JGL's the kind of nice, cute, affable-enough-seeming major movie star you might imagine grabbing a beer (or maybe a cute little glass of strawberry milk) with. You'd talk about the women that broke your hearts, and what the best Kinks records are, and how "real hip-hop" stopped in 1994. He's so twee and precious that he's basically a Wes Anderson movie pulled tight over a well-proportioned skeleton. But that doesn't mean he's not an idiot.
At yesterday's press-conference for Oliver Stone's Snowden, in which he plays exiled American state surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden, Gordon-Levitt's trademark pluckiness betrayed a stupefying thick-headedness. Despite the fact that he starred as a guy who now has to live in Russia, because he dared to expose the lengths to which the United States government is willing to go to control its citizenry under the specious auspices of "security," Gordon-Levitt seemed wildly optimistic about America.
Somehow, he spun the Snowden story into an ad for the U.S. itself, saying he values being able to star in a film about these issues, because "that's the privilege of being from a free country." It's sort of like when protesters would show up to protest U.S. President George W. Bush and the wars in the Middle East, only for Bush to turn their rage around and say, basically, "Ah! This is just the sort of freedom we're bringing to the Middle East!" As I tweeted at the time, it's almost like JGL hasn't even seen the new film, of which he is the above-the-title star.
Luckily, director Oliver Stone was more vigilant, at one point offering the following free-verse appraisal of America: "Big money. Rockets. Two hundred miles in space. Satellites. Peeking in as we speak." Amen, brother. Amen.
Stone also compared Snowden to his 1991 masterpiece of paranoid American movie-making, JFK, which is a film that I was, as a teenager, so obsessed with that I timed with a stopwatch its depiction of the Kennedy assassination, in order to compare it against the historical record found in the Warren Report. "It's a detective story," Stone said of his new movie. "Like JFK, it goes into something we don't know about it. The government lies about it all the time. And they keep doing it!"
Stone's proclamation that governments lie serendipitously coincided with a panel held later on Saturday at the Munk Centre-Campbell Conference Facility called All Governments Lie. Tied into Vancouver filmmaker Fred Peabody's TIFF documentary All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and the Spirit of I.F. Stone, the panel discussed the film, the legacy of maverick independent journalist I.F. Stone, and the failures of mainstream media in covering real news, given over as it so often to the frivolity of click-bait headlines and celebrity fawning (like, uh, two weeks of wall-to-wall TIFF coverage).
Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of the syndicated indie news show Democracy Now!, spoke on the panel. That same afternoon, a warrant was issued for Goodman's arrest in North Dakota, where she filmed segments for Democracy Now! about Native American-led resistance to the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. It's another bit of serendipitous timing in its way, proving that the real mavericks and rebels, the actual journalists, are those that serve as enemies of mainstream political culture, not handmaidens to it.
I know it's moronically naive, self-aggrandizing thinking, but it'd sure be swell if people like Goodman–or Jeremy Scahill, or Glenn Greenwald, or John Carlos Frey, or Matt Taibbi, or Noam Chomsky, or any of the other fearless talking heads that pop up to speak harsh truth to power in All Governments Lie–were the real celebrities. It's great that TIFF hosts these events, precisely because they seem to fly glaringly in the face of the festival's general M.O. of uninterrupted pomp, scattered with a little circumstance.
Granted, names like these may not merit the miles of plush red carpet we've become accustomed to at TIFF. But they seem like the kind of people you'd want to talk with about real things; the kinds you'd want to have a meaningful beer with. Or, sure, even an adorable strawberry milk.