TIFF 2018: Volunteering at one of the world’s largest film festivals

Volunteering allows you to learn about and support smaller independent films

TIFF 2018: Volunteering at one of the world’s largest film festivals

Sunday, September 16 marked the final day of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) — or, in other words, the final day that I could compulsively stalk any human person with a reputable IMDb page who was in the Toronto area while not appearing to be a complete psychopath.

This year, I had the pleasure of volunteering alongside TIFF’s remarkable staff, where I was granted behind the scenes, 3D, and high-definition access to one of the world’s largest and most prestigious film festivals.

You’re probably wondering how I, a small, doe-eyed liberal arts student from rural Ontario got the opportunity to work at an event with such high stakes.

It began when I heard that TIFF was looking for another batch of eager volunteers. As an aspiring filmmaker, actor, and director, I knew that I needed to play a part in this year’s festival.

Like every other millennial that had applied, I had stars in my eyes as I dreamed of meeting internationally renowned celebrities. Whether it was icon and multi-Academy Award winner Meryl Streep or heartthrob Timothée Chalamet, having the chance to meet any star would be a mission accomplished.

That being said, during volunteer training, we were told with utter transparency that ‘stargazing’ was strictly prohibited, and so, in a matter of seconds, they had shattered all my hopes and dreams.

As I sat in my room, digesting this information, I contemplated just forgetting about it all. Was it worth it to volunteer and not have the chance to meet celebrities?

In that moment, I had to think of what was best for me. I yearned for a signal from someone, from something. Then I recalled a famous lyric from pop queen Ariana Grande: “I’m so into you, I can barely breathe,” she whispered to me. I knew that she didn’t write “Into You” so I could just quit on this whole thing. I had to do it for her, but more importantly, for me.

After attending orientation, picking up my badge and t-shirt, and signing up for my shifts, I was officially a TIFF volunteer. I was ecstatic. At this point, my mentality was to enter the festival with high hopes and the willingness to learn more about the organization, and to support the smaller, independent films that were premiering.

If you were lucky, you could work in the cinemas and view the films. I was working at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, which is a multi-screen venue, meaning that there were lots of opportunities for me to see a plethora of films that I would never have had the opportunity to see outside of TIFF.

On one of my earlier shifts, I was assigned to Cinema 4, where I viewed Bi Gan’s experimental Chinese film, Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

On my final shift, I had the pleasure of watching Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, which I can confidently say is my favourite film of the year, and cinematically one of my all-time favourites.

Sandwiched between these shifts is a day I will never forget.

This year at TIFF, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s A Star is Born premiered. Not only was their film premiering on the same day that I was working, but they were also promoting it at a press conference on the same morning that I was in the venue.

Even with this knowledge burning in the back of my mind, I never thought anything of it, until a TIFF staff member approached me. “You and you, follow me.”  I was the chosen one. But for what?

We were told that we would be scanning press tickets for the conference, meaning that I would have a chance of seeing Lady Gaga, my gay icon and the forever love of my life.

At that moment, my 10-year-old self and my current self let out an internal scream. This is what I had been waiting for: the chance to meet the multifaceted, legendary songstress and activist who produced all of my favourite songs as an impressionable queer boy.

After learning how to operate our scanning devices, my friend and I headed downstairs to the gallery where the conference was being held.

My role model of so many years would be standing in the same room as me.

Breathing the same air as me.

I had to stay calm.

After anxiously waiting, another staff member with two volunteers caught my eye and sternly marched over to me. I was expecting to get a time check for when Lady Gaga would arrive, or the okay to start scanning press tickets, but instead, I was told to return back to my previous job.

I was quite disturbed by this request and I let it show on my face. However, I am not confrontational, so I silently cursed the boy who replaced me and returned to my station.

As the day went on, I forgot about the incident and, to my surprise, thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my shift. Near the end of the day though, I overheard a conversation between two other volunteers: “I don’t really get the hype about Lady Gaga anyway.”

“Okay,” I thought, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but how does one disregard her stellar performance in A Star is Born?”

I turned around to see who dared criticize my idol it was that volunteer who had replaced me earlier in the day.

I am a firm believer in good karma, and I know that, at some point in my life, I will be graced by Lady Gaga’s presence.

Becoming Banksy asks the age-old question: who really is Banksy?

The up-and-coming comedy provides a commentary on society’s relationship with the world’s most well-known graffiti artist

<i> Becoming Banksy </i>asks the age-old question: who really is Banksy?

The Varsity sat down with Caitlin Driscoll, Daniel Pagett, Imogen Wilson, Elan Farbiarz, and Anurag Choudhury, who make up the cast and crew of Becoming Banksy. Becoming Banksy is a comedy that explores what happens when a confused tourist is mistaken for the world’s most famous artist.

The Varsity: There is quite a difference between the way that visual art and theatrical art portray their message. The visual component is very different; you convey time and expression a lot more fluidly, more dynamically as actors. Since Banksy is known for movement and attention-grabbing hooks, did you struggle to convey that same sort of ‘hook?’

Elan Farbiarz: Everyone has a different viewpoint on the art itself, graffiti, Banksy, what have you. It is pretty cool — it’s completely anonymous and people will just show up and gawk at it and care. The anonymity is so exciting for everyone to see. If we knew who Banksy was, I don’t know if people would care.

Imogen Wilson: Banksy is quite unique in the way that it has this anonymity where you could venture to what it could be, like Batman, these individuals that exist in the zeitgeist, but exist where you can’t see them.

Daniel Pagett: They represent the idea, not just themselves.

EF: Some of Banksy’s most prolific works are his installation pieces, which bridge the gap between the theatrical and artist. You’re expected as an observer to contribute — see, touch, manipulate. Your relationship to the space and time you’re in takes your experience. Much like here, a very powerful part of theatre is the ‘now.’ What if we were to expose Banksy?

TV: Banksy’s work is sometimes satirical, but most of the time political. Do you feel a comedy suits Banksy better than a tragedy?

Caitlin Driscoll: When does the artist become the art? It’s about him. Like, the humour that surrounds him as a person — you gotta be able to laugh. His stuff, it’s political, incendiary in some way, but at the same time, the way people get caught up in the fame — it diminishes the messages. It’s interesting to do a comedy about that.

EF: There’s something [ominous] about the rise of our collective zeitgeist and the rise of this artist, which is making very poignant comments on this relationship, between our lives, corporations, privacy.

IW: There’s a quote that Banksy has, it’s, “People only cared about what I had to say when they didn’t know who I was,” which I think is quite cool and quite telling.

DP: Social media carries his art to a larger audience. It carries a similarity with graffiti in that they are both ‘local’ [accessible] mediums. They exist in one place, at one time. I would argue that theatre is more ‘local’ now because of the internet, but with graffiti you can see a picture of it and it kind of works.

EF: But it changes all the time; like theatre, a month later it could be faded, a few weeks later it could be gone. It happens under the cover of night. One morning you could wake up and just be like, ‘Oh what’s that, another piece?’ on your way to work.

PHOTO BY KRIS ROESKE

TV: Did making this ‘local’ theatrical experience have anything to do with the fact that there is a Banksy exhibition happening right now?

IW: I’m from Toronto originally and I always wanted to come back and do something here, and once I saw that Banksy was coming here, it was like, ‘Of course, Toronto.’ You never know how many people ‘know’ Banksy, though. In New York, London, LA, there’s a good base that understands it. All [of a] sudden, people are going to be like, ‘Oh what’s Banksy like?’ The exhibit was great for people who know nothing about Banksy. Our show gives you more depth to what it’s actually all about, the phenomenon. How we talk, the questions, the people who don’t like the work. It’s one of those things where we ask those questions and we give you more than what the exhibit could give you.

EF: I’m a bit of a self-proclaimed renegade. I always loved those stories of people existing outside of convention, and being bold, and making strong choices, you know, Banksy, Batman, Robin Hood, these unsung heroes. On an artistic level, I like his work. It’s clever, well-executed. The stencil work is great. I think his exhibition pieces are his best work.

DP: In terms of the comedy of the show, Banksy uses satire and political messages, and that’s always been a big thing for me as an actor. If I have a message to [the piece], or dramatic catharsis, there should be an equal amount of comedy and accessibility for audiences. A spoonful of sugar is missing from a lot of art. I think that’s one thing that’s really important. Some artists want their voice to be heard, but if it’s not accessible, or if no one wants to listen, then you’re really just shouting into the void.

CD: I’ve always been a big fan of Banksy as a ‘moment in time.’ He’s like, all the things. Banksy is the ultimate stand-up comic. He can do his whole set — no one needs to look it over. He’s there.

TV: If there was one thing you could impress upon Banksy, what would it be?

CD: That’s a big one. My main thing would be, I don’t want to know who you are. I want you to remain anonymous. I like the choices being made. I don’t want to meet you, I don’t need to meet you.

DP: Because I think of Banksy as more of an idea than a person, it’s hard to say what I’d say to him necessarily — I’ve already said a bunch of things ‘to’ him. It’s harder to say something to an idea than to a person. I’d just say thanks.

EF: I’d ask him where the treasure is buried. I mean in the same way, it’s my belief that it’s bigger than one person. If I were to meet someone from ‘Banksy Inc.,’ I’d probably want to participate. What’s the secret code? How can I join?

IW: Obviously Banksy has all this money now. I’d want to know what, or how much he profits off his works and his projects and exhibitions. How much do you control, what power do you have, and how do you earn all of this? It’s a big corporation.

Anurag Choudhury: I find it strange to ask people about their professions, so I’d probably just ask for a pint and then ask about his politics.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Becoming Banksy opened on September 28 and will run until October 14. Tickets are available at www.becomingbanksy.com.

Doing it for the ’gram

From vacation pics to body positivity — why are we still posting our lives on social media?

Doing it for the ’gram

Facebook has been going through some stuff recently: alleged election-meddling Russian agents, a leak of 87 million users’ data to Cambridge Analytica, more election-meddling scandals, a $119 billion loss in July, and more.

But even as an increasing number of users try to ditch Facebook’s original platform, the company still has one major thing going for it: Instagram. Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, and its value has since increased to over $100 billion. While Facebook broke records for most money lost in a single day, Instagram reached one billion users in July, up from 800 million just last fall.

These gains aren’t particularly surprising, given that so many of the people I know who use Instagram seem to genuinely enjoy doing so. And that’s what separates Instagram from so many other social media networks that a lot of us still use just because they’re so inconvenient to leave cough, Facebook, cough.

I have numerous friends who actively espouse their love for Instagram. What’s more, the social network has become a powerful platform for activism — which is more than can be said for most other sites.

In case you couldn’t tell, I generally count myself among the Insta-fans. For me, the appeal initially lay in the artistic aspects. Much as it may inspire some eyerolling from non-believers, I maintain that Instagram is a wonderful creative outlet, even for those of us who don’t typically think of ourselves as artists. As I delved a little deeper, however, I found myself more entranced by the communities that put down roots on Instagram in its early days and have since flourished.

Of these, a personal favourite is Body Positivity (BoPo), a movement largely centred on sharing images of bodies that do not conform to societal ideals. Largely targeting people in recovery from disordered eating, BoPo is pretty niche, but the most popular accounts, including Tess Holliday’s and Megan Jayne Crabbe’s, have amassed over a million followers each.

A recent op-ed in The New York Times also detailed the utility of Instagram for finding self-representation as an ethnic minority, in this case as an Afro-Latina, when representation in mainstream media remains elusive. These groups, which are easily discoverable through tags, give millions of people the chance to see other people who look like them and have been through the same experiences as them.

For many of these communities, Instagram is a natural fit. For one, putting imagery front and centre lends itself well to groups seeking to normalize certain aspects of the physical self, be it body mass, disability, or race. Just as importantly, Instagram has traditionally served a different social function than its competitors: it is less of a hub to connect with friends and family and more of a place to explore photography, art, and other content that interests you.

Now that Instagram is on its way to being the “next Facebook,” however, there’s a chance that a lot could change. The recent uptick in new monthly users — while Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter have all reported a slowdown — reflects an intensified, systematic effort by its owners to make sure that the social media network is constantly improving, which is admittedly a strategy first adopted by Facebook.

However, one consequence of many recent changes is that Instagram really is starting to feel more like Facebook; the creative side has been downplayed and the social side emphasized. You’re not posting that vacation photo because it’s pretty; you’re posting it because you want your followers to see how pretty your vacation was.

The other problem with this ethos, naturally, is money. When Facebook says it wants to make Instagram “better,” they don’t mean by making it more enjoyable or beneficial to the user; it means bringing in more eyeballs to look at more ads.

If indeed Facebook is losing steam, then Instagram will inevitably need to be retooled, given that, in its current state, it is not particularly profitable. That means prioritizing advertisers and sponsored content over the user experience.

Exhibit A: A healthy dose of ads for weight loss programs, mixed into my Body Positive feed. The algorithm doesn’t care about safe space, and if Instagram is no longer a safe space, then it will no longer be the place to grow a community.

Obviously, I can’t knock Facebook for wanting to profit off of its $1 billion acquisition. But, if Instagram goes the way of Facebook and is transmogrified from a friendly, artistic space into one that is shaped solely by the single-minded aims of Silicon Valley, I truly think that it would be a loss. I can only hope that the folks at the helm understand the reasons why Instagram is so loved right now. 

Book Club: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

Autumn is coming: curl up with The Black Prism and a Tim Hortons coffee

Book Club: <i> The Black Prism </i> by Brent Weeks

Brent Weeks is not the first author who I mention to people when I say that I love fantasy. I tend to lean toward Patrick Rothfuss, Neil Gaiman, and Brandon Sanderson — all producers of the beloved literary warhorses that dragged me into the genre.

Weeks’ novels were typically the ones that I paused on and never actually brought home. However, The Black Prism hit me like an emotional dump truck, and I can confidently say that this book is one that I will treasure forever, in multiple first-edition copies, after I finally pay off my library fines.

The Black Prism is a high-fantasy novel that is set in a land with a colour-based magic system. Certain people are able to produce a mystical element called Luxin, which can be used for construction-, attack-, and compulsory-type magic. However, the properties of the Luxin are tied to a colour, and most characters can only create Luxin of one colour — a gift that comes at a deadly cost.

Gavin Guile, the protagonist of the novel, is the only person who can create all seven colours of Luxin. He is worshipped as a divine figure known as the Prism. But Gavin is scarred emotionally and physically from war and is haunted by the acts that he performed to bring peace to his world.

Weeks’ story feels intricately planned. Many fantasy books fall into the trap of mimicking others in the genre. There are several novels that contain a Gavin-like character — The Name of the Wind, a familial feud — American Gods, or even magic based on the colour spectrum — Warbreaker. However, this book is exceptional because, despite the old tropes that feel like familiar friends, the novel spools out plot twists and double crosses in a way that I can only describe as masterful. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that no one is who they appear to be in this book, and everyone is the better for it.

At times, though, the writing is almost too painful to read. Weeks includes many heavy plot points in the novel. Characters face war, devastation, and heartbreak, yet the novel is set largely after most of these events occur. There is an omnipotent central character, but many of the points of view come from characters who are forced to play sidekick to the legends.

The most emotional scenes come from the ordinary people who are called upon to live in the mess that was created by the giant war, those who have dealt bitterly with those consequences for years after. Weeks never shies away from this idea, which is extremely appealing in a genre that often glorifies and focuses on the stories of the never-fallen.

Finally, this book is perfect for autumn; it should be accompanied by vivid scenery. As so much of this book is based on the ideas of colour and light, Weeks’ writing dwells on the beauty of the natural world and makes a pretty convincing argument for watching the leaves fall from the trees.

This book is funny, well-written, and matches Red Rising in the number of quotable, dramatic, and slightly arrogant phrases. I would recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy or wants to love it.