JESSICA ZHOU/THE VARSITY

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.

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