Adventures of a TIFF First Timer

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September 28, 2012

Adventures of a TIFF First Timer

By Connor Gaston

After being exposed to UVic’s student film festival in 2010, I thought, Hmm, maybe I can do that.
In the summer of 2011, I shot my first short, Shoulda Coulda. It got in the following year and, to top it off, received “best director”—but I was happy just to be there.

After that boost to my confidence, I decided to shoot a short every summer. Only one year later, my modest goal paid off: I received the magic phone call and an invitation to premiere my latest short, Bardo Light, at the Toronto International Film Festival, called TIFF by all in the know. I felt like the prettiest girl at the dance.

TIFF-bound on the plane, my giddiness still fresh, I banged away on my laptop, trying to pump out my first feature film script. I looked around the plane, my ego wishing for someone to ask why I was headed to Toronto so that I could adjust my monocle and pronounce, “I’ve been summoned to show my film.” The plane load of non-TIFFers would gasp collectively. In short, I felt like a big shot. When I got off the plane, a TIFF volunteer holding a sign with my name on it added to my euphoria. Of course, my ego quickly deflated once I met fellow filmmakers with more experience, bigger budgets and much better films.

My TIFF experience revolved around movies and parties. If I wasn’t teetering by an open bar, I was in a sold-out theatre. On opening night, I was 10 minutes late for the world premiere of Looper and, if that wasn’t devastating enough already, I missed Joseph Gordon Levitt and director Rian Johnson introduce the film. I was invited to lots of parties, and some bigger parties I was less invited to. I clung to my fellow short filmmakers at the bigger parties for the first few drinks. After enough liquid confidence, I ventured off to schmooze more openly. I talked to producers, actors, distributors, and all types of people in the biz. Nearing the end of the night, I usually was found hunched over the cheese wheel cart, which was somehow endlessly replenished. Every night I stumbled back to the hotel with a handful of business cards, fewer business cards of my own, a silly how-did-I-get-here grin on my face, my pockets bulging with Gouda.

My short film, which I shot with top-quality gear (RED camera) but with a budget of just $50 and a couple of cases of beer for my workers, was the very first one shown in the shorts program. (700 shorts were entered from across Canada, of which 44 were selected.) In front of 250 people, I mumbled an introduction to my film, mostly thanking TIFF and the short-film programmers. The theatre finally went dark, Bardo Light started playing, only to cut to black a few seconds in. Apparently, all last month’s nightmares were actually premonitions. But after a few long minutes of darkness, the projector hummed to life, and I got to see my film played on the big screen. The audience seemed to like it; I thankfully didn’t catch anyone checking their cell phone or whispering, “What the hell is this?” I was instantly humbled by the shorts to come after mine: some with Hollywood production values, others with perfect dark comedy and one expertly crafted experimental documentary which went on to win the short category along with the $10,000 prize. That night I went out in search of more cheese, happy just to be there.

Connor Gaston is in the first-year of his MFA in Writing. Needless to say, his focus is film-making.


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