How to decide what to see at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival

The internet is filled with wonderful entertainment websites and blogs whose talented writers are in the midst of picking their "must-see movies" at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, which gets underway two weeks from today. I've seen many other journalists' selections and, as much as I respect and admire their opinions, I'm proud to say that my own list is quite different from most. Contrarian am I? No.

There are many reasons why but some should be obvious, especially to those who follow this blog. For one, I don't attend film festivals to see blockbuster movies that will be coming out in theaters within weeks (or even days) anyway. What's the point? The Cinemark Palace 20 is only 20 minutes from me and I don't have to go through customs to get there.

The only real reason to do so, for me, would be to have the unique opportunity to question the actors and filmmakers in the insightful Q&As which typically follow festival screenings. However, the venues which are increasingly being chosen to showcase these high-profile works (Roy Thomson Hall and the Visa Screening Room at the Elgin, for example) don't often allow for a Q&A, let alone the chance to meet & greet afterward.

My TIFF selections, as with all festivals I attend, lean toward those under-the-radar titles that do not yet have distribution. It allows me, as an advocacy journalist and admitted cheerleader of great films, to get in on the ground floor and help bring them attention. That's exciting. More than catching a glimpse of some A-lister sitting 20 rows behind me. After all, why recommend a movie everyone is already talking about? Zac Efron and Meryl Streep certainly don't need any more PR from me (nothing against them, but they have very high-profile titles at TIFF and I'm sure they won't have any problem filling the seats). As a genre fan, I always plan to stay up late for Midnight Madness. I also love to fill my calendar with foreign films, many of which will probably never be distributed here (the reason why is another story for another time). They're often the best movies I see all year and this may be the only opportunity to do so.

So what films do I recommend? In reality I can't say since I haven't seen any yet. But I can try, at least, because many have directors and actors whose past work I admire. Even if my best friend was in a movie I honestly couldn't say good things about it until I'd seen it. But I might recommend doing so based on history. I've made many of my choices due to the fact that they have cast members or filmmakers with a good track record, movies that have turned out to be Top Picks from previous festivals I've attended. Over the next two weeks I'll be writing some previews of those films.

Wrapping up, what my work revolves around more than anything, what I've devoted myself to, can be summed up this way: see a film, love it, write about it, spread the word, watch it get picked up, get released theatrically, and finally make its way into your living room on DVD. New distribution platforms (video on demand, internet) have changed that dynamic a bit but the basic idea is the same.

Then the cycle continues, and here's where the selection process comes in. The next step, for me, is to remain loyal to the filmmakers and actors who made those movies and continue to support them, hope they go on doing quality work, and make more pictures that I can recommend at future festivals. And, of course, I hope to discover new actors and directors in the process whose films excite me.

My film festival philosophy can be summed up this way: You don't discover an undiscovered gem by walking into a jewelry store. You go to the mine and dig.

TIFF attendees who purchased "My Choice" packages in advance are in the midst of narrowing down their shortlists for the online selection process which begins Saturday. They will be able to pick up their tickets starting Monday, September 2. But individual tickets go on sale to the general public on Sunday, September 1, and many have not yet decided what films to see. So here's my advice.

Dare to open the festival program and select a film with actors you've never heard of, with an odd title, from a country you can't locate on a map. Take a chance on a movie nobody's talking about. You just might discover a gem. But only if you dare to dig.


Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at

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  • Author: Larry Richman
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