While there are parties, receptions and soirées every night of the week during TIFF, most of them are excuses for people to dress their best and hopefully rub shoulders with somebody famous for a few seconds while sipping free booze and scarfing down a few bites of food. Rarely do I come away from any of them feeling in any way enriched by the experience (a little tipsy maybe, but hardly enriched).
Except - and it's a big except - this year, amid the various and sundry schmoozes, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a small rooftop reception at Urban on King West. The purpose of the evening was not to celebrate TIFF or its films in any way, but another smaller yet more exciting festival, the Festival Film Jakmèl.
FFJ is an incredible film fest now heading into its fourth year and held in the town of Jacmel, Haiti. Haiti is the poorest nation in the western Hemisphere - many people do not have electricity and few still have ever seen a movie of any kind.
Yet the festival's co-founder and executive director, the ever-charming (and more importantly, ever-sincere) David Belle has managed to create a feast of contemporary world cinema that attracts 70 or 80,000 people. Something like 20,000 people cram the beach for evening outdoor screenings - it's like the SuperBowl of moviegoing. And all of the screenings are absolutely free. According to Belle, the festival means something like $1-million to the local economy and provides hundreds of short- and long-term jobs, including a troupe of actors who dub the films into Creole.
But FFJ is about more than showing movies, it's about opening the people up to other worlds, other lives so vast and different than their own. There are also workshops and job training and mobile screening vans that travel the country to screen movies. FFJ is an ideal film festival made real.
So it was a rare pleasure to spend an evening with David Belle (and with event organizer Gabrielle Free - thanks Gab!), and to realize that while those of us who cover TIFF can sometimes become cynical and bored with it, there are people who understand and appreciate the power and hope that cinema still holds for many people. Essentially, they see the potential.