Sunday, September 11, 2011

TIFF 9/11: Ten Years Later and It Still Feels Like Yesterday.

The world changed drastically ten years ago today. I know that I have talked briefly about my experiences at TIFF on September 11, 2001 in the past, but it seems especially fitting today. In honour of the ten year anniversary of 9/11, TIFF has commissioned a short film that will be played prior to all of today’s screenings. The film will document people’s experiences at TIFF the day of 9/11. Believe it or not I was asked to take part in the production (huge thanks to Lucius Dechausey!), but my contribution did not make the final cut. I have been told that I still will be acknowledged in the credits though. To be honest, I was just honoured to be asked to participate in a project such as this. Whether my name appears on the screen or not is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. 9/11 is something that has impacted the world, North America especially, like nothing else in recent years. So I will take a break from posting TIFF reviews today in order to once again reflect on my experiences at TIFF during that fateful day.

2001 was my first year attending TIFF, I had just graduated from university and with no job lined up I decided to buy a Day Pass as I thought I may never get the opportunity again. On September 11, 2001 I had two films lined up: Joyride (starring Paul Walker and Steve Zahn) and From Hell (starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham). It was going to be my "Hollywood Day" (i.e. a day of big budget films). When the first plane hit the towers I was in line at the Cumberland Theatre making my way into to see Joyride. I was completely unaware of what was going on in the world. It was only when I left the Cumberland, and was making my way to the Uptown Theatre, that I got the sense that something had happened.

As I was walking down Bloor Street, two fire trucks rushed passed with sirens blaring. When I got to the corner of Yonge and Bloor I saw a bunch of people at the intersection looking up at the jumbotron. There was footage of a building that seemed to be on fire. I stopped for a moment to look at the massive smoke coming from it. It is only when I arrived at the Uptown that I heard about the attacks (this was around 10:30 am). Word spread quickly in the festival line for From Hell about "America being under attack." I, as well as the other people who had come from various other screenings, was stunned to hear about the towers, and The Pentagon being attacked. I remember feeling uneasy when someone in the line mentioned that the terrorists were attacking cities with big skyscrapers. I could not help but wonder what would happen if they started attacking Toronto? Would I be able to make it home safely? Would anyone know where I was considering I was attending the festival alone? Yet my concerns where nothing compared to what the Americans at TIFF were going through. I talked to a lot of Americans in line who were panicking because the airlines and trains (VIA rails, etc.) had stopped running. They had no idea how they would get home.

There was one guy in line near me who had a walkman (yes they still existed then!) with a built in radio. He started to give us the latest news updates. Once we were seated in the theatre, a represented from the festival came out to explain that this would be the last film shown at TIFF for the day as the festival was shutting down. There was no word on whether or not TIFF would go on after that. Even as the movie started, our minds were clearly on the events unfolding in the world. To this day, my memories of the first ten minutes of From Hell consist of the guy with the radio feedings us updates, and each of us in the row passing the information down the line like a game of broken telephone. After the movie ended, I took the train back to North York and watched CNN, CBC, CTV, etc. for the rest of the night and waited for word on if TIFF would continue. The first film I saw when TIFF eventually restarted was Monsoon Wedding. A more perfect film could not have played at 9 am to kick start the festival again. It was an uplifting film and just what I needed to remind me that things would be okay.


  1. Not quite the same thing, but similar: I was on vacation from work, preparing to go to a comic book convention that would eventually get cancelled. I couldn't quite deal with the reality of the situation, so for awhile I kept fixating on whether or not the con would go on as planned. That must've been really bizarre to watch a movie (about a serial killer no less!) while everything else was going on.

    Does TIFF usually screen movies so early in the morning?

  2. @Rich - It definitely changed the way I viewed the film. My heart was only half into it.

    As for TIFF screenings, they can start as early as 9am or as late as 11:59.

  3. This is the first time I've heard your story about attending TIFF on 9\11 - Great post, Court.

  4. Thank you for the story of your experience. I can see how Monsoon Wedding would have been the right movie after that.

    I was working in an office when a co-worker came down from the executive area and said a plane had hit a tower in the World Trade Center. I was picturing a little single engine plane. I also knew a B-27 bomber had hit the Empire State Building during WWII and nothing much had happened, so I wasn't thinking too much about it.

    A half hour later I wandered into the cafeteria and the TVs were on and both towers were on fire. It was only then that I learned that these were jumbo jets and both towers had been hit. It was only then that I realized it was a deliberate attack on the U.S. - the worst one since Pearl Harbor.

    I was lucky in that I did not lose anybody that day that I knew, but a co-worker lost a friend he had gone to school with.


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