THE INVITATION: TIFF’s last great nights

Scott Speedman at the ET Canada party. Story by Emily Blake. Photography by Natalie Castellino.

TIFF never ends in a flash of lights. It sputters and flares and peters out. The tired troops of media, publicists, and film folk whittle their party schedules from three or four a night to one or two a night. Being a slightly lazy sort myself, on Tuesday and Wednesday (my last night of revelry), I was a one party per night girl.

Not to say I didn’t choose carefully. When an invitation came in from ET Canada, arguably the biggest kahuna of celebrity journalism in our fair city, to attend a party for a film called Good Neighbours starring one Scott Speedman (or, as I still think of him, Ben from Felicity), my choice was made.

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LEANNE DELAP: At the amfAR gala

Shinan Govani with Ciara Hunt at the amfAR/Dignitas Cinema Against AIDS fundraiser.

Story by Leanne Delap. Photography by Natalie Castellino.

Name-dropping is crass. Unless you are a professional. Panty-flashing personal journalism is worse. But now that we have that out of the way, I’m left with dilemma of how I gossip about a gossip columnist who is a friend.

People who go to black-tie galas all the time mark the seasons differently: April through June, then September through November are society’s hot zones. I used to take my gowns out to play in heavy rotation, but except for spin-around-the-dancefloor loans to girlfriends, my finery has been gathering dust. So I was excited and uncharacteristically nervous about the recent amfAR/Dignitas fundraiser “Cinema Against AIDS” at the Carlu.

The event was notable not just for the million dollars raised for AIDS research, but because it stands as the one glossy event at TIFF for which you can buy your way into a room to rub elbows with celebrities. I knew it would be like riding a bicycle, but I had become invested in the success of the event because I had spent the spring and summer  listening to my dear friend Shinan Govani (one of the gala’s three chairs, alongside departing Hello! editrix Ciara Hunt and Elisa Nuyten, one of this city’s most active arts advocates).

Govani is the Post’s jewel-in-the-crown social columnist (and novelist—Boldface Names, his debut fictional take on the international rabble that are his subject, was a deftly subversive volley).

It has been dead-good fun watching how his growing success and clout plays out in the real world, and a gas to watch how people simultaneously suck up and are wary of his sharp pen. I’d wager there is not a salon or soiree on the world stage to which he would not be welcomed these days. As a side note, he works damned hard, but he really has a lot of fun, which makes it all so much more of an accomplishment.

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THE INVITATION: A night with Steve Nash, James Franco & co.

Story by Emily Blake.

TIFF can be a celebrity whirlwind. Heads snap in all directions and the whispers of “Isn’t that…” and “So and so looks so different in person” echo throughout the city. So when a celebrity athlete makes a film about a Canadian hero, and hosts the party at the home of a famous Canadian artist, it can become the perfect storm of star sightings.

MVP Steve Nash is the athlete in question, our very own basketball savant and my hometown boy (both of us are from Victoria, B.C. leading to one degree of separation). His documentary about Terry Fox, Into the Wind, was the reason for the ruckus, which included an army of valets, Mounties in full costume, a red carpet and many, many, lit up bottles of Vitamin Water, the party’s sponsor.

Inside there was a scene not often found during TIFF—the sports crowd. Olympic athletes like Adam van Koeverden (Canadian gold medallist in kayaking) and members of the Canadian women’s gold medal hockey team, mingled with men who, due to their height, must either have been pro b-ball players or human ladders.

We also saw film producer Jason Reitman, TV and radio host George Stroumboulopolous, and Ben Kowalwicz, the lead singer of Billy Talent. What really made the night for us though, happened while we were standing in the open air Zen Garden on the bottom floor, discussing Electric Circus (what else?) with designer Philip Sparks and NOW Magazine’s adorable Andrew Sardone. Out popped Charles Pachter, owner of the incredible home we were ogling.

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TIFF SPECIAL: Nadia Litz talks to us, part II

Illustration by Ayalah Hutchins. Interview by Laura deCarufel.

This is the second part of our conversation with actor/director Nadia Litz, whose short, How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You!, recently debuted at TIFF. You can read the first part of our conversation here.

What inspires you, in film and life?

“Music would be my top three answers! What I’m listening to changes with what I’m doing and thinking about. While I was in preparation for How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You!, I was listening to Interpol, and Paul Banks’s solo project. Even gangsta rap—the energy that you can get from that, the bravado or confidence is super-inspiring. I also love people who love life, who really embrace life and what it means to be alive.”

Who are some directors you admire?

“So many, for so many different reasons. As an audience member, I really respond to female filmmakers telling their stories. Sofia Coppola doesn’t get even as much credit as she deserves, because of who her Dad is. I think she’s tapped into something about a girl’s psyche. Also, aesthetically, she’s amazing—her work is just visually really pretty. Julian Schnabel—I like a lot of his work. A lot of Japanese directors, too. In terms of the short [How to Rid...], the toughest thing was translating the gore part, as it was written on the page, into something visual that fit the tone of the rest of the film. I thought, ‘How can I make this scene not super gross?’ For that, I looked to Kiyoshi Kurosawa—the way that he handles violence is so elegant. And I love Akira Kurosawa too, of course.”

How would you describe your own personal style?

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TIFF SPECIAL: Nadia Litz talks to us, part I

Illustration by Ayalah Hutchins. Interview by Laura deCarufel.

One of the best films at TIFF this year also has (hands-down) the best title. How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You!, a short directed by Nadia Litz and written by Ryan Cavan, packs a stylish, provocative punch into its 15 minutes.

Set in a light-filled Toronto apartment, the short follows Sadie (Sarah Allen) and Dennis (Joe Cobden) as they negotiate tenderness, resentment, and the other wages of coupledom—which, in this case, includes a sinister jar of lollipops and exquisitely filmed gore (think purply umeboshi plums).

The short is beautiful, bizarre and a major accomplishment for Nadia Litz, already an accomplished actress with credits in Blindness, Monkey Warfare, and You Are Here, Daniel Cockburn’s film which also premiered at TIFF last week.

Nadia talked to us about acting vs. directing, her inspirations for dressing the film, and which actor she found more difficult to direct and why.

Have you always wanted to direct? What appeals to you most about it?

“I’d wanted to direct for quite a long time, but I was a bit apprehensive to tell people—I stubbornly wanted to do it on my own. At 26, I went back to [York]  university to study film theory while also pursuing acting. I didn’t pick up a camera until my fourth year. I made a short film for class and finally embraced all the things that I was originally scared about—mostly the technology. I was a little afraid of the camera. After that, I taught myself Final Cut Pro, and started really learning about filmmaking and communicating with people. I applied to the Canadian Film Centre, and after a year, I was able to make this short.

There are certain limitations to what you can communicate as an actor—as a filmmaker, those limitations don’t exist. Communicating just opens up. That was really appealing to me.”

The look of the film is so considered—it’s obvious that details like costumes are important to you. What was it like working with Olivia Sementsova, the costume designer? What kind of direction did you give?

“Sarah is the prettiest girl in the world, so for me, it was like playing dress-up, but with someone a billion times prettier. Olivia and I talked a lot about the character, and shared ideas and images. Some of my photos were of Sofia Coppola, Kristen Dunst, ingenue girls—I wanted the girl to look really sweet and unassuming, so that the discovery of what she does is so unsettling. We ended up using a lot of my own wardrobe.”

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TIFF SPECIAL: Cheryl Hickey’s festival fashion tips

ET Canada‘s Cheryl Hickey and Rick Campanelli. Photo courtesy of Central Image Agency.

Story by Kyra Kendall.

For the 11 days of the Toronto International Film Festival, Cheryl Hickey’s job is to make both her style and her celeb interviews look effortless. The Style Notebook caught up with Cheryl on the red carpet, and quizzed the popular TV personality on her favourite festival designers and how quickly she can get changed in a limo. (Hint: It’s impressive.)

When do you start planning your TIFF outfits?

“I start thinking about looks I might want to try about two weeks before the festival. The process is ongoing from that point—making revisions/edits right up to the last minute. The last-minute changes are not because of what I see other people wearing at the festival—they’re more reflective of what mood I’m in, what the weather is like. You know, every party girl’s considerations!”

How many outfits do you need for the festival?

“I need two or three outfits for each day. I need casual “movie screening looks” (likely sweaters and jeans because those theatres are FREEZING), smart casual outfits for interviews, and finally, party dresses for the evenings. It makes for a lot of outfit changes in a day, but that element of glamour is what the festival calls for.”

Which designers do you prefer to wear during TIFF?

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TIFF SPECIAL: Black Swan review

Story and illustration by Ayalah Hutchins.

After months of hearing about Rodarte‘s foray into costume design, this week the anticipation became reality as I excitedly watched the design house’s tutus in motion in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

This psychological thriller stars Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers, a professional dancer at a New York City ballet company, whose life is completely consumed by her career. Every night, she returns home alone, where she lives with her overly protective mother (Barbara Hershey), and leads a sheltered, isolated life, seemingly frozen in childhood.

When principal dancer Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) unexpectedly retires from the company, artistic director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) looks for a new dancer to star as the Swan Queen in his raw interpretation of Swan Lake. Desperate for the role, Nina is faced with a challenge.
Innocent and inexperienced, she is able to personify Odette, the White Swan character perfectly. But despite her strong technique, she has difficulty embodying Odile, the seductive and manipulative Black Swan. Enter Lily (Mila Kunis).

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TIFF SPECIAL: At the Hello! party

Ashleigh Dempster and Amanda Blakley, of The Society (seen here during TIFF 2010), were among the stylish guests at the Hello! soiree. Story by Amanda Alvaro.

If you stood back from the red carpet outside the Royal Conservatory on Saturday night, you would have sworn you’d descended on a true Hollywood fete.

First clue. A bevy of black-clad PR beauties flashing mega-watt smiles as they turned down dozens of disappointed partygoers who didn’t make the list to this year’s Hello! Magazine Party.

Second. A row of cameras, two-deep, lining the carpet, followed by a crowd of TIFF watchers who stood on concrete planters, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of those who paused and posed for the perfect shot.

Yes. It all looked very Hollywood indeed. The only thing missing was…well…the Hollywood stars.

While the party certainly drew a list of Toronto social elite, it didn’t draw the likes of big name celebs like Matt Damon and K’naan, who were noshing at the One x One party down the street,  leaving many of the TIFF carpet-watchers asking each other, “Who was that?!”

Never mind. What the Hello! Party lacked in Hollywood celebs, it made up for in a sizable crowd of Canadian artists, fashionistas, socialites and personalities.

Walking the red carpet? Photographer Caitlin Cronenberg, actress Tara Spencer Nairn, Flare editor Lisa Tant, boxer Lennox Lewis and his gorgeous wife. Other stylish partygoers included David Rocco and wife Nina (decked out in a sensational pink and silver sequined Versace), and actresses Natalie Brown and Amanda Crew, who informed us that she picked up her simple black sundress from Aritzia just hours earlier.

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TIFF SPECIAL: Meet the man who made Nikki Beach

Story by Leanne Delap, one of Toronto’s top writers (fashion or otherwise), who will be covering all the glitz, glamour and Glowerers for The Style Notebook during TIFF. Today: Behind the Nikki Beach phenomenon.

Photography by Brendan Adam Zwelling.

If you build it, the models will come. And so it was with Nikki Beach Toronto, a pop-up bar conversion specially for the festival. Nikki Beach is the white hot brand that founder Eric Omoré started in Miami in 1999. The French-born impresario then took the poolside champagne cabana concept back to the homeland setting up in St. Tropez, then expanding his empire to other playgrounds of the Diddy and fabulous, such as St. Barts, Cabo, Marbella, Croatia, Egypt, Qatar and Panama among the 20 outposts.

Some seven years ago, Omoré took a temporary tent to the Cannes festival; this is his second year in Toronto (Nikki Beach was in the Park Hyatt last September).

But its temporary home this year, at C-Lounge on Wellington, is a natural fit. The team brought in an ocean of white—the brand’s signature non-colour—to drape every inch of the place.

Then they filled it with models. Unlike other temporary havens set up for stars around town (such as the London-based private members’ club Soho House, reported on in this space earlier this week), Nikki Beach Toronto is open to regular paying customers around parties planned for this week.

Thus is the place you could actually have seen Will-i-am  from the Black Eyed Peas mingling with normal folk. Pretty, normal folk I qualify that, all swaying around the reflecting-pool-side bottle-service cabanas bathed in soft light.

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TIFF SPECIAL: Three big parties, one major night

The cast of Bunraku—Josh Hartnett, Kevin McKidd, Woody Harrelson, Gackt, Ron Perlman—in the Soho House on Saturday night. Photo courtesy of Grey Goose.

Story by Emily Blake.

Every year there is one evening during TIFF when the (figurative) stars align, and the perfect party night arises. Last Saturday night was it. While during the civilian party season it is unusual to be glammed up to go out before 9 p.m., TIFF requires a slightly longer window. Which is why I was dressed up and in a taxi, checking my teeth for lipstick, at 6:45. The mission? Three parties, in three places with three raisons d’être that illuminate the variety of festivals within a festival that are happening on any given night.

First up, Hello! Hollywood, as slick and glossy as the magazine hosting it. Held at the Royal Conservatory, the party had all the markings of sophisticated society. Champagne flowing? Check. Floor to ceiling windows? Check. Society swans? Double check. The party was simmering towards a boil when I made my early exit. There is no time to loiter when the night’s festivities have only just begun.

Southbound I went to the newly renovated Civello salon on Queen, home for the evening for the cast of Julia’s Eyes and hosted by Ray Civello and FILLER Magazine. As a fan of Pan’s Labryinth I was excited to spot Guillermo del Toro, the producer of the movie being feted.

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