Film festivals are great for many reasons. Whether it's the celebrity appearances, interactions with filmmakers, or the overall excitement of being at an event celebrating the cinematic art form; everyone has their own reasons for attending a festival. For me, the list of reasons are long and extensive, but one of my favourite elements of a film festival is the fact that you can walk into a screening with a fairly blank canvas. It's a canvas that's void of the usual pre-conceived expectations set by the heavy marketing culture we currently live in. Depending on the particular festival or film, you might still be exposed to some promotional material, but far less than you probably would when the film gets its official release. And as much as I immerse myself into marketing campaigns (especially for summer blockbusters), there's something special and exciting about not knowing what to expect.
Outside of film festival screenings, you can get the same experience with premieres and special screening events, which fortunately aren't uncommon in Toronto. But with TIFF's Reel Talk series, you get that unbiased experience stripped of expectations, plus more. For those of you who don't know about this non-so-hidden gem offered by TIFF, this is how Reel Talk works. About one or two Sundays each month, TIFF will have a screening on a Sunday morning where the film itself isn't announced until moments before the screening starts. There's a Sneak Preview series that showcases unreleased English-language features, and a Contemporary World Cinema series that showcases non-English language films from all around the world. Every screening is followed by a thoughtful discussion with invited guests, and if you're a fan of cinema, it's literally the best way to start off a Sunday morning. As an example, Miss Sloane was recently screened - which sparked extra excitement with its filmed-in-Toronto aesthetics - followed by a discussion with an actual gun lobbyist from Canada.
With Reel Talk screenings, chances are, you'll know very little about the film in question. And even if you are familiar with the film, you won't be able to form too much of an opinion beforehand because the title is only revealed minutes before the screening starts. When it comes to starting a screening with a figurative blank canvas, this is arguably even more stripped down than a film festival screening. In some ways, it's a test of your preparedness as a film viewer, and in other ways, it's purely a celebration of being pleasantly surprised in a cinematic way. And I'm serious about that comment because the selection of films and guest speakers are never disappointing, and at the very least, always thought provoking.
Although you could arguably grab a coffee before any movie (which I often do), being able to actually pair up your first cup of coffee of the day with a movie is in my opinion just pure icing. It's reminiscent of when I used to take cinema studies classes and got to start off my day with a 9am screening, minus the essays and assignments. It's truly great stuff. I call Reel Talk a not-so-hidden gem simply because this is something that has been going on for years, and the screenings tend to be pretty packed. So if you're part of the camp that didn't not know about its existence before, please check it out.